Myths of Egypt
Nearly all ancient cultures contain myths about flying deities. The gods of ancient Egypt, Minoa, and Mesopotamia were often depicted as having magnificent wings, and the Persian god of gods, Ahura Mazda, is depicted in the Palace of Darius I at Susa (about 490 B.c.) as being nearly all wings. The ancient Hebrews had traditions of placing wings on the seraphim and on the cherubim that were on the Ark of the Covenant, but neither they nor the ancient Greeks and Romans saw wings as an absolute necessity for flight. Greek gods flew without any visible means and biblical descriptions of angels (such as those who visited Abraham or the one who wrestled with Jacob) are not depicted as winged. Wings on angels were not to become standard, in fact, until well into the Middle Ages. To the people of ancient civilizations, flying was the province of the gods; humankind’s place was on earth. For a human to don wings was an expression of the desire to become closer to the divine, but it was also seen as arrogant, a mere mortal’s attempt to usurp a prerogative of the gods. Two ancient myths demonstrate this ambivalence to flight: the tale of the Persian king Kai Kawus, who was said to have ruled around 1500 B.C., and the story of King Bladud of Britain (the supposed father of Shakespeare’s King Lear), who is supposed to have ruled about 850 B.C. According to a fable contained in the Book of Kings, - composed by the poet Ferdowsi in A.D. 1000, king Kai Kawus was tempted by evil spirits to invade heaven with the help of a flying craft. This craft consisted of a throne to the corners of which were attached four long poles pointing upward. Pieces of meat were placed at the top of; each pole and ravenous eagles were chained to the feet. As the eagles attempted to fly up to the meat, they carried the throne aloft. Inevitably, however, the eagles grew tired and the throne came crashing down. In Persian literature, Kai Kawus is known as “The Foolish King” (even though the legend has the eagle-propelled craft flying the king all the way to China). King Bladud’s motivation for attempting to fly seems to have been somewhat different: he was promoting magic and wizardry (and, perhaps, ingenuity) in the kingdom. Legend has it that the king donned large wings made of feathers and took flight over the city of Trinavantum (present-day London). As he twisted in the air, he lost his balance in mid-flight and came crashing down into the Temple of Apollo, in full view of his horrified subjects. Unlike Kai Kawus, however, Bladud remained a popular, if tragic, figure in British mythology.