In the best known version of the myth…Daedalus warns his son not to fly too high, since the sun’s warmth will melt the wax; but the heedless son, giddy with excitement, disobeys his father, soars too high, loses his wings and crashes into the sea. With poignant irony, Brueghel’s canvas illustrates the split second in time just after Icarus has fallen: the painting is almost entirely taken up by the shore and the sea and, especially, by three peasants who go about their business, plowing, herding, and fishing, utterly unaware of the catastrophe – the only sign of which is a tiny detail off in the corner, which turns out to be poor Icarus’ legs waggling pathetically just above the waterline. In Brueghel’s hands, Ovid’s tale of a son’s wilful rejection of his father’s wisdom becomes a story about the need for a kind of humility – for, you might say, perspective; an admonition about what we miss when we are intent on our own narratives, about the dangers of mistaking the foreground for the whole picture.
Daniel Mendelsohn An Odyssey p53
Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons