Thursday, January 03, 2013

I've been thinking about Icarus lately -- you know the guy in Greek mythology who was imprisoned on the isle of Crete until his dad Daedalus was able to make them a set of working wings out of wax and feathers, and they flew off into the heavens, but Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wing wax melted and he fell back to earth, where he drowned.  (Remarkably the 93 million mile fall didn't kill him.).
A lot of artists have thought about Icarus too.  Some like to depict him pre-flight,as they take their wings out of the Hefty Bags.

Some artists like to depict him flying:

Some prefer Icarus falling.

And of course some artists just use it as an excuse to paint naked naked babes:

But one of the most famous paintings of Icarus is also one of the least dramatic.  In "Landscape With Fall of Icarus" by Bruegel, you have to look hard to even find Icarus.

Give up?  That's him in lower right part of the painting, at least that's his legs.  I think the reason this painting impresses me so much is because it shows that people have been missing the point about Icarus ever since the day he did that swan dive into the sea that bears his name.  When scholars talk about the myth of Icarus they talk about hubris and failed ambition, but to me Icarus was a success, he reached his ambition and had good reason to feel a little hubristic.  The man flew, y'all!  Up very close to the sun where no one has soared before or since.  He pulled off the impossible -- and yeah, he paid a high price.  But look at the painting again.  Same as it ever was.  All around us people are doing miraculous things and we don't even notice -- much less contemplate trying to do some ourselves -- because we're too busy fishing, plowing and herding our sheep.