| Gods and Heroes|
|by Robert Edward Francillon|
|One of the best introductions to Greek mythology for children. Includes the stories of all the prominent gods and heroes, woven together into a continuous narrative, ending with a full treatment of the twelve labors of Hercules. Ages 8-12 |
A LOST SECRET
INOS, the chief judge of the Court of the Dead
in Hades, had been during his life the King of
Crete—that large island where Jupiter had been hidden
from Saturn. Before the reign of Minos the Cretans
had been a number of rude and savage tribes, brigands
by land and pirates by sea. He, however, made a
single nation of them, civilized them, suppressed brigandage
and piracy, built cities, formed a regular army
and navy, and gave his people a code of wise and just
laws which never had to be changed.
When he, for his justice and his knowledge of law,
was made chief judge in Hades, he was succeeded in
his kingdom of Crete by his son, Minos the Second.
He also was a great and powerful king. He conquered
many of the neighboring islands, adding them to his
dominions, and made war upon the Athenians, whom
he defeated utterly. One of his sons having been
killed in that war, he took a cruel revenge upon the
vanquished enemy. He laid a tribute upon the city of
Athens; and the tribute was that the Athenians should
send him every year seven boys and seven girls to be
 devoured by a monster called the Minotaur—a creature
half man and half bull.
When this savage monster first appeared, Minos had
been sorely puzzled what to do with such a scourge.
Nobody could kill it; and unless it was regularly supplied
with a full meal of boys and girls, its fury became
uncontrollable. It was partly to keep the Minotaur
quiet that he had exacted that particular tribute from
his enemies. But neither were the Cretan children
safe while the Minotaur was at large.
One day, however, there came to the Court of Minos
a stranger who gave his name as Dædălus, an Athenian,
and announced himself as having fled from his native
city to escape a charge of murder. He was accompanied
by a young man, his son, whom he called Icărus; and
he asked for whatever employment the king might
choose to give him.
"What can you do?" asked Minos.
"Three things," said Dædalus. "I can split the
hardest rocks; I can make ships go without oars; and
out of wood and metal I can make living men."
"Prove your words," said Minos; "and if you do
these things I shall take both you and your son into
my service, and pay you well."
Dædalus bowed, and obtained leave to set up a forge,
where he and Icarus were soon heard working all night
 and all day. If the listeners could have looked in, they
would have been surprised. He was making nothing
more wonderful than pieces of iron, sharp at one end
and thick at the other. When he had made enough,
he summoned the king and his Court to see him split
the biggest and hardest rock they could find on the
They fixed upon a granite cliff. Dædalus put the
sharp end of one of his pieces of iron into one of the
smallest cracks in the face of the cliff, and hammered
upon the blunt end till he had driven it home. Then
between this and the stone he drove in another piece of
iron; and between those two a third; and so on, and
so on, while the rock began to gape, and then to split,
until the upper portion parted itself from the lower,
and thundered down into the sea.
The secret was simple enough. Dædalus had simply
invented the wedge, which can do much greater things
than that when it is skillfully used. But the Cretans
were amazed to see, as they thought, one man knocking
over a cliff with a common hammer.
Then Dædalus set up a workshop by the shore, with
some long sheds, and a supply of hemp and timber.
Here also he worked day and night; and at last called
Minos and his Court to see a ship go without oars.
The ship had a tall pole rising from the middle of
the deck. Dædalus and Icarus went on board, and
 were seen pulling at some long ropes; and presently
the ship seemed to spread out wings like a bird, and to
skim over the water as fast as the wind without the
help of an oar.
Dædalus had invented sails. But the Cretans were
more amazed than before, never having thought of such
a simple thing for themselves.
Dædalus then went back to his forge; and what he
did there nobody could guess, for scarce a sound was
heard. After many days, however, he went to the
king's palace, he and Icarus carrying a long and heavy
chest between them. The chest being opened before
Minos, Dædalus took out from it a number of images,
exquisitely wrought in wood, bronze, ivory, silver, and
gold—men and women; fauns, nymphs, animals;
creatures of all sorts and kinds.
When Minos had looked at them and admired them,
Dædalus touched them one after another; and then,
with a whirring noise, the images seemed to live.
The nymphs and satyrs joined hands, and danced in
a ring round a bronze Pan who piped to them; a
number of wooden young men boxed and wrestled:
In short, Dædalus had invented clock-work. But the
Cretans were more amazed than ever, and stood staring,
half delighted, half frightened, till he put up the figures
in their box again.
