In the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus, a father and son attempted to flee from an island where they were held prisoner. The father, Daedalus, constructed two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers. Attaching the wings to their arms, he and his son Icarus managed to escape, flying over the ocean.
Icarus, however, overcome with the joy of flying, started soaring higher and higher toward the sun. Eventually, the sun melted the wax off his wings and they disintegrated, causing Icarus to fall to his death.
This story has had an influence on modern media, with a number of stories about flying characters going too high and suffering the consequences. (It's particularly common with characters who have only recently gained the ability to fly). The reason behind their trouble may vary; problems will range from extreme temperature changes to oxygen deficiency at high altitudes. Compare and contrast High-Up Ice-Up. (Incidentally, Icarus was also warned not to fly too low, as the water would also damage his wings.) The moral of the story in this reading is to not act recklessly and to heed the warnings of others, especially those with more experience and knowledge.
A second popular variation of the trope however takes a different angle by focusing on the Ambition Is Evil lesson the story can be interpreted as. In this reading, Icarus tries to get closer to the sun not out of ecstasy, but out of blind ambition and hubris about his own capabilities. Thus the story warns against single mindedly chasing one's ambitions and being too prideful of oneself in doing so.
The original story may be seen as an early example (indeed significantly pre-dating the Trope Namer) of Ludd Was Right if taken literally as an Aesop about the dangers of manned flight, or of Tall Poppy Syndrome if seen as an allegory about soaring ambition. Many of its allusions may fit the same tropes. The popular English saying "flying too close to the sun" (alternatively "fly too close to the sun, and you will burn") comes from this story and trope.
The myth of Phaethon can have similar connotations. Phaethon, the son of the sun god Helios, ask to drive the sun chariot for one day, despite his father's warnings. He loses control, burning and freezing the Earth before Zeus kills him with a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
- In Ergo Proxy, one of the characters is a scientist named Dr. Daedalus and one of his creations is given wings and dies from exposure to the sun (not because of wings melting, but because she was a Proxy and sunlight is their Achilles' Heel)
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, a parallel is drawn between Icarus and the Elric brothers, who believed they could successfully perform human transmutation despite the fact that no one ever had before. Of course, they failed.
- Heaven's Lost Property's Deurotagonist Ikaros is the titular 'lost property'; an Angeloid that fell from the Floating Continent of Synapse. In the manga's final arc, she lives up to her namesake when Tomoki leads the Angeloids to an attack on Synapse; Ikaros delivers Tomoki to Synapse, but it turns out she was installed with a 'safeguard' after trying to turn on Synapse, that her wings would burn up if she came too close.
- Parodied in One Piece when the giant squid Daidalos flew too close to the sun and turned into surume (dried squid), traumatizing his friend Ikaros.
- In Tokyo Ghoul:Re, Matsuri Washuu invokes the myth of Icarus while discussing the coming battle at the L.E. Building, referring to it as "Daedalus's Tower". Mirumo Tsukiyama has sent his son, Shuu, to be evacuated from the building's heliport in order to escape extermination. The ensuing battle for the Tsukiyama Heir results in two helicopters going up in flames, and Shuu (Icarus) being thrown from the roof of the building. He survives only because his cousin leaps after him, and sacrifices her life to save him.
- The Eternals: Ikaris's origin is, in some tellings, the basis of the myth of Icarus. The twist is that Ikaris was originally the Daedelus figure and his son was Icarus. After his son died, he took on the name Ikaris himself.
- Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus: Icarus is a common motif used to relate to Chloe; primarily as a dramatic way to claim how she's a Death Seeker.
- Infinity Train: Wake Me Up: During the events of the Horsegirl Race Car, a version of Chloe Cerise appears, dubbed "The Icarus", and she's depicted as a Winged Humanoid.
- The audio drama prequel to the fancomic Project Riribirth draws an analogy between Icarus's fall and a Career-Ending Injury Riri Williams suffers while in battle.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Upon using Zod's corpse to create Doomsday in the genesis chamber of the Kryptonian ship, Lex Luthor tells him "You flew too close to the Sun".
- Brazil: The protagonist has recurring Dreams of Flying in which he dons an armor with crystalline wings and romances a floating Damsel in Distress that he wants to save from manifestations of the Crapsack World he lives in. When he discovers Jill Layton, a woman who looks identical to the dream girl, Sam wants to pursue her at all costs, while making his life a downward spiral.
- Death Note: During their first confrontation in person, L compares Light to Icarus through his use of the death note (he doesn't quite know yet how he killed hundreds of people all over the globe, just that it's obviously supernatural). He says his purpose is to make sure Light burns up and crashes.
- In Die Another Day, Icarus is the code name of Gustav Graves solar energy Kill Sat. During the final battle with Bond, Graves is defeated when his plane flies through the beam of solar energy being projected by Icarus.
- The Eternals: Ikaris's last act in the movie is to fly off into space and throw himself into the sun. Subtlety, thy name is not the MCU.
- The French movie I As In Icarus has this as the name of some criminal operation. At the end of the movie, the protagonist is on a phone conversation with his wife who surmises that it's about offing someone who has come too close to the truth... right as the operation is carried out on her husband.
- Icarus: The parallel of Icarus to Olympic athletes cheating to improve performance is obvious, but there's also a parallel to Russian scientist Dr. Rodchenkov daring to expose the Russian doping program, and getting his life destroyed in return.
- Iron Man had Tony fly toward the moon, causing a buildup of ice on his suit. He later solves this problem and uses it to his advantage against an enemy.
- In Kong: Skull Island, Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard references Icarus as he and the rest of the Sky Devils fly their helicopters through the dangerous storm surrounding Skull Island. He boasts that unlike Icarus' father, the U.S. Army was not neglectful enough to give them wings of wax and feathers. Instead, the U.S. Army gave them wings of white-hot, cold-rolled Pennsylvania steel, guaranteed not to melt. While the squadron does get through the storm successfully, this boast shows that Packard suffers from the exact kind of hubris the tale of Icarus is meant to warn against.
- Additional material for the original Planet of the Apes reveals that the Sleeper Ship used by Taylor and his crew was called "Icarus", which draws a parallel with the myth given how the ship was meant to ambitiously bring humanity to new worlds but ended up failing and falling back to Earth.
- Sunshine has two spaceships named the Icarus flying very close to the sun. Icarus 1 fails in its mission, but Icarus 2 succeeds.
- In Accel World, Sky Raker is given the mocking nickname of Icarus due to her self-destructive quest to upgrade her avatar's Jump Jet Pack into true Flight.
- In Blindsight an array of solar collectors and particle accelerators hanging in space near the sun known as The Icarus Array teleports antimatter to Earth and spaceships as a power source. Towards the end it goes offline.
- The Divine Comedy:
- When flying on a scorpion/dragon/demon monster made of lies down into the largest pit of soul-corpses, Dante was more afraid than Icarus was at the moment of his wings burning off. Sure, Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell, but Dante didn't even get to fly up before descending right into the realm of the dead.
- The counterfeiter and liar Griffolino oddly references the Icarus myth with him in the role of a wiser Daedalus who admitted he couldn't safely make Icarus fly. Of course, Griffolino is using this reference to aggrandize himself for lying about being able to fly and getting burned at the stake for being unable to back his claims up.
- In Eragon, neither Eragon nor his dragon, Saphira, knows that air gets thinner the higher you go. One night, they fly too high. The lack of air makes it impossible for Saphira to concentrate and communicate mentally with Eragon, and she doesn't realize there's a problem until Eragon passes out.
- Beatty in Fahrenheit 451 compares Montag to Icarus.
- In Honor Harrington: In Enemy Hands Haven launches a counterattack against Manticore codenamed "Operation Icarus". The admiral in charge hangs a lampshade on it, thinking that if he were in command he wouldn't name an offensive after that particular myth. Strangely it's the single most successful Havenite engagement up to that point, which makes one wonder if David Weber wasn't using Icarus to refer to the Manticorans instead.
- Another Ray Bradbury story, Icarus Montgolfier Wright, involves a man named Jedediah Prentiss who, in 1970, is about to be the first man to walk on the moon. As he sleeps the night before, he dreams of Icarus, as well as Ettiene Montgolfier(who launched the first hot air balloon) and the Wright brothers(inventors of the first airplane).
- In Incarceron, there is a Sapphique myth that features him building wings to try and fly Out.
