“I address you across more than three thousand years, you who live at the conjunction of the Fish and the Water-carrier,” speaks Daedalus, an artisan, inventor, and designer born into an utterly alien family of heroes who value acts of war above all else, a world where his fellow Greeks seem driven only to destroyan existence he feels compelled to escape.
In this fictional autobiography of the father of Icarus, “Apollo’s creature,” a brilliant but flawed man, writer and sculptor Michael Ayrton harnesses the tales of the past to mold a myth for our times. We learn of Daedalus’s increasingly ambitious artifacts and inventions; his fascination with Minoan culture, commerce, and religion, and his efforts to adapt to them; how he comes to design the maze of the horned Minotaur; and how, when he decides that he must flee yet again, he builds two sets of wax wingswings that will be instruments of his descent into the underworld, a place of both purgatory and rebirth.
A compelling mix of history, fable, lore, and meditations on the enigma of art, The Maze Maker will ensnare classicists, artists, and all lovers of story in its convolutions of life and legend. “I never understood the pattern of my life,” writes Daedalus, “so that I have blundered through it in a maze.”
|Publisher:||University of Chicago Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) was an English artist and writer. His bronze sculptures of Icarus stand outside the Smithsonian Institution Space Museum in Washington, DC, and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He is the author of The Testament of Daedalus, Fabrications, and The Midas Consequence, among other books.
Read an Excerpt
I write in the time of the Ram, when the time of the Bull I is passed, and I address you across more than three thousand years, you who live at the conjunction of the Fish and the Water-carrier. You, in your time, have completed much that I began and your technical achievements make mine seem trivial and perhaps childish. Nevertheless, I have done things no man before me has ever done and I have made marvels which no man before me could make. With my son I have crossed the sky, where no man before has ever been.
I make these boasts as I begin to write, and counter them with the admission that I am a coward and that I never understood the pattern of my life so that I have blundered through it in a maze. I did not know until now that in places the walls of this maze were cunningly polished so that the perils I have endured, my fears and hopes, and the joy I have taken in my tasks have time and again been reflected in one another. I did not know that those I have loved and hated have been mirrored images of one another. In all my life I never learned from one experience how to encounter its reflected twin.
Above all I have been the creature of a god and endured his relentless persecution. He it was who drove me in terror to hide in the womb of his consort, in the labyrinths I made. He it was who killed my son and who has driven me to be what I have been and what I am. The demigods and kings, the monsters and mysteries which have peopled my life, he has directed; the power they had, he gave them. The power I have he gave me. What I have felt of love, endured of pain, seen of death and fought in terror, he imposed upon me. He is the sun and his consort is the earth. I do not speak of them as symbols.
I am Apollo's thing, born in his consort Gaia to whom I shall presently return. If other gods have been concerned with me, their concern has been idle. If they have watched me, they have done little more than watch and if they have seen me crawling through my maze, it is possible they found me no more interesting than those who have crawled before me and those who will come after.
Each man's life is a labyrinth at the center of which lies his death, and even after death it may be that he passes through a final maze before it is all ended for him. Within the great maze of a man's life are many smaller ones, each seemingly complete in itself, and in passing through each one he dies in part, for in each he leaves behind him a part of his life and it lies dead behind him. It is a paradox of the labyrinth that its center appears to be the way to freedom.
My name is Daedalus and I am a technician. This I chose to be. I have made many things in many places and done so cunningly, for that is the meaning of my name. I have constructed buildings and planned fortifications. I am proficient in stone carving and I can make the forms of gods in wood, competently joined. I have made many tools to do these things and invented others to make the work simpler and have it better done. Also I can paint images and I am adept at mechanical contrivance. All these things I can do as well as any other, be he who he may.
Above all, I am skilled in metal working and if I can boast of the intricacy of my mind, I should compare it to skilled metal working, to the delicate and perilous process which begins with the forming of the wax, burns fiercely in the long pour of the molten metal and ends cool and complete with speculation carried into considered action. What I do here is to write down what I remember of my life before it is ended and cooled, so that when you break away the mantle of the years you will find the bronze of Daedalus well cast and find that I have made myself properly. I do not forget that Apollo heated the metal.
This much is simple. I am not. I am no ordinary man, but one who has always sought order above all things, that order which is beyond even the caprice of gods to disturb. Do not think I am unaware of the irony. I am a god's insect, yet I seek a harmony beyond the reach of gods. Therefore I write to unwind my own labyrinth and to defeat my own conviction that this order I crave does not exist despite the passion of my belief in it. Time is part of the problem. What I mean by time as I write of it, is the liquid in which legend is suspended. What I write here you will read as though it concerns matters sunk many thousand years into the past, yet clearly I am writing it today. I address you man to man.
