Reaching for the Stars

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Browsing through the BBC’s website this past week, I came across two photos set side-by-side in their “Week In Pictures” whose juxtaposition really struck me.  The first picture was a satellite photo of a wild fire on the Greek island of Chios. The smoke from the wild fire threatened to burn down large numbers of mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus) from which mastic gum or resin is harvested as one of the main export products of the islands.

From the map, I noticed that Chios is located just north of the island of Icaros in the Icarian Sea.  In the ancient tale of Daedalus and Icarus from the poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Bk. VIII. 183-235), Icarus’ father Daedalus advises his son regarding the use of his fabricated wings of feathers, twine, and wax: to fly neither too high lest he burn his wings (ne…ignis adurat); nor too low lest he be weighed down by lethargic waves (unda gravet pennas); and to stray neither too far to the left nor to the right from a course marked out (astrologically) by guiding constellations in the heavens. 

As the story goes, Icarus vainly flew too high in imitation of the gods such that the binding wax of his wings melted, and he plummeted into the sea.

Given the southern trail of smoke in the satellite photo, one might have concluded that Icarus himself had unsuccessfully attempted flight again only to have flown to the north of his primordial perilous path (from the isle of Delos towards a midway point between Samos and Lebinthos) and crashed and burned on Chios. 

Ovid’s poem has often been read as a metaphorical warning against trying to act contrary to one’s nature. Flight was the purview of the birds not humans. The psalmist recounts a similar sentiment which might also have fallen futilely on Icarus’ ignoring ears:

“Lord, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me.” (Ps. 131:1)

So imagine in some sense my chuckle at the irony that came with the second picture from the BBC website – a photo from the Mars rover Curiosity of the vehicle’s tracks it had traced in the Martian sand. [Continue reading ...]

Bro. Raymond Bryce, OP