In mythology, who was Icarus? What part did he play in the poem "Musee des Beaux Arts?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In W.H. Audens's poem "Musée des Beaux Arts," one section of the painting contains the deathly dive of Icarus into the sea. Icarus is the son of Daedalus, the architect who had formed the Labyrinth and who showed Ariadne how Thesus could escape from it.

When King Minos learned that the Athenians had found their way out, he was convinced that Daedalus had been instrumental in their escape. Therefore, he imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in this very Labyrinth. Not even the maker could find his way out without his clues, so Daedalus told his son,

Escape may be checked by water and land, but the air and the sky are free.

So, Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings for them. When they put them on, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun because the wings were held by wax. But, as is the case so often, the son did not heed his father's warning, and as they left Crete, Icarus delighted so in his power of flight that he rose so high in the sky that he was too close to the sun. The wax holding the feathers together melted, and he crashed into the sea. This final moment is depicted in the painting, but the other people in it do not heed the tragedy.

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Musée des Beaux Arts

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