Icarus, Brueghel and the poets a study of meaning in the myth of Daedalus and Icarus
Ullyatt, Anthony George
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The myth of Daedalus and Icarus has always seemed such a simple story: a cautionary tale about disobedience and hubris. The fallacy of that presumption has resulted in this dissertation. The research question took an equally simple form: What does the myth of Daedalus and Icarus "mean"? Such a question presumes that there is a definitive "original" version of the myth. This turned out not to be the case. As a result, three subordinate research questions emerged: (a) how might the myth be understood if different versions of it existed?, (b) what form might these differing variants take?, and (c) what broader, connotative meanings might the myth possess? In attempting to answer the main research question and its corollaries, the dissertation has a number of purposes, the first of which is to try to define what we mean when we talk or write about myth. While some of the major debates are touched upon, Chapter 1 pretends to be little more than an introduction to a vast and amorphous topic. Some of the theoretical matters underpinning this research are also dealt with here. The second purpose is to offer a critical reading of Melville's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. This is the focus of Chapter 2. However, what we understand and perceive about the myth, its main characters, and what the mythic events "mean" create presuppositions and presumptions that impinge on our understanding of its meaning/so Consequently, the second chapter begins with an overview of the inter-relationships of the major characters involved in the myth and those tales associated with Minos and Crete. Chapter 3 may be considered almost as an adjunct to the first two. It presents several of versions and variants of the Icarus myth. Most of these alternatives affect the way his premature demise is perceived and its significance or meaning understood. The dissertation's third purpose is to study how a number of poets from America, Britain, and South Africa have made use of various aspects of the myth to create poems that serve as "interpretations" or variants of the myth. Six poems comprise the subject of Chapter 4. Chapter 5 has a narrower focus, given over, as it is, to an examination of how three major English-speaking poets have used one of Brueghel's paintings of the myth in various ways to produce poems about, or related to, the subject of Icarus. To this end, the chapter opens with a discussion of Brueghel's work as well as some earlier depictions of the myth. Chapter 6 explores several broader connotative meanings of the myth. It explores "what else" the myth could mean. A brief opening discussion of denotative and connotative meaning leads to a range of reflections on such matters as exile, flight, the rebel and conformity, and the father/son relationship among others. The various sections of the chapter are intended to initiate, even provoke discussion and debate about the myth's meaning; it offers nothing that should be construed as either comprehensive or definitive. Chapter 7 contains a collection of more than two dozen poems (in English) inspired in some way by the Icarian myth. It goes without saying that many more texts exist in German, French, and Spanish, to say nothing of examples in Eastern European languages. The texts included here provide nothing more than a soupcon of the range and diversity of responses the myth has provoked. Their inclusion should not be taken as any sort of benchmark for creative quality or otherwise. The dissertation concludes with a list of references.