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Learning from Icarus

Listening to advice

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the myth of Icarus and what it can teach us today.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Learning from Icarus) and the means to display them.
  • Have available the YouTube video ‘Kate Tempest – Icarus’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 3.02 minutes long and is available at:


  1. Show Slide 1.

    Welcome the students to the assembly.

  2. Show Slide 2.

    Ask the students to raise their hand if they can identify the island shown in red.

    Listen to a couple of responses before revealing the correct answer: Crete.

    Ask the students to raise their hand if they have ever visited Crete.

  3. Crete is a popular holiday destination. It is one of the Greek islands, and attracts many tourists who want to enjoy the Cretan sunshine.

    In today’s assembly, however, we are going to explore the Ancient Greek myth of Icarus, someone who wanted to leave Crete. Let’s consider what this myth has to teach us.

  4. Show Slide 3.

    Icarus was the son of a master craftsman, Daedalus, and lived with his father on Crete. However, the Cretan king was very cruel, so the two men wanted to flee the island. Daedalus watched and studied birds before crafting two pairs of wings from feathers and wax: a pair for himself and a pair for his son. These were what they would use to escape.

    Daedalus issued two clear warnings to his son: one was that he should avoid flying too close to the sea because its dampness would clog the wings. In addition, he should avoid flying too close to the sun, because the heat from its rays would melt the wax that was holding the wings together.

    However, Icarus ignored his father’s instruction not to fly too close to the sun. As he took flight, he became emboldened and soared upwards. Sure enough, the wax in Icarus’ wings melted and he tumbled out of the sky, crashed into the sea and drowned.

    This ancient myth’s sad ending inspired an idiom that we hear today: ‘Don’t fly too close to the sun.’ It has also inspired artists through the centuries. Let’s take a look at some of the art that has been inspired by the myth of Icarus.

  5. Show Slide 4.

    Here, we see a bronze figure of Icarus from the Classical Greek period, dated to around 430 BC. Icarus’ eyes look upwards, as if he is setting his sights on the sun.

  6. Show Slide 5.

    Here, we see a painting called The Fall of Icarus by Jacob Peter Gowy, a seventeenth-century Flemish artist. In it, Icarus’ father watches on in horror as his son tumbles to his fate.

  7. Show Slide 6.

    Here, we see a Fauvist painting called Icarus by Henri Matisse, completed in 1947. The bold colours show Icarus’s form against the sky.

  8. Finally, let’s listen to a piece of modern poetry written and performed by Kae (previously Kate) Tempest. In it, Kae relates the myth of Icarus and reflects on his ambition and desire to go his own way in life.

    Show the YouTube video ‘Kate Tempest – Icarus’.

  9. What can this ancient myth teach us today?

    - Like Icarus, we are often given advice on what we should or should not do. For us, that advice comes from various sources: parents, teachers, friends, social media, advertising and so on. 
    - Like Icarus, we may be tempted to defy such advice and go our own way.
    - Like Icarus, we may launch into action for ourselves and get carried away.
    - Like Icarus, we may sometimes act as if we are immune from negative consequences. We may act in a way that seems arrogant to others, like we know best.
    - Like Icarus, we may face negative consequences as a result.

Time for reflection

So, does that mean that we should always heed the advice of others? Should we learn from Icarus’ example that we ought to do only as our parents or other sources of authority tell us?

That would be very difficult to do because we receive so many different messages about what we ‘ought’ to do. In addition, there will be times when these messages are at odds with what our consciences indicate to be the best course of action.

This assembly isn’t going to say what we ought to do or what message we should take from the myth. However, we are going to reflect on a few ideas that it raises.

One message that this myth may offer us is the wisdom of being willing to compromise, to balance our own ideas and wishes with those of others. We could take time to reflect upon a decision, listening to differing views and responding to them rather than acting on impulse. This is a challenging thing to do and requires maturity of thought. However, like many things in life, the more we practise this approach, the easier it will become.

Let’s take the example of Joe. Joe’s parents tell him that he should study hard at school in order to become a doctor. Joe’s uncle tells him that if he goes to university, it will cost him a fortune in fees, so he’d be better off not bothering. Joe’s teachers tell him that university is a goal that he should be aiming for. Some of Joe’s peers tell him to relax, forget studying and live in the moment – just enjoy life. On social media, Joe sees how many people value wealth and possessions – that money is important if you want to enjoy the finer things in life and show the world that you matter. Joe himself knows that he feels most alive when he is playing sports. In particular, he enjoys coaching younger kids in his volunteer role and feels that he is good at it.

So, we can see that Joe is facing a lot of advice from different sources about what he ought to do. He chooses to listen to these ideas, and also considers his own thoughts and wishes about his future. He reflects and considers, which helps him to adopt an approach that balances lots of ideas. He continues to try his best at school, but balances this with a social life and sports outside school. This gives him time to reflect upon his chosen route forward.

Religious teachings offer us insight into how to manage the expectations and ‘oughts’ of others.

Show Slide 7. 

The Bible tells us the following: ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.’ (Proverbs 12.15)

It also says: ‘Where there is no guidance, people fall, but in an abundance of advisors, there is safety.’ (Proverbs 11.14)

Both of these verses speak about listening to the advice of others.

The Bible also advises reflection rather than acting in haste.

Show Slide 8.  

‘The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.’ (Proverbs 21.5)

This suggests that listening to others and taking time to reflect upon advice is seen as the mark of a wise person. For Christians, prayer and trust in God are also important in making decisions. Christians use the Bible and their conscience, informed by God, to help them navigate the way forward when faced with choices. Joe may find it helpful to listen to others, reflect upon their advice with his conscience, read what the Bible teaches about making decisions and also pray to God for guidance about his future.

In Buddhism, choosing what to do when faced with the opinions of others is expressed in the teaching of the Middle Way.

Show Slide 9.

The Middle Way involves reflecting upon, and then finding balance, between two extremes. For Icarus, this would have meant him choosing a balance between playing it safe (flying low) and acting on his ambition to fly as high as he could. For Joe, the Middle Way could mean finding a balance between only studying with a view to training as a doctor and only listening to his friends and spending all his time socializing.

Let’s pause to reflect on what the myth of Icarus and the religious teachings that we have explored today mean to us.

Pause to allow time for thought.

- What questions would you want to ask Icarus if you could?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- What advice would you give him?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- How do you feel about pausing to reflect, listen and consider as an alternative to acting in haste?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Dear God,
We pause today to reflect in our prayer, 
To consider how we want to respond to the things that we have considered in our assembly.
We pause now, with a brief time for silence, to consider what ideas and feelings we have in response.

Pause to allow time for thought.

We ask for your guidance when we are faced with tough decisions,
When we receive advice from others about what we ought to do.
Stir in us a sense of the course of action that will be life-giving for us.
Help us to find the right balance between listening to others’ advice and finding our own way in life.

Publication date: August 2021   (Vol.23 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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