Daedalus was a legendary Greek craftsman, artist, and inventor. According to the Roman poet Ovid in his work Metamorphoses, Daedalus was invited to the island of Crete by King Minos, who asked him to build a labyrinth, or maze, to house the Minotaur—a beast that was half-human, half-bull. When Daedalus gave away the secret of how to escape from the labyrinth to the king’s daughter, King Minos became enraged and threw the inventor and Icarus, Daedalus’s young son, into prison. Since Minos controlled all the ships leaving the island, escape by sea was impossible. Their only hope was to flee by air. Using all of his talent, Daedalus made wings for himself and his son. Fashioned from feathers and wax, the wings were large enough and strong enough to enable them to fly. Before beginning their journey, Daedalus warned Icarus not to risk melting the wax on his wings by flying too close to the sun. Escaping from their prison, the two men soared over the countryside, much to the astonishment of observers on the ground. Icarus was delighted with his newfound abilities and flew up to where the sun warmed the skies. To his horror, the wax on his wings began to melt and the feathers fell apart. Icarus cried out to his father for help, but Daedalus could only watch helplessly as the young man fell into the sea.
The grief-stricken Daedalus flew on to Cumae on the Bay of Naples in Italy. From there, he flew to the island of Sicily where he invented many amazing structures, including a steam bath and a golden honeycomb to adorn the temple of Aphrodite. To form the honeycomb, Daedalus used a special technique with wax.
Daedalus was known for his uncommon skill and ingenuity. He was also a tragic figure because he tried to imitate the gods and was punished by being made to suffer the terrible loss of his son. The story of Daedalus has captured the imagination of artists and writers from Roman times until the present. (See also Theseus and the Minotaur.)