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Icarus’s father, the inventor Daedalus, made wings that allowed them to fly away from their island prison. The exhilarated Icarus forgot warnings and soared too close to the sun, melting the wax that secured the feathers, and he fell to his death. Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859 gave an optimistic picture of the present and future evolution of humankind, but it also introduced ideas of a deep and obscure past. Art and literature took up this theme of origins, man’s mythical history and struggles between animal and human nature.

February 2016