Daedalos in Athens and Crete

The Athenians have presented the world with many famous savants, who have contributed much to the development of human knowledge. The earliest known was Daedalos, the grandson of King Erechtheos. Like Leonardo da Vinci centuries later, he seems to have been an all-round genius: inventor, craftsman and architect.

He took on as his apprentice his sister Perdix’ son, Talos. But the boy showed such great promise that very soon, Daedalos feared that he would demonstrate himself to be even more talented than his teacher, and in time would surpass him. While still an apprentice, he invented the potters’ wheel and compass. When, inspired by his inspection of the jaw of a snake, he invented the toothed saw, Daedalos could stand it no longer. He murdered the boy by tossing him from the walls of the Acropolis. It was said that Athena turned him into a partridge.

On learning the sad news of her son’s death, his poor mother, committed suicide. On the spot where the young genius died, the Athenians erected a small shrine. Meanwhile, Daedalos was tried at the Areopagus and banished from the city.

From Athens he went to the court of King Minos at Crete, where he became even more famous, for he constructing a wooden cow for the queen, by means of which she was able to satisfy her unnatural desire for a white bull sent by Poseidon. Then he built the infamous Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur, the monstrous result of this union. Finally, he invented wings by which he sought to escape from Crete with Ikaros.

Some scholars think that Daedalos was never an Athenian at all, but that the proud citizens of Athens thought that any figure of such intelligence and ingenuity just had to be Athenian, and so they invented a false genealogy for him, making him a son of Erechtheus.

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