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Taking Submissions: The Icarus Contest
October 31, 2018
Deadline: October 31st, 2018
The Contest: Write a story of 5,000 words or less about the myth below.
Deadline: October 31 by midnight
Entry Fee: FREE!
To understand Icarus, let’s start with his father, Daedalus, and the mess he got himself into on Crete.
Because this whole Cretan mess might inspire your story. (If you want to skip the Cretan mess and get right to Icarus, scroll down to the heading that says GET RIGHT TO ICARUS.)
Daedalus was blessed by Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy, and craftsmanship. He came from “a noble Athenian clan called the Metionids,” and he was renowned throughout the Ancient world for his ability to come up with fantastical, innovative feats of architecture, engineering, and design—and for actually being able to pull these visions off.
He wasn’t just an idea man. Daedalus got things done.
HERE’S WHERE THE CRETAN MESS STARTS.
The King of Crete was really proud to be the King of Crete, and he declared that he’d been granted this position by the gods. He further declared that anything he prayed for would be granted, because he was so favored by the gods.
So what did he pray for? A bull to come out of the sea. Obviously.
He declared, “When this divine bull appears, I shall sacrifice it to Poseidon to prove my devotion to the gods!”
He’d been pretty confident in himself so far, but I think he might’ve been a little shocked when a white bull actually did come out of the sea.
Then the King was like, “Ohh, umm . . . that’s actually a pretty badass looking bull . . . if I could keep it, I could really enrich my own herds . . . and really, it’d be a shame to sacrifice something so lovely that the gods gave to me.”
The King did not sacrifice the magic white ocean bull.
But you see, even though it was sent to him by the gods, the bull was never his. The gods created this thing for themselves, and they expected it to be returned to them. Or at least, Poseidon did. And one of the things Poseidon is known for is holding a serious grudge.
When he didn’t get his bull back, he got revenge in his own special way.
He made the Queen of Crete, Pasiphae, get a crazy lustful hankering for this bull—a very sexy bull, of course, you and I would probably be smitten too.
At this time, Daedalus was living at the court of Crete for reasons I won’t get into here. (Short story, he was exiled from Athens.) So Queen Pasiphae got Daedalus to make a sexy hollowed-out cow that she could hide in so the bull could . . . use your imagination.
Maybe Daedalus thought to himself, “Seriously? Ugh, fine. Royalty always ask for the weirdest things. I’ll just do it, and it won’t work, and that will be the end of that.”
But the scheme did work. Pasiphae got knocked up by this white bull. (Ha! I can just imagine Daedalus sighing like, “Of fucking course, what did I expect?”)
Then she gave birth to this crazy flesh-hungry half-human half-bull creature, the Minotaur.
And nobody knew what to do about this Minotaur thing. Pasiphae didn’t want to kill it—it was her child, and was probably semi-divine or something, and furthermore it was really hard to kill.
So again, she turned to Daedalus. The King and Queen both demanded that Daedalus build some kind of structure that could contain this creature.
Daedalus constructed the famous Labyrinth of Crete. The Minotaur lived in the Labyrinth, and every year 14 young men and women from Athens would be sacrificed to it, to keep it alive. They were just put into the Labyrinth, and eventually the Minotaur would stalk them all and eat them.
Well, one year Theseus showed up to be Minotaur fodder. However, the King and Queen’s daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus. Ariadne went to Daedalus for help.
I can only imagine that at this point, Daedalus was just fed up with this whole mess. If he had know that making the Queen a hollow cow would lead to so much horror and death, he might not have been so willing to help. Ariadne seems like the only one with any sense in the whole Cretan court. So he told her the secret of the Labyrinth, and she gave Theseus a spool of thread to use in the twisting, turning underground chambers.
Again, against all odds, Daedalus’s scheme worked. Theseus killed the Minotaur, ending its reign of terror, and was able to find his way out of the Labyrinth again. He escaped Crete with Ariadne.
The King and Queen weren’t happy about this, and imprisoned Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in the Labyrinth.
Oh yeah . . . at some point in this whole Cretan mess, Daedalus had a son with one of the King’s slave women, Naukrate (or Naucrate). I can’t find much information about Naukrate. It’s possible that she died, or that she simply had no rights to her child because she was a slave. However it happened, in most versions of the myth, Daedalus is treated like a single father.
GET RIGHT TO ICARUS
So now we’re up to speed on how Icarus and Daedalus came to be imprisoned in the Labyrinth.
Daedalus was like, “Don’t worry, son. I’m not a world-famous architect, engineer, and designer blessed by Athena for nothing. I’ll get us out of this Cretan mess.”
Daedalus constructed two pairs of wings out of feathers and wax, and crafted harnesses to strap them to the body. As he got Icarus all suited up in this contraption, he instructed him, “Now son, I know this is very exciting and all, but you have to remember: don’t fly too low to the ocean, because the dampness will bog down your feathers and you’ll crash. Neither fly too close to the sun, because the heat will melt the wax and you’ll crash. Keep a steady middle course.”
Icarus was like, “Okay, dad, got it.”
And once more, Daedalus’s crazy scheme worked. He and Icarus flew out of the Labyrinth, and there was nothing the King and Queen of Crete could do about it.
But Icarus . . . he was a young guy. He had lived his whole life in crazy backward Crete, and lately he’d been imprisoned in this Labyrinth, surrounded by all these bones of devoured people, which seriously sucked. Icarus got a little ahead of himself, and was thrilled with the sensation of freedom that flying offered him. He flew too close to the sun, and didn’t hear Daedalus’s warnings when the wax started dripping off his wings. All too quickly, he crashed into the sea and died.
I’ll judge entries based on:
— Word count. Please stick to 5,000 words or less. It can be much less, if you want. (I only have so much time to read entries, and it would be a shame to toss yours out because it’s too long!)
— Writing prowess. You don’t have to be touched by Athena, but do give it your best shot. An understanding of how to structure a story, how to use dialogue, and all that jazz will work in your favor. (Spelling, grammar, and typos count.)
— An understanding of the myth itself.
Send your entry to my email: [email protected]. Please paste your entry in the body of your email, since I won’t open attachments. The subject line should be “Icarus Contest.” Please write your entry in English and in prose. You can email me any questions at the same address. I’ll have a winner by November 10. Subscribe to Mythraeum to see the winner.
Have questions? See if your answers are in the Writers FAQ.
MORE ABOUT THE MYTH
Icarus’s story is usually interpreted as meaning, “Don’t get too ambitious,” or “Don’t get too full of yourself.”
And that’s a great interpretation.
But we have to remember that Daedalus also instructed his son not to fly too low. Set your sights high, but not too high.
There’s also another version of the myth that has Daedalus and Icarus escaping by ship. In this version, Daedalus invented sails (all the other vessels were oar-powered), which allowed the ships to go really really fast. Icarus got a little over-excited by this, and was a reckless sailor. His vessel overturned and he drowned.
I have to say I kind of feel bad for Daedalus in this whole story. His Athena-given gifts were harnessed to serve petty, self-important people, and they resulted in the birth of a monster and the deaths of dozens of innocent people—not to mention the death of his own son.
In a way, Daedalus himself was flying too close to the sun. He was too good at what he did, attracted too much attention, and suffered for it. Just my two cents.
Your story can be about any aspect of this myth. You can focus on Icarus or Daedalus or another figure. Your story can be set in Ancient Greece, a modern office building (very Labyrinth-like!), or on a spaceship. You can make it a Western or a steampunk. Get creative!
Good luck arche-typers!
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