Sapphique strapped the wings to his arms and flew, over oceans and plains, over glass cities and mountains of gold. Animals fled; people pointed up. He flew so far, he saw the sky above him and the sky said, "Turn back, my son, for you have climbed too high."
Sapphique laughed, as he rarely did. "Not this time. This time I beat on you until you open."
But Incarceron was angered, and struck him down.
- Both the original novel and the 1976 film adaptation of The Man Who Fell to Earth reference this myth (the opening section of the novel is called "Icarus Descending") — the protagonist is an alien who comes to Earth in hopes of saving his Dying Race back home, but gradually succumbs to Earthly vices.
- Zo in Red Mars Trilogy is compared to, and thinks of, Icarus a few times. It gets her killed in the end. She doesn't fly too high but tries to rescue another flyer who's crashing, a feat beyond her skill.
- According to The Shepherd's Crown, the Discworld equivalent of the Icarus myth tells of Pilotus and his son Langas, who crashed almost immediately because what they were attempting simply wasn't going to work. The moral is "understand what you are doing before you do it".
- In Babylon 5, the scientific expedition that reawoke the Shadows by poking into Things Man Was Not Meant to Know was called the "Icarus expedition", after the ship on which it traveled.
- CSI: NY: In the season 3 episode "Cold Reveal", the team investigates the death of Toby Finch, who was found dead in a church with angel wings strapped to his back after seemingly falling from the sky. Initially, Toby's friend and girlfriend are seen as suspects but further investigation reveals what really happened. Toby, obsessed with becoming internet famous, drunkenly attempted to catapult himself off a roof, expecting that his artificial angel wings would help him soar across the sky like a hang glider. To ensure this, he pre-cuts the bungee cords on his safety harness, thinking that the force of the catapult would fully disconnect them. Unfortunately, they held faster than he expected, giving him such severe whiplash that his neck snaps in two places killing him before he even fell through the church's paned window. Mac surmises that the only crime committed was the victim's misdirected ambition.
- A two-part episode of the series Farscape is titled "Daedalus Demands" and "Icarus Abides". The episodes are about the alien who put the wormhole knowledge in Chrichton's head returning, fearing he had given it to the wrong people. To cut a long story short, they end up in a situation where they need to unlock the wormhole knowledge in his head and give him complete access to it in order to build a wormhole weapon to destroy a massive ship. He goes on to die of radiation from the open power source(the "flying too close to the sun" bit).
- In Fringe, a scientist trying to find a way for his disabled son to walk, stumbles upon a new element that when injected into the blood can make someone lighter than air. Unfortunately it requires repeated injections to remain effective and the subject will eventually die of toxic shock. Throughout the episode, Walter alludes to the myth and at the end, notes that while the scientist's son didn't die, other parents had sons who weren't so lucky.
- Interview with the Vampire (2022): Lampshaded by Alderman Fenwick in the third episode when he derides Louis de Pointe du Lac for being foolish like Icarus, which is why he believes Louis deserves to "drown" in the figurative ocean after aiming too high for a man of his race.
Fenwick: Storyville is a sinking ship, and naturally, you are the first to drown. But that's your problem, Louis, always has been. You're arrogant. You haven't accepted your place in this world. And your pale lover, with his seemingly endless supply of capital, and the weird goings-on in your Sodomite townhouse won't change the fact that you're a tiny man flying too close to the sun. And that's what I am, Louis — the sun.
- The second-to-last episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Ripped from the Headlines of the Troubled Production of the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, substituted a musical inspired by the Icarus story for the Spidey show; the murder victim of the week was the show's lead, who fell to his death when his flying harness was sabotaged.
- Invoked by the Government Conspiracy targeting Clark and his fellow heroes in Season 10 of Smallville. They pick "Icarus" as their name, because they're counting on the heroes' arrogance to be their downfall. One of the leaders of the organization even comments on seeing Hawkman's death that he never expected to see a man with burning wings fall to his death.
- In Stargate Universe the offworld base trying to reach the nine-chevron gate address is called Icarus Base. The novelization of the series pilot mentions the ever-Genre Savvy Jack O'Neill tearing a strip off whichever idiot named it that and jinxed the expedition.
- Bastille does this rather bluntly in their song "Icarus".
