Daedalus's Warning


By Brother Mark van Dijk

Presented on 19 January 2017 at Lodge De Goede Verwachting

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” It’s an old chestnut, but it’s true – and it’s certainly been my experience as I’ve flown through the three degrees of the Blue Lodge. That realisation has been humbling, but it’s also tended to slow my progress.


I wanted, tonight, to present a short paper on the fabled Double-Headed Eagle of Lagash. It’s a well-known heraldic symbol, appearing on flags and coats of arms from Russia to Albania to the Dutch football club Vitesse Arnhem. And we have a beautiful model of the Double-Headed Eagle here in our Temple, in the foyer. For a long time I’ve admired that statue, and I wanted to write a short paper about it.


But the more I learned about that eagle, the more I learned how much I still had to learn. The Double-Headed Eagle serves as the emblem of the 32nd degree of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. Now we have some Brethren of the Ancient and Accepted here in our Lodge… So if I were to stand here and flap away, talking about “their” symbol, I’d only demonstrate how much I don’t know. I’d look like a fool. I needed to clip my wings.


We’re warned about this in Greek mythology.


Banished to prison in Crete, the master craftsman Daedalus hatches a plan of escape: using wax and feathers, he builds sets of wings for himself and his son, Icarus. Before their flight to freedom, Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too close to the sun; if he does, the hot Mediterranean sun will surely melt the wax, Icarus will lose his wings. Of course, that’s exactly what happens: Icarus flies too high, loses his wings, falls into the sea, and dies – a victim, we’re told, of his own hubris.


The moral of the story is clear: don’t for a moment think that you’re better than you are, and don’t fly higher than your waxed wings can carry you.


But that’s only half the story; and only half the lesson. In Book VIII of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we read the full extent of Daedalus’s warning:


“[…] My boy, take care
To wing your course along the middle air;
If low, the surges wet your flagging plumes;
If high, the sun the melting wax consumes.”


There’s the part we miss, the part we’re not told, the part we forget: Fly too high, and the sun will melt your wings. Fly too low, and the salty mist of the seawater will make your wings too heavy, and you’ll drown just the same.


Marketing guru Seth Godin sums it up best in his book, The Icarus Deception: “It’s far more dangerous,” he write, “to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low. We settle for low expectations and small dreams and guarantee ourselves less than we are capable of. By flying too low, we short-change not only ourselves, but also those who depend on us or might benefit from our work.”


Therein lies one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my journey to “Know Myself”: fear of failure, if left unchecked, can lead to fear of success. There’s a danger in flying too high… but it’s outweighed by the danger of not trying to fly at all.



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