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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Daidalos

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Daidalos

Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

Daidalos (Δαίδαλος, often translated as Cunning Artificer, perhaps from δαιδάλλω, to work artfully; Latin, Daedalus) was a mythical or legendary sculptor, architect, engineer and inventor; the archetypal "father of artists".

Myths and legends concerning Daidalos are very ancient, and his association with King Minos of Crete and other mythical and legendary characters suggest that the tales point back to the period of the Minoan civilization, during the second millenium BC. However, they were first written down at least 700 years later, from the time of Homer (8th - 7th century BC ?), and most surviving texts are from Roman times, for example Bibliotheca historica by Diodorus Siculus (written 60-30 BC), the Aeneid by Virgil (written 29-19 BC) and Metamorphoses by Ovid (completed in 8 AD). These authors are assumed to have embellished and added to more ancient stories, perhaps also conflating tales originally told of various other characters.

The stories about Daidalos give the impression that he was a universal genius, the consummate artist and practical thinker, comparable to Leonardo da Vinci.

"In natural ability he towered far above all other men and cultivated the building art, the making of statues, and the working of stone. He was also the inventor of many devices which contributed to the advancement of his art and built works in many regions of the inhabited world which arouse the wonder of men.

In the carving of his statues he so far excelled all other men that later generations invented the story about him that the statues of his making were quite like their living models; they could see, they said, and walk and, in a word, preserved so well the characteristics of the entire body that the beholder thought that the image made by him was a being endowed with life.

And since he was the first to represent the open eye and to fashion the legs separated in a stride and the arms and hands as extended, it was a natural thing that he should have received the admiration of mankind; for the artists before his time had carved their statues with the eyes closed and the arms and hands hanging attached to the sides."

Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, Book 4, chapter 76, sections 1-3.

In the works of Homer, the word "daidala" (δαίδαλα) is used to mean objects that are finely-crafted, including armour, bowls, furnishings and jewellery. It may well be that Greeks came to believe that many excellent ancient objects and buildings, still in existence or known to have existed, were created by one person whom they called Daidalos.

Modern historians have given the name Daedalic to types of early Archaic Greek sculpture from around 650-600 BC, known as the "Daedalic Period" (see photos, above right).

Pausanias, the second century AD Greek travel writer, noted works which had been attributed to Daidalos and his "pupils" or "sons" Dipoenos and Skyllis:

"Now the sanctuary of Athena Chalinitis [at Corinth] is by their theatre, and near is a naked wooden image of Herakles, said to be a work of Daedalus. All the works of this artist, although rather uncouth to look at, are nevertheless distinguished by a kind of inspiration."

Pausanias Description of Greece, Book 2, chapter 4, section 5.

"On the road from Corinth to Argos is a small city Cleonae... Here there is a sanctuary of Athena, and the image is a work of Scyllis and Dipoenus. Some hold them to have been the pupils of Daedalus, but others will have it that Daedalus took a wife from Gortyn, and that Dipoenus and Scyllis were his sons by this woman."

Pausanias, Book 2, chapter 15, section 1.

Dipoenos and Skyllis are thought to have been sculptors from Crete, perhaps brothers, working in the early 6th century BC at Sikyon, in the northeastern Peloponnese. The stories told about them as "pupils" or "sons" of Daidalos in the time of Pausanias, may have been due to a confusion of the myths and legends concerning Daidalos, or a result of traditional ways of speaking, perhaps in the same way as doctors were often referred to as "sons of Asklepios", the Greek god of healing.

As with many myths about prehistoric Crete, for example concerning Erechtheos and Theseus, there was a link with Athens, and Daidalos was said to have been Athenian (even a great-grandson of King Erechtheos) who went to Crete to work for King Minos. According to Diodorus, he had fled from Athens to escape justice after murdering his nephew and pupil Thalos, because he was envious of his pupil's prodigious talent which he feared would eclipse his own. Diodorus tells us that Thalos invented the potter’s wheel and the saw.

The first literary mention of Daidalos is by Homer who mentions "the dancing floor... Daidalos contrived for fair-haired Ariadne [Minos' daughter] in broad Knossos" (Iliad, Book 18). Some translators have rendered "dancing-floor" (E. V. Rieu) as "labyrinth" (William Cowper) or even "a figured dance" (Alexander Pope), suggesting that he either designed a complex path for dancers or invented the form of the dance itself.

More famously, he is said to have designed the Labyrinth for Minos as a prison for the Minotaur.

When Minos imprisoned Daidalos and his son Ikaros (Ἴκαρος), he made wings for their escape (see below). Curing their flight, Ikaros fell into the sea and drowned, but Daidalos flew on and took refuge with King Kokalos (or Cocalos, Κώκαλος) of Kamikos in southern Sicily. Minos pursued him there but was either murdered by Kokalos, or in another version of the tales, founded his own city on Sicily.

In Sicily, according to Diodorus Siculus, "he constructed certain works which stand even to this day".

He constructed a kolumbethra (swimming bath or reservoir) near Megaris.

He designed the city of Kamikos (Camicus) near Akragas (today Agrigento), which "was the strongest of any in Sicily and altogether impregnable to any attack by force; for the ascent to it he made narrow and winding, building it in so ingenious a manner that it would be defended by three or four men. Consequently Kokalos built in this city the royal residence, and storing his treasures there he had them in a city which the inventiveness of its designer had made impregnable."

He transormed a cave in the territory of Selinous (today Selinunte), in which volcanic heat produced steam, into a steam bath where "those who frequented the grotto got into a perspiration imperceptibly because of the gentle action of the heat, and gradually, and actually with pleasure to themselves, they cured the infirmities of their bodies without experiencing any annoyance from the heat".

At Eryx (today Erice) in northwest Sicily, "where a rock rose sheer to an extraordinary height and the narrow space, where the temple of Aphrodite lay [Eryxinian Aphrodite, the Greek name later given to a goddess of the indigenous Sicilians], made it necessary to build it on the precipitous tip of the rock, he constructed a wall upon the very crag, by this means extending in an astonishing manner the overhanging ledge of the crag.

Moreover, for the Aphrodite of Mount Eryx, they say, he ingeniously constructed a golden ram, working it with exceeding care and making it the perfect image of an actual ram.

Many other works as well, men say, he ingeniously constructed throughout Sicily, but they have perished because of the long time which has elapsed."

A 1st century AD fresco (Pompeiian Fourth Style), from the northern wall of the triclinium in the Casa dei Vettii (VI 15,1) in Pompeii, shows Daedalus presenting the wooden cow to Pasiphae.

Detail of a Roman relief depicting Daidalos at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a Roman relief depicting Daidalos
making wings for his escape from Crete.

See details below.
An example of Daedalic style sculpture at My Favourite Planet

A typical sculpture of the Daedalic style,
around 630-620 BC.

A fragment of a metope from the temple
of Athena on the acropolis of Mycenae,
depicting the upper body of a woman,
probably a goddess. She draws a cloak
over her head, a gesture of modesty and
rank, characteristic of the goddess Hera.
Late Daedalic, probably a product of a
Corinthian workshop.

National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 2869.
 
Terracotta scent bottle in the form of a female bust at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta scent bottle
in the form of a female bust.

Made in East Greece about 610-55 BC.
From Kamiros, Rhodes.

The figure wears a painted necklace with
ornaments in the form of pomegranates.
Her hair is arranged in the Daedalic style.

British Museum.
Inv. No. GR 1860.4-2.24 (Terracotta 1607).
 
A bronze mould for making terracotta figurines of the Daedalic type at My Favourite Planet

The inside of a bronze mould for making
terracotta figurines of the Daedalic type.

From the Sanctuary of Olympia,
late 7th - early 5th century BC.

National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 6139.
 

Cretan bronze statuette of a kouros in the Daedalic style at My Favourite Planet

Bronze statuette of a kouros
in the Daedalic style, with
hair in horizontal layers
and a broad belt.

From Delphi, Greece.
Made in a Cretan workshop,
around 620 BC.

Delphi Archaeological
Museum. Inv. No. 2527.
 
Lady of Sybaris pinax with a female figure in the Daedalic style at My Favourite Planet

Ceramic pinax (plaque) with a relief
of a standing female of the "Dama 2"
type, a variation of the "Dama di
Sibari" (Lady of Sybaris) figures.

From Sybaris (Σύβαρις), Magna
Graecia (modern Sibari, Calabria,
Italy). 625-600 BC. Possibly made
in a local workshop. Found at
Timpone della Motta, Sibari.
Height 18 cm.

The "Dama 2" figures, originally painted,
are simpler, usually smaller than the
more elaborately modelled "Dama 1"
type. The frontally facing figure wears
a decorated polos, has a row of snail-
hell curls along the forehead and three
tresses hanging to either side. Her
face is expressionless, eyes wide open
and her arms are held straight against
her sides. Around her shoulders are
what appear to be the corners of a
cloak, although they may be sleeves
of her tight-fitting peplos, which is
gathered at the waist by a girdle. Her
small feet peep from beneath the hem
of the garment.

