There is a tale of a man. We know his story from the Greeks who gave life to him and death. Yet, he relates to us even now.
Different twists of it are told, and yet I like the original.
It is the myth of Icarus.
Icarus was a young lad who received wings made of wax and feathers from his father Daedalus.
An awesome gift indeed.
Though it was indeed a gift… it was given with a more practical use in mind.
Daedalus wanted to escape the island of Crete with his son. He had a pair for himself as well.
With these special wings, Icarus could soar to the heights of the heavens, and glide close to the ground. Not too close though, for the sea would moisten the wings and render them useless.
Not too terrible a fate should something go wrong.
However, his father gave him a solemn warning… that being that if he should go so high to reach the sun he would then fall. Fall unto his death.
Being the young spritely fellow that he was — he completely disregarded his father’s word. He went up higher, higher, and higher still until in an instant… he started falling.
Frantically flapping his wings… he screamed in horror as the wax from them stood suspended in the air as he careened towards the sea. They no longer worked.
After the hollow screams ceased… the only noise to be heard was from the watery grave that was always below him.
Foolish boy. It’s strange. He was a young man, and yet he thought as a child. It is known that during our teens we have much less of an ability to say no to our peers… let alone ourselves.
Such was the case with him. Icarus must have thought that he was flying right beside Apollo (the Greek sun god), and alongside Mercury (the dude/god that had sports cars as shoes) as he constantly danced with the incredible power of the gift.
It wasn’t the gift that killed him.
It was his pride and foolishness.
He thought of his sheer pleasure, and he failed to think of the very father (in more ways than one) of his gift.
In his glee he allowed his ego to take over and rule over all of his reason and senses. For why wouldn’t he? He was a god in his own mind.
Yet this “god” fell, right into the sea.
His father soon found out about the tragedy and grieved fiercely. He dedicated an entire island to his son and called it Icaria. It is a real place southwest of the island Samos.
It was his Father’s dream to escape with his son. He did escape, yet he had to leave a part of him behind.
One moved forward in life with the wisdom of years, and the other moved across the river Styx (probably thinking of his Father whilst sitting beside the feet of “Captain” Charon).
The story could be understood as a parable of the foolishness of youth and how easy it is to forget the wisdom of something being said by one who cares about us.
It could also be a cultural commentary on the human tendency to achieve godhood and yet so despairingly forget the fact that we are but flesh and bone.
Styx had no preference.
She was both a river and a goddess. She was revered so highly that even the pantheon of the gods/goddesses swore by her in their oaths.
Men were sworn to her by the one thing no man can avoid… death. Not even demigods and heroes could escape her drowning embrace… try as they may.
Might could not bring immortality, nor possessions, nor accomplishments. All were destined to pass over it or be swallowed by it.
The entire ancient world was infatuated with death (and cheating it) in many ways.
For Mesopotamia, they spoke often about the bleak state of man. Even their heroes with the glory of the gods (the epic of Gilgamesh for example) could not live forever and escape the end of their days.
Remembered as a great king (according to the story)? Yes… that kind of immortality was recognized, but you probably had ergot-infested grain if you thought you could live forever.
For Egypt, you could practically spend all your life planning for your death. It was celebrated even. For the Egyptians… there were spell books galore for the protection of the departed and entire industries for the worship of the gods associated with it.
The Greeks were quite refined about it, at least the Athenians.
Since they were very keen on philosophy and science (at least in the ancient sense) – a bit of a brighter notion of the subject showed up in their mythology.
For example, the well-known greats (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus) had the notion that death was not to be feared; rather, it was to be embraced to a point.
This theme can be seen in some of their sayings.
“To fear death is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not. For it is to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not even turn out to be the greatest blessings of human beings. And yet people fear it as if they knew for certain it is the greatest evil.” ~Socrates [https://www.azquotes.com/quote/670685]
“O youth or young man, who fancy that you are neglected by the gods, know that if you become worse, you shall go to worse souls, or if better to the better… In every succession of life and death, you will do and suffer what like may fitly suffer at the hands of like. This is the justice of heaven.” ~Plato [https://www.azquotes.com/quote/670691]
“He then alone will strictly be called brave who is fearless of a noble death, and of all such chances as come upon us with sudden death in their train.” ~Aristotle [Aristotle (1869). “The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle”, p.82 (sourced from https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1091913 )]
You can see many different colors in the mental brushstrokes of these ancient people. They go from darkness to light, grey to color. Many and varied are their thoughts, as are ours today.
I would dare say that – at least to a point – what they thought about death was more colorful than what we think about life in modern times. That must change.
Reason? They truly had manifold reasons to desire the sleep of death.
From the Greek thief starving, then after a crime accepting his fate before Hades, to the Viking embracing the somewhat dizzying embrace of blood loss on the battlefield – as he sends a whispered prayer to Odin that his horse Sleipnir rides the soul of the soon departed gently to Valhalla, or even Hel.
They understood it as rest.
And yet, death is more feared now than ever, and it is not the pandemic’s fault.
I feel it is because people have been so out of touch with what truly matters in the long run, that they are now realizing that the short-term delights under the sun are but a fleeting moment of nonsense to be pursued.
Back then, since survival was the priority — groups of people working together and having family about oneself was of tantamount importance.
But that wasn’t the only reason people still worked together and even had children in incredibly hard conditions.
They understood the sense of meaning that is all too often forgotten today of family, home, and life.
These things made their often-short lives more meaningful and bearable.
I must ask… why are these concepts, goals, things so dashed apart today?
Can a company take the place of a loved one?
Can a group or piece of paper one gets from a prestigious school completely substitute for these ancient bulwarks of society?
Shall being the top employee in the history of a company last long past your death?
You may be remembered, but because of your soul or the numbers you brought in?
You have one life on earth for now, and considering dollars are “printed” out of thin air… I would consider the days you have left in your time bank.
They are not just for you… they were given to you with the hope that they would be shared in sincerity with others.
Whatever god, or not that you believe in — be not your own god.
You will only find the void of nations past and gone.
Life has so much more to offer with people in relationships than simply going for cheap accolades alone.
As Icarus reached for the stary heights with his wings – which were not his own – as a god in his own mind, and then fell to earth fractured in a million pieces… who shall be there to catch you should you fall terribly if you seek to push all that would love you (or trust you) away in your pursuit of vain glory?
Sure, he loved the feeling of being untethered as we do, but he went past the boundary of the reasonable and he paid with his life.
A life so full could not pay the ransom needed for him to cheat death.
He betrayed meaning for cheap thrills, and allowed power to seduce his better judgment.
The wages of his sin was death, so to speak.
Here is the sum of the matter.
He could have all the fun he wanted… if he respected the bounds of the gift he was given.
I mean really… what I would pay to be able to fly in the same fashion he did.
In different ways, I can.
You can too.
Never forget the ancient lesson of Icarus though.
If we fly too high without respect for principles… we will only fall fatally, and more often than not we will fall fast and alone.
How shall you fly henceforth?
I’ll let you decide.