- From BTS's "Boy with Luv", its name in Korean being "A Poem for Small Things" (from this translation):
There were times when I was acting arrogant without knowing
The sky that became too high, the hall that became too big
Sometimes I prayed to let me run away
But your scar is my scar
when I realized it, I promised myself
that, with Icarus wings that you gave me,
I'd fly to you, not the sun
Let me fly
- According to Garfunkel and Oates number "Such a Loser" the myth of Icarus is bullshit, because even if you fail it's important to try and see how far you can fly in the first place instead of not trying at all.
- Iron Maiden's song "Flight Of Icarus".
- Referenced in Kansas' song "Carry On Wayward Son":
Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion
I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high
- Vic Mensa's "Codeine Crazy (Icarus Story)":
Icarus flew too close to the sun
I could be guilty of being too high to die
I'm a winner but I can't roll just one
Like a black stone, gotta roll up five
They want you to think that your wings melt
When you make your dreams real
So black boy, don't fly too high
I gotta keep my niggas with me like a seatbelt
- The Moody Blues' song "Departure" (the intro piece that segues into "Ride My See-Saw") has the line:
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing
- Phish's "The Squirming Coil":
I'd like to lick the coil some day
Like Icarus, who had to pay
with melting wax and feathers brown
He tasted it on his way down
- Sabaton: The chorus of "The Red Baron" says Richthofen is flying too fast and too high, and the song urges him ever on to push the limits further and further. A verse also mentions him embracing his fame.
Higher, the king of the sky
Hes flying too fast and hes flying too high
He's flying higher, an eye for an eye
The legend will never die
- The BTS music video of "Blood, Sweat and Tears" (and the WINGS era in general) contains several visual references to Greek mythology, and references the Icarus myth several times, with V (that is, his BTS Universe character) being associated with Icarus/fallen angel imagery. Most notably, during the second pre-chorus, the camera goes through a door that leads to a balcony on which V is sitting. He turns to the camera, smiles, and he jumps off, revealing the background wall to be "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Similarly, the painting "The Lament for Icarus" by Herbert James Draper also appears in the background of a group shot in the beginning.
- In Cabin Pressure, Captain Martin Crieff makes a living driving a van for his company Icarus Removals. When he finds out, Douglas points out that this is not a good name for an inexperienced pilot to give to anything. (This is an in-joke on the part of the writer: when the first series was in development, MJN Air was called Icarus Airlines, but as the character of Carolyn, the airline's owner, got more fleshed out he realised she would never be daft enough to use such a name.)
- According to one fan expansion of Freedom City, his son's fate is why Daedalus hates Lies to Children. He told Icarus not to fly "too close to the sun" because it seemed simpler than explaining the real problems with flying too high. When Icarus found that it actually got colder when he flew higher, he assumed there was nothing to worry about.
- Invoked by Mr. Torgue in Borderlands 2.
Mr. Torgue: Flyboy's so arrogant, he thinks his Buzzard army will protect him! But once you wipe them all out, he'll learn that pride goeth before a fall! ICARUS SYMBOLISM!
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution is fueled entirely by allusions to the Icarus myth and the colour yellow. Both Sarif and Darrow claim to be the Daedalus to Jensen's Icarus (Sarif Industries' logo is a wing and Sarif often calls Jensen "son"), the Tie-In Novel is named Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, and there are more allusions after that. Also, to prevent fall damage, Jensen can unlock the "Icarus Landing System." On top of that, the opposing sides interpret the myth in mutually exclusive ways;
- Members of the Illuminati such as Hugh Darrow reference the common knowledge of the myth; the father feeling regret for his son's death due to pride. The Illuminati are thus justified in bringing the chaotic and proud under control for their own good.
- La Résistance believes that they're twisting the myth to suit their goals; "Daedalus was an arrogant bastard. The man built a maze of death, and killed his nephew when he thought he might be smarter than him." The Illuminati are simply justifying the murder of innocent people to maintain control of the world - it's hard to bully people stronger than you.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has an NPC specifically, a Bosmer named Tarhiel that falls out of the sky to his death.note On his body are several "Scrolls of Icarian Flight", which boost Acrobatics through the roof, allowing amazing feats of jumping, but their duration is far too short, and they inevitably wear off mid-jump, likely resulting in your death.note
- In Kid Icarus, main character Pit is an angel who cannot fly. As of Kid Icarus: Uprising, Palutena can grant him the Power of Flight, but warns that if he flies for too long, (or, as is discussed later, too quickly in succession) his wings will burn up. Viridi is later shown to be able to bestow the same power when they need to ally against a Brainwashed and Crazy Palutena. Sure enough, after already pushing the five-minute timer very close to ignition, Pit demands that Viridi let him fly again in order to save Dark Pit.