It has been suggested that such
figures were meant to be replicas
of statues, and may represent
a goddess, perhaps Athena.

National Archaeological Museum
of Sibaritide.
 
Bone plaque with the figure of a goddess in the Daedalic style at My Favourite Planet

Small bone plaque with
the figure of a goddess
in the Daedalic style.

From Megara Hyblaea, Sicily.

Paolo Orsi Regional
Archaeological Museum,
Syracuse, Sicily.
Inv. No. 84818.
A labyrinth on the rear of a Linear B tablet from the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, Greece at My Favourite Planet

A labyrinth incised on the rear of a Linear B clay tablet from the Mycenaean palace
(the so-called "Palace of Nestor) of Pylos, Messenia, Greece. 13th century BC.

The tablet was part of a large archive of clay tablets inscribed with administrative
records inscribed in the Linear B script, discovered at Pylos in 1939 by the American
archaeologist Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971). Linear B was deciphered in 1952 by the
British architect Michael Ventris with the assistance of philologist John Chadwick.
They proved that the script was written in an early form of the Greek language.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Cn 1287.
Gold plaque with a depiction of the Mistress of Animals in the Daedalic style at My Favourite Planet

Gold plaque pendant with a depiction of the "Mistress of Animals"
in the Daedalic style. From Kamiros, Rhodes, 720-650 BC.

The figure, thought by some scholars to depict Artemis, wears a long chiton,
has sickle-shaped wings and holds in each hand a lion by a rear leg or tail.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN 1896-1908 G.441.
Gold necklace plaques with Daedalic female heads from Rhodes, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Gold necklace plaques with Daedalic female heads.
From Rhodes, second half of the 7th century BC.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Helen and Antonios Stathatos Collection.
Restored relief of Daidalos and Ikaros, Villa Albani, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Drawing of a marble relief of Daidalos and Ikaros in the Villa Albani, Rome.

Daidalos, assisted by his son Ikaros, prepares the wings of feathers, thread
and wax that will help them escape from imprisonment by Minos on Crete.

Source: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (1845-1923), Ausfürliches Lexikon
der griechisches und römisches Mythologie
Band I
, page 934
(page 467 of 721). B. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1884-1890. At archive.org.

First published in: August Emil Braun (1809-1856), Zwölf Basreliefs griechischer Erfindung
aus Palazzo Spada dem capitolinischen Museum und Villa Albani
, chapter 12. Institut für
archaeologische Correspondenz. Salviucci, Rome, 1845. At the University of Cologne.

Two similar marble reliefs depicting Daidalos and Ikaros are recorded in the museum of the Villa Albani, first reported by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in 1767 (with an engraving) and other writers in the 19th century [1]. The first relief, Inv. No. 1009 (drawing above), was restored from a few fragments found on the slope of the Palatine Hill near the Circus Maximus. It was photographed by the Fratelli Alinari (Alinari brothers) in the 1920s.

The second relief, Inv. No. 164 (see drawing below), found later in the area of Naples, was more complete and appeared to confirm the work of the restorer of the first relief. The drawing above, probably copied from a photo by James Anderson (1813-1877) taken around 1890 and now in the Alinari Archives [2], appears to be of this relief. It has been published in a number of books since the 1890s, merely titled "Daedalus and Icarus, Rome, Villa Albani" (or similar) without any further details. Plaster casts were made of the relief, and one is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [3], which also has a (modern?) marble relief of this subject (see photo below).

Strangely, I have yet to find any more recent photos or information about either of the reliefs. Much of the Albani Collection has been dispersed to other museums (for example, the Capitoline Museums, Naples, Dresden and the Louvre), and it is not clear whether they are still in the Villa Albani or elsewhere.
 
Drawing of a relief of Daidalos and Ikaros in the Villa Albani, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Drawing of the second marble relief of Daidalos and Ikaros in the Villa Albani.
Ikaros leans with his left elbow on a pillar, suggesting that the relief may
represent a marble statue group.

Source: Oskar Seyffert, A dictionary of classical antiquities,
mythology, religion and art
(Third edition in English), page 171.
Swan Sonnenschein and Co., London, 1895. At archive.org.
A relief of Daidalos and Ikaros in the Metropolitan Museum of Art at My Favourite Planet

A marble relief of Daidalos and Ikaros in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Perhaps a modern work. Height 69.9 cm, width 55.7 cm.

Inv. No. 1972.118.115 (not on display). Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971.

