How old was Icarus?
May 7, 2010 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How old was Icarus?

Is there at least a consensus among versions of the myth and artistic representations as to what stage of life? Adolescent? Adult?
posted by Joe Beese to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In everything I've ever seen or read, he's been a young man. Part of the point of the story is that he is too callow to heed his father's instructions--he thinks he knows better than the old man--
posted by colfax at 4:58 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ovid uses the word "puer (boy)".
posted by mr_roboto at 5:00 PM on May 7, 2010

He sounds pre-adolescent in Ovid's Metamorphoses book 8. In a few of these classical depictions he looks about middle-school at the oldest.
posted by xueexueg at 5:05 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, Ovid refers to him repeatedly as a boy ("puer"); here's a literal translation. His youth has always struck me as the most poignant part of the story; his father tells him again and again not to fly too high, but he cannot resist the open sky.
posted by teremala at 5:08 PM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Icarus is almost universally represented as an adolescent. The last line of Ovid's version of the story, from Metamorphoses, also refers to Icarus as "[Deadalos'] buried child".
posted by daniel striped tiger at 5:19 PM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

The last line of Ovid's version of the story, from Metamorphoses, also refers to Icarus as "[Deadalos'] buried child".

Eh, not really. He's referred to with the word "sepultī", the genitive masculine singular of "sepultus": buried or interred. There's no reference to his age or his relationship to Daedalus in the Latin.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:08 PM on May 7, 2010

Best answer: I've got a lot of sourced and unsourced material of this thanks to a novel I was allegedly working on once upon a time.

Icarus was the son of Daedalus - who constructed near Knossos the labryinth in which the minotaur Asterion was imprisoned and allegedly slain by Theseus - and of Naucrate, a Minoan slave-girl. Daedalus was also the inventor who constructed the wooden cow in which Pasiphae, wife of King Minos, secreted herself so that she could be impregnated by the White Bull, which incidentally resulted in the minotaur itself. Anyway.

The only two ancients who mention the name of Icarus' mother are Apollodorus and the 12th century's Johannes Tzetzes. Apart from fellows like Bullfinch, Frazier and Powell, the best modern "expert" we have on the Cretan myth cycle is Michael Ayrton. His two novels The Testament of Daedalus and the incredibly difficult-to-find The Maze Maker elaborate on it all in extensive and beautifully poetic detail (not bad considering Ayrton was a sculptor). In the latter book he starts chapter 8 with "When she was fifteen years old, Naucrate gave birth to my son whom we called Icarus and whom she dedicated to the moon."

According to the "chronology" I put together, taken from Ayrton's works and a great deal of other disparate research (I know that's easy to say, but honestly I was eating and breathing this stuff six or seven years ago), Icarus was born around the same time that King Minos began accepting tributes from Athens in return for lifting the plague he put there (from Ovid's Metamorphoses). For crossreferencing purposes, Medea's son Medus was born around this time as well.

Now Bullfinch says that the tribute (of seven men and seven maidens) was to be paid every nine years, but Frazier says every eight. Virgil's Aeneid says only seven youths, but annually, and Hawthorne uses Virgil as the source for his Tanglewood Tales. This theory seems the least favoured as everything else I have mentions either eight or nine years. Scholars Hamilton and Schwab also say nine, and most everybody agrees that Theseus went with the third tribute. This would make Icarus either 16 or 18 at the time when Theseus slew Asterion, and since Daedalus and Icarus were both chucked into the labyrinth as punishment for the D-man having given Ariadne the idea to give Theseus the golden thread used to find his way in and out of the maze, and since Daedalus constructed the wings of wax and feathers used in turn for their escape from the labyrinth, and since Icarus was a great big nonce who didn't do what he was told, this would mean that Icarus was burned to pieces when he was either 16 or 18 (and his body later found by Hercules and buried, which gives you another useful reference point).

Another data point is the hypothesized destruction of Knossos around 1400BC, at which time Minos fled Crete in order to track down Daedalus (using a shell). You could work back from there if you were so inclined. I also posit that the Antikythera Device was a part of Talos, because I liked to pretend that he got blown to smithereens by the Argonauts. Also Asterion used the Golden Thread to make a necklace for himself out of Theseus' teeth because I never liked Theseus.

However, despite sharing his birthday, I am not Jesus and thus you ought to do your own research to confirm. No doubt some super-genius somewhere has a properly definitive answer.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:49 PM on May 7, 2010 [22 favorites]

He is a teenager. C'mon. His dad tells him not to fly too close to the sun, so that is exactly what he does.

The lower limit is probably around 14. Before that, he hasn't got his upper arm strength, and that's what even a mythical person would need to fly using homemade wings.

I'm guessing around 15.
posted by musofire at 7:23 AM on May 8, 2010

Wouldn't the era of the story matter? I'm not an expert on Ancient Greece, but by 15 wouldn't he be looking to find a profession and wife?
posted by davextreme at 7:37 AM on May 8, 2010

Hercules Hercules, obviously
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:28 PM on May 8, 2010

Arrrgggh, Heracles! Sorry I was talking to my girlfriend. Mods please hope!
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:29 PM on May 8, 2010

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