- In Mirror's Edge, the story of Icarus is recalled by Merc when Faith first finds evidence of the Project Icarus, an ambitious project by The Government to bring the runners and their clients under control, which ends with Faith demolishing its main total surveillance center.
- One of Ashe's voicelines in Overwatch is the common English saying that is a direct reference to this tale: "Get too close to the sun, you're gonna burn!"
- In Spec Ops: The Line, shortly after Walker's Moral Event Horizon moment, the squad enters a tower with huge golden statues of winged men suspended by wires (which don't seem to be attached to anything, but extend all the way up into the heavens). One of these statues has fallen and has a missing arm/wing. It can be assumed that the broken statue represents Walker himself - a modern Icarus who, in his quest for glory, went too far and paid a terrible price.
- In Thomas Was Alone, the DLC character Benjamin takes his father's invention, flies too close to the light of the Fountain, and is blinded by the Internet.
- Xenoblade Chronicles X has a collectible item named the Icarus Wings, described as an invention of Nopon who wished to fly. Unsurprisingly, they don't work, though the flavor text notes that this doesn't stop many Nopon from plummeting to their deaths trying.
- What If?:
- The entry "Interplanetary Cessna" concludes that the myth is not a morality tale about human limitations, but rather one of engineering limitations.
- An alternate view on the Icarus tale is provided in "Into the Sun": melting takes time, even at high temperatures, so Icarus' problem wasn't flying too close to the Sun, it was staying near the Sun for too long.
- Icarus also shows up in Hercules: The Animated Series. Naturally, he has a permanent tan and lightning bolt-shaped hair. The opening even shows him flying up against the sun, burning his wings, and falling. He never seems to learn his lesson.
- Love, Death & Robots: In "Fish Night", two salesmen discover the ghostly remains of an ancient ocean in the Arizona canyons. The young man, overjoyed at the concept of swimming with the prehistoric creatures, ventures upward to join them despite the old man's warning. Cue the shark about to eat him.
- In one episode of Muppet Babies (1984) dealing with Greek Mythology, Gonzo has an Imagine Spot of being Icarus and flying high in the sky. Unfortunately, it's at this point that Nanny mentions the part where flying too close to the sun would cause Icarus's wings to melt.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Sonic Rainboom", Twilight Sparkle makes some magical butterfly wings for Rarity, warning her that they are very delicate. Ignoring this, Rarity enters a flying competition, deciding to fly as high as possible so that the sun would shine through her wings and cover Cloudsdale in colorful light. The sun destroys her wings, and (after an Oh, Crap! moment) Rarity plummets nearly to her death (nearly taking three other flyers with her), being saved only at the last moment by Rainbow Dash.
- In the South Park episode "Cartman's Incredible Gift" Cartman tries to fly from his roof with cardboard wings and ends up in the hospital recovering from head trauma. The cops believe that he now has psychic abilities because they have heard of similar cases; they take his advice and dismiss Kyle's. Kyle concludes he has to be as stupid as Cartman to be acknowledged. Before he does so, Butters tells him not to fly too close to the sun.
- The engineer and author Nevil Shute pointed out that the wax on Icarus' wings would never have melted — the atmosphere gets colder as you fly higher. The wax would have frozen and shattered due to brittleness first. Either way, same ending.
- Subverted by the Japanese Solar Sail IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun). The sail didn't melt.
- Type foundry URW++ began creating digital fonts in the 1970s, long before the desktop publishing revolution began. Their font editor software, Ikarus, was so named because it crashed a lot during development.
- For some reason, the Hellenic Air Force Academy's official name since 1967 is "Icarus Air Force Academy."
- DARPA's Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems program is designing paper drones that disintegrate in midair. They're intended to carry medicine or other supplies to specific locations that might be difficult to access by land.