Public Domain photo. Source: www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/255426
Drawing of a relief of Daidalos constructing a hollow cow for Pasiphae at My Favourite Planet

Drawing of a marble relief of Daidalos constructing the hollow
wooden cow for Minos' wife Pasiphae (Πασιφάη, wide-shining).

Corridoio dei Bassorilievi, Palazzo Spada, Rome.


Source: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (1845-1923), Ausfürliches Lexikon
der griechisches und römisches Mythologie
Band I
, page 935
(page 468 of 721). B. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1884-1890. At archive.org.

First published in: August Emil Braun (1809-1856), Zwölf Basreliefs griechischer Erfindung
aus Palazzo Spada dem capitolinischen Museum und Villa Albani
, Tafel V. Institut für
archaeologische Correspondenz. Salviucci, Rome, 1845. At the University of Cologne.

One of eight ancient marble reliefs found in 1620 during the restoration by Cardinal Verallo of the church of S. Agnese Fuori le Mura, Rome. They had been used as as building material for the church steps. Like the reliefs of Daidalos and Ikaros (see above), the restored work attracted the attention of Winckelmann and other scholars during the 18th and 19th centuries [4], and was photographed by James Anderson around 1890, but since has been scarcely mentioned.

According to the Alinari Archives website, the low relief has been dated to the 1st - 3rd century AD, although it has also been referred to as Hellenistic. The treatment of the figures is intense, detailed and realistic with Classicistic features, particularly those of the veiled Pasiphae, which is reminiscent of the female figures on Classical Athenian grave steles. Daidalos is shown wearing a Phrygian cap and holding a saw, perhaps an allusion to his murder of his nephew and pupil Thalos who, according to Diodorus, invented the saw.
 
 
Daidalos Notes, references and links

1. Reliefs of Daidalos and Ikaros in the Villa Albani

Restored fragments of a marble relief of Daidalos and Ikaros.
Found among remains of other reliefs, perhaps from an imperial palace on the Palatine Hill, Rome.
Flavian period, end of the 1st century AD, perhaps a copy of a Greek 5th century BC original.
Height 178 cm, width 116 cm.
Villa Albani, Rome. Inv. No. 1009.

See: arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/27964. At the University of Cologne (in German).

Restored marble relief of Daidalos and Ikaros. Rosso Antico (pink marble).
From "the Kingdom of Naples". 1st - 2nd century AD (?).
Height 78 cm, width 60 cm.
Villa Albani, Rome. Inv. No. 164.

See: arachne.uni-koeln.de/item/objekt/27965. At the University of Cologne (in German).

See also:

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti antichi inediti spiegati ed illustrati da Giovanni Winckelmann. Rome, 1767.

Text in Volume II, Chapter XI, Dedalo ed Icaro, pages 129-130.

Engraving of Inv. No. 164: Volume I, plate 95.

Both volumes at Heidelberg University Digital Library.

Wolfgang Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Alterthümer in Rom, Band II: Die Villen, das Museo Boncompagni, der Palazzo Spada, die Antiken der vatikanischen Bibliothek, das Museo delle Terme. Pages 49-50, No. 777 (1009), and page 64, No. 800 (164). Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1891. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.

2. Photos of the Villa Albani Daidalos and Ikaros reliefs in the Alinari Archives

Photos of both reliefs at the Alinari Archives:
Inv. No. 1009, listed as Image ID: ACA-F-027607-0000.
Inv. No. 164, listed as Image ID: ADA-F-001889-0000.

See: www.alinariarchives.it/en/search

3. Cast of a Villa Albani Daidalos and Ikaros relief in the Met

See: Catalogue of the collection of casts, second edition, page 134, No. 884 (no illustration). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1910. At archive.org.

A cast of Inv. No. 1009 is in the War Museum, Athens.
See photo by Robert Wallace at: flickr.com/photos/robwallace/2424875747/in/photostream/

4. The Daidalos and Pasiphae relief in the Palazzo Spada

See:

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti antichi inediti spiegati ed illustrati da Giovanni Winckelmann. Rome, 1767.

Text in Volume II, Chapter X, Dedalo e Pasifae, pages 127-129.

Engraving: Volume I, plate 94.

Both volumes at Heidelberg University Digital Library.

Wolfgang Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Alterthümer in Rom, Band II: Die Villen, das Museo Boncompagni, der Palazzo Spada, die Antiken der vatikanischen Bibliothek, das Museo delle Terme. page 165-166, and pages 167-168, No. 939. Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1891. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.

Photo at the Alinari Archives: ADA-F-001986-0000. www.alinariarchives.it/en/search
 
Photos and articles © David John
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