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This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context (chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations) for Socrates, Plato and their time. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations.
Dædalus was an Athenian of the family of Cecrops,
the first legendary king of Athens, by his mother
Alcippe. Traditions vary as to who was his father : he was either the son
(see for instance Plato's Ion at 533a)
or the grandson of Metion, himself the son or the grandson of Erechtheus,
another legendary king of Athens. In
the Alcibiades (121a),
Plato has Socrates, in a show of good lineage in the face of young Alcibiades
bragging about his ancestors, trace back his origins to Dædalus (see also
11b) and, through him, to Hephæstus, the patron god of craftsmen,
which implies the identification of Erechtheus
with Erichthonius, indeed found
in early traditions.
Dædalus was presented as a universal craftsman. In Plato's Meno (97d), Socrates presents him as a most skilled sculptor whose statues seemed so alive that they looked like they could run away unless properly tied (see also Hippias major, 282a, and Euthyphro, 11b-e & 15b-c where Socrates compares Euthyphro's arguments in the discussion with him to Dædalus' statues).
But Dædalus was also the architect who built for Minos, the legendary king of Crete, a famous palace called the Labyrinth so intricate that no one except him could find his way in it. Minos had this palace built to lock up in it the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster born from the love of his wife Pasiphae for a bull sent him by Poseidon (Dædalus had at the time seeked refuge at the court of Minos after having been banished from Athens following the murder of his nephew and disciple Talus, of whom he had grown jealous, so skilled he had become at his school).
And more generally speaking, Dædalus was an inventor in all kinds of domains (see Plato's Laws, III, 677d) : he was the one who suggested Ariadne, the daughter of Minos who had fallen in love with Theseus, the trick of the thread to help him get out of the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur ; and when Minos, after uncovering the part he had played in Theseus' victory and escape, locked him up in the Labyrinth with his son Icarus, he manufactured for them both artificial wings fixed to their body with wax, with which he managed to escape to Cumæ in Italy, (while his son Icarus, flying too close to the sun, lost his wings when the wax melted and fell into the Ægean Sea in the area of the island of Samos, not far from the island of Icaria, where some legends say his body was found).