Minos’ craftsman Daedalus was also an Athenian, but he had fled to Knossos when he murdered one of his apprentices. Now that the labyrinth’s security was breached, he desperately needed to quit Crete. Minos’ warships were repaired, so escape by sea was impossible. Instead, Daedalus crafted two sets of wings from feathers held together with wax – one pair for himself, the other for his son Icarus.
Wings spread wide, father and son launched themselves from a high cliff and were soon skimming northeastwards across the vastness of the sea.
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But Icarus was headstrong and eager to experiment and he ignored Daedalus’ advice not to fly too near the sun. As he soared ever higher, the sun’s heat grew more intense. The wax that held the feathers to the wings began to melt, and in a welter of feathers Icarus plunged headlong to his death. Today the island near where he fell is called Icaria.
Daedalus could not stop. Instead he turned west. Landing at Camicus in south Sicily, he built strong walls for Cocalus, the king, and made exquisite dolls for the princesses. Meanwhile Minos launched his fleet. At every port he offered a reward to whomsoever could pass a thread through the twisting interior of a conch shell, a problem he knew only Daedalus could solve. At last he reached Camicus.
Eager for the reward, King Cocalus set Daedalus to work. Rising to the challenge, he bored a tiny hole into the shell’s tip, round which he trickled drops of honey. Then he tied a thread to an ant, and introduced it into the wider opening below. Lured by the honey, the ant navigated the shell’s spiral labyrinth until it emerged – with the thread – out of the honey-smeared hole. Cocalus was triumphant. So was Minos. He had located Daedalus.
Cocalus and his daughters would not surrender him. Instead they tricked Minos, inviting him to the palace and offering every hospitality. But as Minos wallowed in his bath, the princesses opened the valves of a pipe that Daedalus had installed above it. A flood of boiling water engulfed the Cretan king. Returning his corpse to his fleet, a convincingly regretful Cocalus blamed faulty plumbing.
With Minos dead, Knossos crumbled. But his spirit lived on. In Hades, Minos ruled as one of the three judges of the dead, together with his estranged brother Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, who had once ruled Aegina.