In Greek mythology, Daedalus is one of a group of heroes which also includes Perseus, Theseus, Achilles, Jason, Odysseus, Hercules, and Bellerophon. He was the son of an Athenian named Metion, and a descendant of Hephaestus, and like his famous ancestor, he was known for his craftsmanship and inventions.
Daedalus was credited with some of the most fundamental and far-reaching inventions ever made: the axe, the saw, the use of a plumb-line, and he added greatly to the understanding of shipbuilding with his insight into sails and masts, and most of the stories about him center around his skill in these areas.
For example, one story has him apprenticing his nephew Talos, a clever boy who inspired Daedalus to jealousy to a degree that Daedalus pushed him off the top of the Acropolis — the gods changed Talos into a partridge during his fall rather than allowing him to die — and fled to Crete. And it is in relation to Crete and its King Minos that most of the best-known stories of Daedalus take place.
The queen of Crete, Pasiphae, was in love with a bull that had been provided by the god Poseidon. Daedalus made a lifelike cow in which the queen could conceal herself in order to be out in the fields with the rest of the herd and the bull. When, after this adventure, Pasiphae gave birth to the Minotaur — a creature half bull and half human — Daedalus built the Labyrinth in order to conceal the creature from the public.
King Minos had Daedalus and Icarus — the son of the hero and one of the king’s slaves — imprisoned in the Labyrinth. And it was in this plight that Daedalus invented wings for himself and his son, to enable them to fly away from the prison that he had built. The wings were made with feathers and wax, and when Icarus defied his father’s warning not to fly too near the sun, his wings fell apart, and he fell into the sea and drowned. Several famous pieces of art reflect on this moment, including the paintings Daedalus and Icarus by Charles Paul Landon and Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and the poem Musée des Beaux-Arts by W. H. Auden.
After the death of Icarus, Daedalus flew on to Sicily, where he was welcomed to the court by King Cocalus. But Minos, hearing of his whereabouts, followed him to Sicily, intent on finding and killing him. To do this, he set a contest which he was sure only Daedalus could win. Minos challenged the general public the pass a linen thread through a triton shell, and waited for the hero to rise to the bait and expose his location.
The king, without naming Daedalus, told the king he knew a man who might succeed at the task, and took the shell to Daedalus. The hero made a small hole in the point of shell, tied the thinnest, most delicate thread to an ant, and placed the ant in the hole, putting a lure of honey on the far end. The ant made its way through the spiraled chamber to reach the treat, upon which Daedalus tied a linen thread to the end of the very fine thread and pulled it gently, so that the linen thread was drawn through the shell as well.
Cocalus congratulated him and hurried off to claim the reward, and was surprised to be met by a demand for the surrender of Daedalus. His daughters were no less upset, and warned the hero, who made a cunning plan. Installing a duct into the ceiling of the palace bath, he contrived that when Minos was bathing there, he was suddenly deluged with boiling water, which killed him. The king’s body was sent back to Crete with a tale of his accidental death, and Daedalus was free.