05 May 2007

Mythology Misused

Daedelus. That's a name you likely remember from some a yer schoolin'.

Daedelus was a prisoner on Crete, because he knew the secret of the Labyrinth (which he had designed) and Minos didn't want that secret to get out. Daedelus escaped by inventing wax wings, with which he and his son Icarus flew out of Crete, heading toward the safety of Sicily.

Icarus, of course, never made it. Intoxicated by the thrill of flight, he went too high, and the sun melted the wax.The story inspired the song "Carry On Wayward Son," by Kansas. "Once I rose above the noise and confusion Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion I was soaring ever higher ...."

Why do I bring this up? Because of a recent misuse of the myth.

In recent years a con artist in his late teens, named Hakan Yalincak, managed to persuade a lot of financially savvy people that he was the scion of a wealthy Turkish family, that he managed the family fortune in a hedge fund called Daedelus, and that he was willing to give them (the marks) a chance to invest through Daedelus, too! Of course, the Daedelus fund didn't exist.

Yalincak was sucessfully prosecuted and has been sentenced. He's supposed to turn himself in this coming week to begin serving that sentence but (and this has been the subject of my recent stories) he's trying to delay that "self report" obligation for another 30 days, on a variety of reasons and pretexts I won't get into now.

What amuses me is that many of my colleagues, covering this story, have found the mythological tie-in irresistable. They've tried to show their erudition by explaining, in the course of stories about Yalincak, why there is an irony in his naming his fund Daedelus, so there's always a sentence like this: "Yalincak, like the character for whom he named his fund, wrongly thought he could fly."

Oops. Yalincak got the myth right, and the reporters stretching for irony get it wrong. Yalincak didn't scare investors off by naming his fund "Icarus," after all. He named it after someone who KNEW he could fly, and who did get to Sicily that way.

The lesson? Stretching for irony is dangerous. If you're going to try a twist on a classical allusion, always check to be sure you have the basics right. Keep Bulfinch handy. Or Edith Hamilton.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.