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Representation of The Myth of Icarus and Daedalus in Literature and Painting

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W. H. Auden’s poem, ”Musée de Beaux Arts” centers around human suffering by the speaker observing the painting. Auden utilizes this work of art to show how egocentric people on the world had become. The painting “Landscape with the Fall of the Icarus” was painted by a Renaissance painter in which it depicted the underlying theme of the world’s ignorance. In the painting “Landscape with the Fall of the Icarus” by Bruegel, Icarus is portrayed as an innocent victim of social ignorance. The poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden serves as a reason as to why no one saved Icarus. In contrast, Ovid’s myth shows how Icarus’ over ambitious and ignorant character leads to his downfall.

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The painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Peter Bruegel, which refuted the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, relates a situation about Daedalus and Icarus. In his painting, he portrays the scene when Icarus fell into the sea. Bruegel depicted rural people in real-life settings; many of his works show peasants farming, going to market, or celebrating the harvest. The simplicity of his painting has deeper meanings. He showed the painting in a very different way as compared to the Greek myth. In the painting, many people are continuing on with their life for instance the farmer doing his job in the field, the person who is busy in different activity, the man gazing into the sunset, and many ships in the water. Everything is perfect in the painting, but there is a person who he showed drowning in the sea, which is believed to be Icarus. The painting can be interpreted in two ways. One way is that the people were so blinded by their own successes and enjoyable life that they could not see Icarus drowning.

Another interpretation is that the people were so caught up in their own struggles in life that they choose not to care for others, like how the people in the painting did not save Icarus. It can be added that the people are blinded by ignorance of others’ problems. This can be seen in the painting by observing how all the people were not really facing the direction of Icarus. Instead, most of them were carrying on with their lives. The man in the bottom right corner was looking at the water, but he still did not try to save Icarus. Overall, the painting depicted that humans had provincial views and therefore did not see the other people that needed help.

The poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden was about the paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts and described many themes. It was about society’s differences and human sufferings. Auden later specifies the painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Peter Bruegel in his poem and explains why the people in Bruegel’s painting did not save Icarus in the water. The writer represented a few circumstances in which pain goes unnoticed and disregarded. It seemed like enduring pain had turned into a consistent and typical part of life that was described as someone “eating or opening a window or just walking dully along. ” It also says how individuals eat and drink, dogs keep on living their lives, and people keep on feeling indifferent towards someone else’s tragedies, such as death. The author implies that people’s daily lives included having constant weight on their shoulders. In the meantime, if everybody was experiencing a type of pain or struggle of their own, it evokes the question of whether or not they should help with resolving other’s pain. Auden explains that there is an absence of empathy in society; the world is becoming impassive and self-centered. Nowadays, a person’s pain, tragedies, and sufferings are a part of life, but life needs to go on. This theme can be seen in the quote “children who did not especially want it to happen. ” It explained how the oldest child in the family would be jealous of a younger born child because they would require more of the parents’ time and attention. It further went on to say how despite all these events that happened, life will still have to go on. In the poem it said, “Where the dogs go on with their doggy life, ” which portrays how the people have to move on even if something bothered someone, just like how the children had to accept the fact that younger siblings required a great deal of attention.

The analysis of the Bruegel’s painting enhanced the poem’s purpose. Not only that but is also provided a reason as to why the people in the painting did not save Icarus. Auden mentioned in his poem how “the ploughman may have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, but for him it was not an important failure. ” He explained how the man could have heard the splash but chose not to save Icarus because he had his own problems. Those problems were a more “important failure” than Icarus’ drowning therefore his drowning was not worth the ploughman’s attention. The exaggeration of someone putting their problems before someone else’s life and death situation showed how careless people were. Auden ended his poem by once again mentioning how life must go on. He said, “the expensive delicate ship…had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. ” This was, again, an exaggeration of how even objects moved on with their job. His depiction indicated that he understood that while people endure pain, the everyday schedule of life goes ahead as undisturbed.

The myth of Daedalus and Icarus by Ovid started in Athens. Daedalus was the best painter, stone carver, and thinker of Athens. His method for escaping from Crete was to use wings made out of wax to fly out. Daedalus made one for himself and one for his son. Daedalus advised Icarus to not going down to the ocean waves or ascending to the sun and stay nearby. However, the youthful Icarus disobeyed his father. Pleased with the magnificence and shining of the sun, he ascended higher than Daedalus advised him. The sunlight dissolved the wax and the broke down wings could not hold Icarus. He fell from the sky to the ocean, plummeting towards his death. Daedalus felt pure sadness towards his son’s death, regardless of Icarus’ decision to disobey. Icarus had a “beaming face kept on capturing the feathers which the moving air has moved, with his thumb now kept softening the yellow wax and with his play he kept interrupting the marvelous work of his father. ” This shows how Icarus had a smile on his face while he was ruining his father’s work and it portrays Icarus’ character as an overly eager, as he was, child. Daedalus worked hard to provide a mean of escape for him and his son, but Icarus decided to interrupt it. To continue this thought, Icarus’ eagerness can be described by the quote “attracted by a desire for the sky he took his path higher. ” He was overwhelmed with the fantasy of flight and got overconfident with the feeling of his power. However, Icarus’ over ambitious character not only leads to his death, but also broke his father’s heart. The quote “but the unlucky father, no longer a father” shows how Icarus’ ambitions led to one moment Daedalus being a father to no longer being a father. Icarus’ fall was a warning for youthful carelessness, which can result in unfortunate events.

Icarus’ death in “Landscape with the Fall of the Icarus” by Bruegel showed the result of society’s ignorance. “Musée des Beaux Arts, ” a poem by W. H. Auden, served as a reason as to why no one saved Icarus. Ovid’s myth about Daedalus and Icarus shows how Icarus’ over ambitious and ignorant character led to his downfall. In the myth, Icarus ignored his Daedalus, which shows Icarus’ ignorance. The painting portrayed how Icarus got ignored by other people, which displayed social ignorance. Auden’s poem was a justification as to why no one saved Icarus by giving multiple reasons.

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The similarity between the myth and painting is the theme of ignorance, however, the difference is the portrayal of ignorance. Ovid’s myth showed a more childlike and immature ignorance versus the painting, which showed the realistic and adultlike ignorance. The painting changes the purpose of the myth by shifting the focus of ignorance from Icarus to the world. People forgot that Icarus was over ambitious and ignored the advice that his father gave to him. Over the time, as seen in the painting, Icarus became the person who was suffering socially and gets ignored by everyone. However, if everyone has this ignorance, one can infer this as the natural behavior of human beings.

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Representation of the Myth of Icarus and Daedalus in Literature and Painting. (2020, April 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2023, from
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