Long ago in ancient Greece there lived a very clever man named Daedalus. He was a great inventor and a skillful engineer and architect. Daedalus planned magnificent buildings that even had running water in the bathrooms. He was very proud of his skill.
Daedalus left Athens, the city of his birth, and went to the island of Crete in the blue Aegean Sea. He took with him his young son, Icarus.
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King Minos of Crete commanded Daedalus to build a labyrinth, or maze, to imprison a fearful monster called the Minotaur. The Minotaur is a monster that is half-man and half-bull. Daedalus built the huge labyrinth underneath the king's stone palace. The labyrinth had so many false turns and dead-ends that no one who entered it could ever find a way out.
When the labyrinth was finished, the angry Minotaur was sealed inside it. When the Minotaur roared, the palace shook. The king was satisfied that the monster was safely locked away.
Daedalus had been on Crete for a long time. He wanted to return home. So he went to King Minos and said, "Great King, with your permission, I shall take my leave. My work is done, and I wish to return to Athens with my son."
"You will do no such thing," said King Minos. "You know the secret of the labyrinth. How do I know you won't tell somebody how to find the way through the twisting passageways?"
"I pledge that I will do no such thing!" protested Daedalus.
But the king ordered his guards to seize Daedalus and Icarus. The father and son were locked in a tall tower at the very edge of the palace grounds.
Despite all of the good Daedalus had done for the king, Daedalus and Icarus were kept under close guard in the prison tower. It would have done them no good to escape the tower, because King Minos also ruled the surrounding seas. The king's soldiers inspected every ship that left the shores of Crete. And if they were caught escaping, they would be sent to the labyrinth.
"Father, are we going to be locked in this tower forever?" asked Icarus.
"I am a great inventor, Icarus," replied Daedalus. "This certainly is a difficult problem, but I shall think of a solution."
After days of being locked in the tower, Daedalus and Icarus needed fresh air. Daedalus climbed the stairway and led Icarus to the rooftop of the tower. Its great height made Daedalus fearful for Icarus' safety.
From the rooftop, Daedalus and Icarus watched the gulls and eagles soaring and gliding through the air. The birds flew very close to the tower. Daedalus studied with fascination the birds' wings as they flew.
"Icarus, my son, I have an idea," said Daedalus. "King Minos may rule the land and the sea, but he does not rule the air!"
"What do you mean?" asked Icarus. "Only birds can fly through the air."
"That is because they have wings!" said Daedalus. "I want you to help me catch some birds. We need many feathers of all sizes."
Daedalus watched closely the way birds use their wings to take off and fly. He studied the way feathers fit together to cover the birds' wings. He noted the weight and the size of the wings in proportion to their bodies.
Icarus watched his father intently as he laid out a row of long feathers. Then his father laid a row of smaller feathers below that. He sewed them together with linen thread and a needle that he carried in his pouch.
Daedalus laid down many more rows of feathers which Icarus held in place for him. Finally, Daedalus softened some beeswax and fastened the rows of feathers together with the wax.
At last Daedalus was finished. He held up a beautiful pair of wings! Daedalus tied the wings to his arms and shoulders with thin strips of leather. Cautiously, he fluttered the wings.
Daedalus then moved the wings up and down with strong beats. As the wings moved, he could feel himself lifting from the roof of the tower!
Learn how Daedalus and Icarus used their wings on the next page.