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Commentary on Emblem 104

The Latin praeceps means "reckless" as well as "headlong" and Icarus traditionally was a figure who ventured recklessly from the path directed by his father Daedalus, who had made him wings of "fragrant wax" and feathers, as in the best-known version of the story, in Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.195ff. In Alciato's poem, Icarus' fall from the heights becomes a warning to astrologers and others who strive to know more than they perhaps should.

Alciato's emblem is based on an epigram from the Greek Anthology (16.107). The poem is addressed to a work of art, which shows that the "same wax and raging fire" in Alciato's poem refer to the modelling wax and fire for casting used to make the statue of Icarus, which is now being addressed by the speaker of the epigram.

In the first edition of The Book of Emblems (1531) Breu's woodcut shows an astrologer beneath the stars, tripping on a block at his feet; but the first authorized edition by Wechel in Paris, 1534, the picture was changed to that of the falling Icarus, and that became the standard picture for this text.

There is a French translation of this emblem by Lefevre, conventionally numbered 53 in the unpaged edition of Paris: Wechel, 1536 at the Glasgow University emblem site. You may compare the Latin and French in frames.

Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes (1586) has an English imitation at page 28. You may compare the Latin and Whitney's English in frames.

Last modified 25 November 1997