The Middle Way: The Story of Daedalus

The most direct path from A to B is a straight line. The straight line down the middle always takes the most control — the most discipline.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

We know the story of Theseus fighting the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Crete. The other story of the Labyrinth is the story of Daedalus, some of you may know this as the myth of Icarus. Daedalus is a story of wisdom and balance — a tale of success. Icarus is a story of caution, how extremes lead to failure.

Daedalus was a wise and masterful craftsman. King Minos of Crete wanted to imprison his stepson, the Minotaur. Daedalus was then given the task of building the Labyrinth. The Athenian hero Theseus eventually defeated the Minotaur and escaped the Labyrinth, with the help of Princess Ariadne — the daughter of King Minos. Ariadne gave Theseus a spool of thread to find his way out. The spool was given to the princess by Daedalus, and for this, King Minos imprisoned Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth.

Cleverness and overcoming obstacles were natural qualities for Daedalus. He was the greatest inventor of his day, with a knack for problem-solving. In the Labyrinth, Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings, one for himself and one for his son. The story we all know is that Icarus, being too passionate and ambitious, ignored his father's warning and flew too close to the sun — burning his wings and drowning in what is now known as the Icarian Sea. Yet that's only half the story.

Daedalus warned Icarus of the perils of flying too close to the sun but also too close to the sea. Too high in the sky, the sun would melt his wings. Too low, the moisture of the sea would weigh down his wings and the salty mist would tear them apart. Flying low looks deceivingly safe but is the closer path to drowning.

To test the wings, Daedalus took first flight. Knowing he would not be able to watch his son, he told Icarus to follow his path closely. Only in a balanced flight would he find safety. Icarus didn't die by being burned up by the sun, he died from drowning. It is the fall that gets us, whether we are high or low. Icarus fell from a lack of discipline. That's the real moral we missed. It is not about avoiding risk because avoiding risk is just as deadly as taking on too much risk.

Extremes are easy, moderation takes the utmost control. Imagine, for example, eating delicious cookies. It is much easier to eat several or none at all, then it is to stop at one.

Daedalus survived, combining creativity with restraint. Even if Daedalus were to fall into the ocean, from what we know of him, he would have devised a plan to survive and stuck with it.

Several versions of this story exist. One where Icarus drowns from flying too low. Another where Daedalus and Icarus escape Crete by boat — taking the "low road." To outrace his pursuers, Daedalus invents the first sail. In this pursuit, Icarus falls overboard and drowns.

Through the passage of time, one variation of this story has survived better than the rest. It is the favored version by overprotective parents, by an overprotective society. By those in authority who do not want to be challenged. By those in power who do not want their positions usurped. Icarus has become the story for staying within boundaries of comfort, to aim low — or else.

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?
— Erin Hanson

But what of the story of Daedalus? This is the story of balance. The most direct path from A to B is a straight line. The straight line down the middle always takes the most control — the most discipline. In Buddhism, this is called the Middle Way. Discipline is a virtue rarely honored in contemporary society, yet in many ways, it is still the only virtue worth honoring.

Afterword

Minos chased Daedalus to what is now Sicily. Some stories say, this is where Daedalus got his revenge on Minos, drowning him in boiling water.

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