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A Study on Icarus Legend in Greek Mythology and Its Cultural Influence

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A Study on Icarus Legend in Greek mythology and its cultural influence

Background/ the mythology

Ancient Geek mythology, Icarus is the son of famous and remarkable craftsman Daedalus in Athens. While accepted the request from King Minos of Crete, Daedalus built Labyrinth near palace at Knossos to imprison the Minotaur, a half man, half bull monster born of his wife and the Cretan bull. When Theseus went to Crete to kill Minotaur, Daedalus gave Minos's daughter, Ariadne a ball of string that allows Theseus able to leave the Labyrinth after he finished his mission by following the string held by Ariadne outside. Because of assisting Theseus to defeat the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son were then imprisoned by King Minos in Labyrinth which Daedalus can't escape even he was the creator. In order to return to freedom, Daedalus used wax and feathers to make two pairs of wings on his son and him. He tried his wings first, and before taking off, he asked his son to fly follow his path, don't fly too high close to the sun and fly too low close to the sea. However, Icarus was so excited with his new wing, he forgotten what his father said, fly higher and higher. Finally the sun melted the wax, and lose its feather, Icarus fell into the sea and die. The sea he fell into used his name to name today, called Icarian Sea near Icaria, an island southwest of Samos.


The story is often alluded by Greek poets, and the main story is recorded in < Pseudo-Apollodorus>. In Rome times, the story also interest Augustan writers. Ovid writes the story of Icarus in the Metamorphoses which influences Medieval and Renaissance literature, his interpretation was used by English writer such as Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton, and Joyce.

General interpretation

Traditional interpretation of the story is rather negative. It is known a tragedy as a consequence of personal over-ambition. It also teach the value of moderation, where people should not flying too high (to the sun) or too low (near the sea), it is safer to keep our action in a “middle” level. The following are some example of how the mythology influencing people.

Icarus Complex

In psychoanalysis and personality theory, “Icarus Complex” is used to describe a constellation of mental conflict on people when there is imbalance of their desire and ability to achieve the objective. The larger gap between imagine and reality, the greater chance of failure. It may results abnormalities such as cynosural narcissism, ascensionism, Cathexis of fire, and bedwetting or incontinence in childhood.

Icarus Paradox

Icarus Paradox is a term in business management theory describe a situation that a company finally fail because it unwilling or unable to change it self when external competitive environment changed.

The company was very success in many years, may be even a market leader which developed a very effective and efficient business model and organization.  It have very high confidence about its success formula and continues make large invest on its familiar area, expected the market will growth forever. It has an illusion of controlling the market.  However, external environment will change when time goes by, such as new competitors coming in, innovation of technology, changes of trend in society. Because of so well developed before, the company was unable to change its mind set, technology and organizational structure to face the new environment.  It finally fails due to continue losing its market.

Example of companies includes Xerox, and Laura Ashley, Atari.

In Computer science

Even there is no direct linkage, there is a software called “Icarus Verilog” also used the name in Greek mythology. It is simulation and synthesis tool, which convert codes written in Verilog (a type of programming language) into different format of program can control different types of components in integrated circuit.

In pop culture

Game and anime

Like another mythology, “Icarus” is also be borrowed in many game and anime. However, the application is rather superficial, using the name solely, parts of story (May not original meaning) or some common visual features.  E.g. “伊卡洛斯Online “, “幻想神域Online “ (computer game ).

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