The Insignificant Fall of Icarus

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Simone Buzzi,

The Insignificant Fall of Icarus
in Pieter Brueghel’s painting and William Carlos Williams’s poem Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

After Ovid’s narration of the Greek myth of Icarus in the Metamorphoses (AD 8), the legend has been transported, represented and interpreted through the time by several artists. Probably Brueghel, 1500 years later Ovid, painted Landscape with the Fall al Icarus (1560s), representing or rather demystifying Icarus’s myth in a “new era”: the Renaissance. Influenced by the painting as other poets, the 20-th century American poet William Carlos Williams, keeping the same title of Brueghel’s painting wrote Landscape with the Fall of Icarus: a unique commentary of the painting from a modern point of view. Historically as artistically it is interesting to compare distinct artistic representations of the same object in different art movement periods. The myth allows those artists to express other messages, concerning themes analogous to their current times. By using many Renaissance art techniques, Brueghel moves the viewer to register a protest against the unconcern for catastrophe inherent in the preoccupation of the on-going and never interrupted life. Williams, through different techniques, propose the same protest in a modernist and imagist poetry style. To clearly understand the message expressed by these mediums is necessary to hark back to Ovid’s narrative. Narrating the story of Icarus in the Metamorphoses (8.183-235), Ovid describes a different situation than what the painting and the poem depict.

(trans. R. Humphries).

Seeing Icarus and his father fly up in the sky “Some fisherman […] Some shepherd […] Some ploughman” in Latin “vidit et obstipuit”(219), they all saw the two men flying and they “all look up in absolute amazement”, insomuch amazed that they believe to see gods approaching them through the aether: the personification of the upper sky in Greek Mythology....
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