April 21, 2011


I was reminded of the story of Icarus last week as I sat reading the March edition of “Vogue” with its profile of the President and First Lady of Syria. Everyone is familiar with the story. It’s one of the first I heard as a child and the ancient Greek myth has been retold many times in books and in films. One might say it is an early example of the moral, “Pride goeth before a fall,” a warning worth remembering but sometimes forgotten. Icarus, the son of Daedalus, escapes with his father from King Minos, ruler of Crete, by using pairs of wax wings. But, before their flight the father admonishes his son not to fly too high toward the sun as the heat will melt the feathers. Icarus seems to understand, but as he swoops through the air like a bird, he forgets his limitations and thinks himself almost as a god. Flying too high, his wings melt and he plunges to his death into the sea. 

(Herbert Draper: “Lament for Icarus”)

What brought the myth to mind was the newer myth being spun by President Bashar al-Assad and his first lady, Asam Akahras, both educated in the west, he as an ophthalmologist and she in the area of computer science. The article must have been written before the current unrest because the picture painted is of a modern couple, living their lives without the trappings of power as they attempt to bring their country into the modern world. At one point the first lady tells the interviewer about a recent visit she and her husband were paid by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. As the President was driving their guests to lunch, Pitt was reported to have appeared nervous and to have asked why there were no security guards to accompany the country’s leader. Asam Akahras laughed as she pointed to an old woman ambling through the street. “There’s one of them,” she answered.  Then she pointed to an old man crossing the road. “And there’s another.” (“Vogue,” pg. 532).

One wonders how the President and First Lady could delude themselves about a nation that, until yesterday, had been suppressed by 50 years of harsh emergency measures that were removed only after fierce political unrest. The myth they have created about their relationship to the people strikes me as no less delusional than Muammar Al-Gaddafi’s view that he is loved by his fellow Libyans. The effect of holding too much power is live isolated in a labyrinth of mirrors where every image projects an adoring crowd. In time, a leadership out of touch with its citizens must fall as Icarus did.