In the liquid which contains our communication there are no problems of depth nor is the sea measurably bounded. It cannot be plumbed and soundings taken in it are illusory. You, who hang high in these tidal waters, where there seems to be light, may look up and see in the blue cavern which becomes the darkness of space, shreds of cloud moving across the sky or you may look down and discern the shifting shreds of memory swaying like weeds in the darkness of the deep past. It is for you to decide which way up you hang, because you too swim suspended in this solution of memory and are dragged about capriciously by the tides.
First, then, I shall describe myself as I now seem to be and try to explain how I was formed. I would wish you to know me and I do not wish you to think me more remarkable than I am simply because I have become a legend. I am an Athenian of the royal house of the Erechtheids. The legendary founder of this house was thought to be a serpent with a human head and also a great wind. Both these characteristics are present in me, although I hope neither is too apparent, but anyhow by convention I wear the serpent amulet. A sacred snake is kept in the Erechtheum on the Athenian acropolis and we are, as a family, under the aegis of Athena, who, contrary to report, has taken precious little notice of me personally. Snakes, on the other hand, are well suited to labyrinths by their form and nature and they have played a considerable part in my life.
Being royal and a member of a family which has spent itself in futile and bloody strife among its members, my normal role would have been to learn the arts of warfare and murder and spend my life in arms chasing my relatives out of Attica with that enthusiasm for killing, burning and brave destruction usually thought to be the proper way of life for an aristocrat. This I early declined to do and for this reason I have been distrusted all my life. Being distrusted, I have learned to act accordingly. I am not called "the cunning maker" for nothing.
Physically I am a thickset man, inclined to run to fat. My legs are weak and I am a little lame in one of them. This is characteristic of craftsmen and most suitable. My shoulders are very powerful. I am not remarkable to look at.
I was born in Athens, on the rock, soon after my father Metion and his brother Orneus defeated first my uncle Cecrops and then my uncle Pandorus, both of whom fled to exile in Euboea. My childhood was much occupied with being guarded against the extravagant, if natural, ambition of my uncles and my father to destroy each other and each other's kindred, so that my early recollections are of warriors being bandaged by my mother, Iphinoë. In particular, I remember one who had lost the forefinger of his right hand in a scuffle with the supporters of Pandorus, near Eleusis. The finger stump bled freely and two things occurred to me as I gazed at it. Although I cannot have been more than six years old, I realized that the slashing sword, which required the forefinger across the guard to manage it, was an ill-designed weapon. Any man who used it risked his opponent's blade running up his own and taking off the finger, as in this case it had. I also realized with absolute certainty that while a warrior hero could well sport a finger stump to prove his valor, my hands must be preserved intact or I was nothing.
It was not that I had, as a child, any ambition to become something better than a warrior, but I showed no promise with weapons. I was a fat boy and lazy, and I was usually defeated by my brothers and cousins. Since I early developed some craft and would avenge myself unexpectedly by taking advantage of circumstance, I was not respected but I was feared. By the time I was eight years old I was much left alone.
My father was Metion and not Eupalamos, as some have reported. Metion was an ambitious but unwary man who had some affection for me but clearly found me unpromising. I had nothing of the hero about me and heroism is a quality most admired by those who make nothing practical. My father made nothing whatever, but war. He also smelled bad. I remember him most for his goat smell but I do not otherwise remember much of note about him. He was covered with scars which he revealed importantly. Those maimed but still active are much admired and every physical imperfection gained by mutilation is considered an honorable display. A man with one eye, the other lost in some raid, a man with one arm, the other hacked off in some scrimmage, such men are held in high esteem, providing they can still maim others. I could make no sense of it then. Nor can I now.
When I was ten, my father took me with him to Delphi to consult the oracle. Characteristically, he delayed so long that we arrived, in early but fierce winter, in what I believe to have been Apollo's absence, so there is no sure way of knowing if the Pythia spoke with Apollo's voice. However, my father received some oracle. Elliptically, the Pythia spoke to him and the priests translated her words. This they did in a manner which could be variously interpreted, or so I presume, for I never learned the prophecy to Metion. Clearly, the easiest reading of it must have meant that my father would presently die, for like an honorable and conventional man he forthwith returned to Athens and did so, without undue fuss. Before this, however, before we left Delphi, I began to know the pattern of my life, for though my memories of my earlier childhood are many of them vivid, none now seems significant. At Delphi I entered the first intricacy of my labyrinth. It was at Delphi that I made my first clear choice because at Delphi, in that winter before my father went home to die, I witnessed two events, or rather two parts of one event, which showed me power in two forms, one acceptable, the other empty.
Greece, as you will call it, was then, as it is now, a land of many kingdoms each differently named, but there are certain sacred places shared by those numerous Greek-speaking kingdoms. These places are not contested by men, but they are disputed by gods, and when I was a child the sky-god Apollo had long contested at Delphi with Pytho, the serpent of the earth, a servant of the Mother. Therefore male god joined battle with the female earth and it was no simple matter, although overtly the victory, as you know, lay with Apollo.
