Icarus – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Do you want to share a cautionary tale with a daring, ambitious, and reckless person in your life? You could invoke the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

This post explores the origin and meaning of this Greek myth.

Meaning

In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus. The pair were imprisoned by Minos, the King of Crete and Daedalus, being a craftsman, built them a pair of wings to help them escape. These wings were made of feathers and wax.

Icarus, a daring and reckless young man, ignored his father’s warnings to steer clear of the sun, causing the wings to melt and sending Icarus to his demise.

Icarus’ story sparked the common idiom “don’t fly too close to the sun“. You can use Icarus’ story to refer to the dire consequences that reckless risk-taking can have.

Example Usage

Icarus’ name holds meaning even outside of Greek mythology, as the following sentences can illustrate:

  • Are you sure you want to invest all your money into that risky business idea? It seems to me like you will soon be flying too close to the sun, like Icarus.
  • Icarus’ story isn’t just a warning. It also shows how inventive humans have always been, and how we’ve always wanted to soar.
  • Don’t be too greedy, or you may end up like Icarus.
  • I lost everything. It was a real Icarus moment for me. I’m much more cautious now.

Origin

The story of Icarus and Daedalus, which is an important tale in Greek mythology, was likely written in approximately 1550 BCE.

Daedalus and Icarus, a father and son, were mortals. Daedalus being a master craftsman hired by Minos, the King of Crete, was commissioned to design and build the labyrinth in which the Minotaur was going to be housed.

Theseus, another famous figure from Greek mythology, was due to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, and his love interest Ariadne helped him devise a plan to defeat this half-man half-bull. The plan was successful thanks to a ball of string that Daedalus had given to Ariadne.

As a result, both Daedalus and his son Icarus were imprisoned by King Minos. Determined to help his young and adventurous son achieve his dream of freedom, Daedalus crafted them both a pair of wings from feathers and wax to allow for their escape.

Daedalus warned his son to follow in his path and to neither get too close to the sea, nor too close to the sun. The excited young man ignored these warnings and rose to great heights, causing his feathers to melt away. He fell to earth and drowned in the sea.

The Greek myth is used as a warning against greed or recklessness.

While the original Greek name was “Ἴκαρος” (“Ikaros“), the Romans used Icarus instead, and this spelling has remained through the many English-language retellings of the story.

Phrases Similar to Icarus

  • The idiom “don’t fly too close to the sun”, which warns against excessive risk-taking, greed, or fame-seeking, directly arises from the myth of Icarus.
  • The adjective Icarian, meaning a person or situation reminiscent of the myth, is also occasionally used.

What Is the Correct Saying?

The name Icarus was given to a figure in Greek mythology whose recklessness caused him to perish, when he could have achieved freedom instead.

Ways People May Say Icarus Incorrectly

The correct pronunciation of Icarus:

  • Uses a short I sound.
  • Features a schwa sound in the middle and the end.
  • The accent lies on the “I”.

Any other pronunciation would be considered incorrect in modern English, although the original Greek sounded different.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Icarus

You can incorporate Icarus into any conversation about excessive risk-taking, as well as about the adventurous spirit of youth, which can sometimes have fatal consequences.

The most common way to refer to Icarus in the English language does not require using his name at all, however, and can be seen in the form of the idiom “don’t fly too close to the sun“.

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