In my new novel, Aphrodite’s Tears, the heroine Oriel is struggling to maintain a professional distance from her new employer, Damian, with whom, years ago, she shared a single night of passion:
‘Rules were made to be broken.’ Damian smiled with his lips but his eyes, so astoundingly silver, had an inscrutable look behind soot-thick lashes.
Oriel went utterly still. It was as if every nerve in her pulsating body had gone into emergency red alert. The reality of her situation confronted her with painful force. Suddenly she was afraid that if he did step over the line, she wouldn’t be able to resist. She was flying too close to his heat like some foolish Icarus with wings of wax and feathers. There would only be herself to blame if she plummeted into the sea.
Was he determined to have his way with her before the end of the project? Would she have the strength to reject him? Her eyes held a silent plea for him to understand as she said softly: ‘Please don’t make me regret that I trusted you.’
No doubt you’re familiar with the phrase ‘flying too close to the sun’, and you’ve probably heard of Icarus. This particular Greek myth is one that has permeated cultures for centuries.
According to the story, as laid down by Ovid in his epic poem Metamorphoses, Icarus was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, who created the Minotaur’s Labyrinth for King Minos on Crete (more on that another day). After constructing the maze, King Minos banned Daedalus and Icarus from leaving Crete. But father and son determined to escape the reign of the tyrannous king.
Daedalus crafted for them both wings made from feather held together by wax. As he attached the wings to his son’s arms, he warned: ‘Don’t fly too high, or the sun will melt the wax. Don’t fly too low, or the sea spray will weigh down the feathers.’
But once Icarus took flight, the sensation of soaring through the air overtook him. He soared like a bird, higher and higher – until, too late, he realised the wax that secured his wings was melting. He fell, down and down, into the sea.
Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) described Icarus’s final moments in poetic terms:
…with melting wax and loosened strings
Sunk hapless Icarus on unfaithful wings;
Headlong he rushed through the affrighted air,
With limbs distorted and dishevelled hair;
His scattered plumage danced upon the wave,
And sorrowing Nereids decked his watery grave;
O’er his pale corse their pearly sea-flowers shed,
And strewed with crimson moss his marble bed;
Struck in their coral towers the passing bell,
And wide in ocean tolled his echoing knell.
Many writers and poets have been inspired by the story of Icarus, from Shakespeare to Auden; and artists too. Pictured with this article is The Fall of Icarus (1819) by French painter Merry-Joseph Blondel, a ceiling fresco at the Louvre, Paris. Lyricists, too, have taken inspiration from the myth; there is even a dedicated page at Wikipedia for ‘Icarus imagery in contemporary music’ which lists some 132 references to the man who flew too high.
The story of Icarus has been told over and over through history as a warning against hubris and risk-taking: Icarus aimed too high, dallied with danger, and he paid a terrible price for that. Yet, in our modern times, when we are so often encouraged to ‘reach for the stars’, to follow our dreams, this warning is somewhat discordant.
Should my heroine Oriel step over that line? Will it prove so very perilous to fly closer to Damian’s heat? Should Oriel fear flying high? Love is risky, because the heart may be hurt; but is it a risk worth taking?