In my time all Greece stood in awe of the Cretans simply because they were civilized. From them we learned our arts and sciences and from them we learned the mastery of the sea. Our kings, forever grasping at each other's kingdoms, graceless in power as curs, puffed with the importance of each pig-sty realm they fought for, accepted without admiration or understanding a Cretan supremacy in the fabrication of all things material. So much did they accept this state of affairs and so bitterly were they divided among themselves that they had not thought of general rebellion. They spent their lives contesting for petty power and filled each other's middens with the blood and offal of their gutted ambitions.
Only in one particular was Greece secretly united against Crete and that was among the sky-gods. Even this was not simple, for the contest lay not only between sky and earth but between male and female, and the sky-gods were not uninhibited by their female consorts. We of the mainland gave our worship to the male sky coupled uneasily with the female earth. The earth alone was constant in its sex and Crete was constant to the Mother.
Gaia, the earth, has many aspects and such is her power that she holds the moon as part of her. Therefore those dedicated to the moon are dedicated to the female. At one time even the sun was hers, but this long ago became the province of the sky-god Apollo, her adversary; her adversary and yet her lover, a situation not uncommon in human affairs. The moon is constant in that although she menstrually waxes and wanes she does not fail in the winter of the year and grow dim, vacating her place to rain and snow clouds. For three months in each thirteen, Apollo's strength fails and he withdraws from Delphi. In that time Dionysus sits in his place and among other things, the women eat the king. It was in that time when Dionysus changes place with Apollo, that my father took me to Delphi, and when we entered the gray pass above the sacred place, the snow had closed the sky.
We went down through the storm into a black trough filled with driving whiteness, sheltering from the worst, when we could, in the shallow crevices of the enclosing rocks. We went down into the stone niche which contains the sanctuary and I have never since seen a day so empty of Apollo, except those days which I have spent within the earth herself, and as I remember it the road to Delphi was more fearful in its icy darkness than any part of the inner earth. The screaming wind swung around the rocky bowl like water whirled to wash a kylix and in the rush of snow my father and his followers, huddled in sheepskins, looked like a lost flock. Over the wind a scream, high and joyful, throstled like a gigantic flute cadence, a cadence of rising notes and then another. These sounds circled echoing, a spiral of high laughter repeatedly cutting the snow sound's thickness and the wind-howl.
Half a mile below the pass, we halted because of these sounds and because at my father's feet, tripping him so that he floundered on the ice-slide surface of the stone, lay the head and, separately, part of the trunk of a boy. The blood was not frozen where the nose and cheeks had been torn away from the face, nor where the guts poured from the ripped thorax. As my father struggled to his feet in the drift and gathered me to him, I saw, in one clear moment, two women, naked but for fawn skins tied below their breasts, with streams of ivy waving from their hair. Each carried a bough tipped with a pine cone and bound with leaves, and they ran as surely on the ice as girls run through hay-fields in high summer. One picked up the child's head by an ear, the other jerked the torn torso into the air and caught it in the rib cage on her hand so that blood ran down her arm and over her shoulders. This I saw and then my father covered my face with his sheepskin.
What happened next is not clear to me except that we ran, sliding and falling, down toward the temenos and hid in a cave near the spot where the Castalian Spring poured through a necklace of ice. In the cave, my father and his followers drew their swords and waited, and I remember wondering how much good the King of Athens thought his sword would do him. The laughter and the cries went on and on but they grew fainter.
Later, the men lit a fire and crouched around it, gazing fearfully out into the narrow gorge. The night came down and they hung skins over the entrance to the cave and waited for morning. I suppose I slept and dreamed, for I saw a sweet and dissolute face, its brow horned like a goat, then like a bull, change smiling before my eyes, into an animal mask and vanish into the dark. I saw the high and broad brow of this great beast ringed with ivy in which the small black serpents of Crete were twined. Those were the snakes which the merchants brought from Crete in stoppered bulls' horns, sleeping; the Erechtheid snakes which we kept beneath stones, near the doors of our houses, and fed with milk, to guard us from sickness. One snake in the smiling creature's crown had my father's face and that too smiled at me before it twisted behind the horns. Then I remember the smell, the feral lion-smell mingled with the stench of Athenian sheepskins and my father's foolish sword clanging on the rock wall as he beat at nothing.
Next day the storm had died and the sanctuary lay white and quiet and my father went down to the oracle, but I remained in the cave with his followers who, out of fear, waved their weapons about and engaged in mock fights to warm them and talked of what they would have done with the women had they caught them, but they did not speak of the fragments of the boy. He had been much of an age with me.
When my father returned he told us nothing of the oracle but he said that Pytho was no longer absolute. "The snake is dead," he said, "and the sun will come again and speak through her skin."
Excerpted from "The Maze Maker"
Copyright © 1967 Michael Ayrton.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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