Icarus and Iphigenia


Daedalus and Icarus, by Anthony van Dyck

I’m sure most folks are familiar with the Greek myth about Daedalus and Icarus, the father and son who were imprisoned by King Minos in the Labyrinth. Daedalus made two pairs of wings of wax and feathers, but during their escape, Icarus disobeyed his father’s warnings, flew too close to the Sun, and fell into the sea which now bears his name, the Icarian Sea.

Icarus is mentioned in Canto XVII of Inferno, as Dante describes his fear at flying on Geryon’s back (translated out of Elizabethan English as best I can!):

Verily I think there was not greater fear
When Phaëthon lost his relaxing reins,
Whereby heaven scorched, as even now appears,
Or when faint Icarus felt his shoulders roast
Disfeathered, as the warm wax was unbound.
And his father cried to him, “You’re going an ill way,”
Than was my terror when I found myself
In the air all round about me and all alone,
And save that beast all else from sight was drowned.

Icarus is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek Ikaros, which may mean “follower.”

The Anger of Achilles, by Jacques-Louis David

Iphigenia is mentioned in Canto V of Paradiso, as the victim of a bad vow:

Let mortals never take the vow in sport:
Keep faith, nor let your eyes, in doing this,
As Jephthah’s with his first-vowed gift, distort;
Who should rather have said, ‘I did wrong’
Than, keeping faith, do worse. And you can trace
Such folly in the great chieftains of Greece,
Whence Iphigenia wept for her fair face
And made simple and wise to weep her too,
Hearing of that vow kept in such a case.

Iphigenia was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra of Mycenae. While the Greeks prepared to go to war against the Trojans, Agamemnon killed a deer in a sacred grove of the goddess Artemis. This really angered Artemis, who punished Agamemnon by interfering with the winds and making it impossible for his fleet to sail to Troy.

The seer Calchas told Agamemnon he had to sacrifice his oldest daughter Iphigenia to appease Artemis. This horrified Agamemnon, and he refused to do it until he succumbed to intense pressure from the other commanders. Iphigenia was tricked into coming to the city of Aulis with her mother, believing she was going to marry Achilles. Accounts vary on when she realized the truth, as well as whether or not she were actually sacrificed.

Iphigenia is the Latinized form of Iphigeneia, an Ancient Greek name which means “strong-born.” It derives from the elements iphios (strong; stout) and genes (born).


7 thoughts on “Icarus and Iphigenia

  1. I had always assumed she was rescued. She was the one that was tied to a rock and was to thrown to the sea right?
    So many maidens angered one God or another so it is hard to keep up.
    Bless you for posting these . I love them!!!

  2. I so enjoyed learning mythology when I was in high school and often wish I had kept up with it. Happy a-z!

  3. Pingback: Iphigenia in Paradise | Francis James Franklin (Alina Meridon)

  4. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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