Last summer I visited Crete, which is now part of Greece, and spent a day exploring the ruined Palace of Knossos and the archeological museum which holds many of its artifacts. Thus it was with great excitement that I first encountered the vase above. Though the vase is Belgian Neo-Classical Art Deco (c. 1930), its design inspiration is purely Minoan. On one side, a pre-flight Icarus stalks a winged lion (who is on the other side).
The Minoan culture flourished about 2,500 to 1,500 BC, on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean, south of mainland Greece. King Minos (after whom the culture is named) lived at the Palace of Knosos. When the buried site was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans (between 1900 and 1905 AD), an incredible trove of art and architecture was unearthed—a historical record which showed the significant impact the Bronze Age Cretans had on the start of Western civilization. Remnants of architecture, frescoes, pottery, metalwork, jewelry and mosaics proved the existence of a sophisticated, cosmopolitan and well-travelled civilization. Surviving clay tablets (first expressed in cuneiform, then written) have yet to be fully deciphered.
The Cretans also contributed significantly to Western mythology. The famed Labyrinth was believed to be at Knosos. Its creator and builder, the Athenian, Daedalus, had a son named Icarus. Having displeased King Minos, Daedalus found himself imprisoned in the very Labyrinth he had built to imprison the Minotaur. To escape, he made two pairs of wings—one for himself and one for Icarus—that they might fly off the island of Crete. While affixing them to his son’s arms, Daedalus warned Icarus to not fly too high—lest the heat of the sun melt the wax. Alas, Icarus was so overjoyed at the thrill of flying that he did fly too high, thus melting the wax and destroying his wings. Poor Icarus fell into the sea where he drowned. The Icarus fable has been a powerful lesson on humility and hubris ever since.
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