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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Daidalos

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Daidalos

Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

Daidalos (Δαίδαλος, 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 (written 60-30 BC), Book 4, chapter 76, sections 1-3.

In Homer's works, 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 about 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, he made wings for their escape. Famously, 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 Selinus, 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 in the northwest of 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.

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.
 
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.
Photos and articles © David John
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