 "You are the man for me!" exclaimed Minos. "I
said I would take you into my own service; and I
will. You shall make a cage for the Minotaur!"
This was certainly not the reward which Dædalus
had looked for. However, he said nothing, but again
shut himself up, this time with writing materials,
compasses, and rules. After a long time he got a body
of workmen together, and built a Labyrinth—a mass
of passages and windings so contrived that nobody who
was outside could find the way in, and nobody who was
once inside could find the way out again. Nobody,
that is to say, unless he had the clue, which was of
course to be kept secret. The clue which Dædalus
invented—and a very good sort it was—was a long
silken thread, with one end fastened to the center of
the Labyrinth, carried along all the windings to the
entrance. Anybody wishing to get in would have to
know this, and in which of the many entrances (for
there were hundreds of false ones) he must look for the
hidden end of the thread. Then all he would have to
do would be to wind up the thread into a ball, following
it as he wound, until he reached the middle of the
maze. And of course there was another clue to lead
him out again in the same way. The middle of the
Labyrinth was a hall with many columns, and an opening
in the roof to let in light and air. This Labyrinth
having been finished, Dædalus enticed the Minotaur
 into the central hall, locked him up there, and gave
Minos the key.
So the Cretan children were safe, and the monster
had to be content with his fourteen young Athenians
Dædalus kept on doing work after work for Minos,
inventing one thing after another, until the queen, who
was a wicked woman, persuaded Dædalus to help her
in some piece of wickedness which was discovered by
the king. Whatever the affair was, it was kept secret
to prevent a Court scandal. The king's anger fell
upon Dædalus and Icarus, both of whom he imprisoned
in their own Labyrinth—not, I suppose, in the same
chamber with the Minotaur.
Indeed I am sure not; because if they had been in
the same chamber, Dædalus could have got out by
means of the clue. But there was no clue to the
chamber where he was imprisoned, and he had built
the Labyrinth so cleverly that he himself was lost in its
Poor Icarus was in despair. But Dædalus only sat
down on the base of a column and thought things over
in his usual silent and quiet way. After thinking for
some days, until they were nearly starved, he set Icarus
wondering by doing as follows, in order:—
First, with one of his wedges, he chipped off pieces
of stone from the columns.
 Secondly, he, in the same way, broke the fragments
into pieces of nearly the same size, rounding them
Thirdly, from a strip of his coat he made a sling.
Fourthly, he watched the opening in the roof, and
whenever a bird passed overhead he discharged a stone,
and generally brought it down.
Fifthly, when he had got a sufficient number of birds,
he plucked out and sorted their wing-feathers.
Sixthly, he collected all the wax-candles in the chamber,
and melted them in a fire which he obtained by
some secret invention of his own.
Seventhly—but what he did seventhly Icarus could
At last, however, his mysterious work, whatever it
was, seemed done. There lay before him two pairs of
wings, beautifully made of wax and feathers.
"I have long thought," said Dædalus, "how to
invent a method of flying. I am glad of this imprisonment,
which had obliged me to fix my whole mind upon
it without interruption."
"You have found out how to fly—and with wings
like those!" exclaimed Icarus in amaze.
"With these very wings. Why not? Science always
looks simple. What can look more simple than a
wedge, a sail, a clock-spring? Fasten those wings on
your shoulders with the wax, just as you see me fasten
 these on mine. There. Now open them; do you not
feel as if you could reach the clouds?
So saying, he soared up through the opening in the
roof, Icarus following him, and steered westward, higher
and higher through the air. It was morning when
they started; by noon they were over the sea out of
sight of land.
"Take care!" cried Dædalus. "Don't fly too
But Icarus, reveling in all the delights of a sea-gull—nay,
of an eagle—soared higher and higher towards
the noontide sun. In vain Dædalus called upon him to
come lower. He only laughed at his father for being
timid and cautious, and soared higher and higher still
towards the blazing sky.
Suddenly he felt his wings weakening—the wax was
melting in the heat of the sun. He tried to spread
them, so as to let himself down safely. They hung
soft and limp, and down he came headlong into
"It's quite clear that one must think of something
stronger than wax," thought Dædalus, as he saw
Icarus sink and drown. "Well—I've lost my son,
but I've gained a wrinkle." Taking care to fly as
low as he could, he himself reached the island of
Sicily, where he set up another forge, found another
 king to keep him going, and invented so many
wonderful things that to this very day nobody knows
what they were.
As for his flying machine, nobody else has come so
near to one as even wax and feathers.
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