previous next

Daidalos, Son of Eupalamos or Metion, of Athens



Though the place-name dadarejode or daidaleonde is known from the Knossian Linear B tablets (ca. 1400 B.C.), the first mention of the artist Daidalos ("Cunning-Worker") is in Homer's description of the Shield of Achilles:

“And the renowned smith of the strong arms made elaborate on it
A dancing floor, like that which once in the wide spaces of Knossos
Daidalos built for Ariadne of the lovely tresses.
tr. Richmond Lattimore

Thereafter, the sources are silent till the fifth century, when an Aeschylean satyr-chorus describes a lifelike series of masks on a temple, "wrought by superhuman skill":

“Look and see if possibly
This image could be more like me.
Wrought by Daidalos, it only lacks a voice!

Aeschylus, POxy 2162, lines 5-7
Many classical and later authors elaborate upon this theme, and a few offer other (sometimes conflicting) judgments and miscellaneous information about his innovations:

“The sanctuary of Athena Chalinitis is by the theater [of Corinth], and near it is a naked wooden image of Herakles, said to be by Daidalos. All the works of this artist, though somewhat uncouth to look at, nevertheless have a touch of the divine in them.

“Daedalus invented carpentry, and with it the saw, axe, plumb-line, drill, glue, and isinglass; but Theodorus of Samos discovered the square, plummet, lathe, and lever.

Pliny, N.H. 7.198
Though the "Daedalic" style in Greek seventh-century sculpture owes its name wholly to nineteenth-century wishful thinking, Pausanias lists several more of Daidalos' supposed works, and other sources added others as the desire to attribute obviously primitive statues to the legendary virtuoso took hold:

“Of the works of Daidalos there are two in Boeotia, a Herakles in Thebes and the Trophonios at Lebadeia. There are also two other xoana in Crete, a Britomartis at Olous and an Athena at Knossos. There too is also Ariadne's Dance, mentioned by Homer in the Iliad, carved in relief on white stone. At Delos, too, there is a small xoanon of Aphrodite, its right hand damaged by time, and instead of feet its lower part is square. I am persuaded that Ariadne got this image from Daidalos ... I know of no other extant works of Daidalos; for those dedicated by the Argives in the Heraion and those brought to Gela in Sicily from Omphake have disappeared in the course of time.

Elsewhere, Pausanias mentions Dipoinos and Skyllis of Crete and Endoios of Athens as his pupils (Paus. 2.15.1; T 28), disregarding the chronological impossibility this entails; other genealogically inclined writers compound the confusion by adding yet more dates and names.

These and other sources enable one to trace Daidalos' supposed career in broad outline. The grandson of the legendary king Erechtheus of Athens, maker of extraordinarily lifelike statues, architect, woodworker, and inventor, Daidalos fled after killing his nephew to Knossos where among other achievements he built the Labyrinth for king Minos. After aiding Theseus' escape, however, he and his son Ikaros were imprisoned, but escaped after Daidalos made waxen wings for both of them. While Ikaros flew too close to the sun and crashed, his father was able to reach Sicily, and worked there under the protection of king Kokalos till his death.

This historically-intractable farrago of "evidence", heavily tinged with Athenian cultural chauvinism, has prompted a structuralist analysis by Frontisi-Ducroux 1975; critique in Gnomon 51 (1979): 42-8. Philipp 1970 seeks a kernel of historical truth, arguing from the fifth-century sources and their later imitators:

“Nothing to get scared about, old man:
Daidalos' works all seem to move about
And his statues to speak; clever chap, that one!

Euripides, Eurystheus Satyrikos fr. 372 ed. Nauck (2nd ed.)

“It is said about Daidalos that he made statues that walked of their own accord. This seems impossible to me, that statues should move about spontaneously. The truth is this: in those days the sculptors of gods and men made the feet joined together and the arms hanging by the sides. Daidalos first made one foot striding forward, which is why men said, Daidalos has made this statue walk ...

Palaiphatos, De Incredibilibus 21 (ed. Festa)

“The composition (rhythmos) of the ancient statues of Egypt is the same as those made by Daidalos among the Greeks.

Diodoros 1.97.5
Philipp suggests two possible explanations. Either the connection of Daidalos with the invention of "walking" statues is preclassical, and T 11 offers a rationalistic critique developed in the fifth to fourth centuries, or T 10-12 echo an original fifth-century observation about changes of posture in "primitive" sculpture, which was soon grafted onto the vaguer legend of Daidalos' seemingly alive mimemata (T 6) without regard to chronological niceties. Marginally favoring her second hypothesis are the well-known Greek love of attaching major advances in techne to famous names (cf. T 8), and more specifically, the fact that the conservative Pindar describes the invention of walking statues as Athena's gift to the children of Helios (Pind. O. 7.50-53, 464 B.C.) : if Daidalos were already accepted as their inventor by his time, Pindar would probably have credited him instead. Perhaps, then, this aspect of the Daidalos legend offers further testimony of a burgeoning historical consciousness about art in fifth-century Greece, presumably sparked by the creation of the classical style itself. Plato, (Plat. Meno 97d and Plat. Hipp. Maj. 282a also suggests as much, and a late source even reports Aischylos as saying that "the old statues, though simply made, are thought divine; while the new, though superbly wrought, have less of the divine in them" (in Porphyry, de Abstinentia 2.18).

Most recently, Boardman has suggested a more specific explanation still: that "it was the memory of the role of travelling Cretan artists at this decisive point in the history of Greek sculpture that determined that it was to a Cretan Daidalos that these innovations should be attributed" (Boardman 1980b, 47). Though this is certainly compatible with the scheme outlined above, and the emigration of several of the Daidalidai to Greece was definitely remembered (T 15), Daidalos the legendary virtuoso was in any case the obvious candidate regardless of historical truth; furthermore, this theory disregards the pro-Athenian and anti-Cretan bias of the sources on Daidalos himself, which as earlier remarked, prefer an Attic ancestry and send him to Sicily, not Greece, from Crete.

Select bibliography: Overbeck 1868/1959 nos. 67-142; Stuart-Jones 1895/1966, 3-7; RE 4:1994-2007 (Robert, 1901); ThB 8: 280-3 (Amelung, Thiersch, 1913); Schweitzer 1932/1963, 127-41; Picard 1935-1971 (vol. 1): (Picard/Manuel) 77-84; Lippold 1950, 18-20; EAA 3: 16-17 (de Franciscis, 1960); EWA 7: 34-5 (Amandry, 1963); EWA 11: 140ff (Paribeni, 1966); Philipp 1968, 50-54, etc.; Philipp 1970; Davaras 1972, 41-3; Frontisi-Ducroux 1975; M. Robertson 1975, 34, 59, 107; Boardman 1978a, 26, 76, 82, 170; Boardman 1980b; Papadopoulos 1980; Donohue 1988, 179-88, 194-96, and passim; Pollitt 1990, 13-15; Stewart 1990, 106-08, 240-43.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: