Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Icarus Effect

When U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, was indicted April 1 on multiple federal charges of fraud, I was saddened by the banality of the event.

One of the most powerful men in the Senate, Menendez had just joined a constellation of famous men from every walk of life who have been plagued by the Icarus Effect.

In Greek mythology, an artisan named Daedalus fashioned a set of wings, which he asked his son Icarus to try out. The wings, made of feathers, were glued together with wax.

Daedalus cautioned Icarus not to fly too high, for fear the sun would melt the wax, and cause the boy to fall to his death.

With the arrogance of youth, Icarus disregarded his father's advice and flew too high; the wax melted, he fell in the sea, and drowned.
By so doing, he became the prototype for the tragic hero: A man blinded by his hubris, doomed to suffer the consequences.

Menendez's implication of wrongdoing, to all charges of which he pleaded not guilty, is ironic; his career was launched more than two decades ago, when he testified at the trial of his mentor, former New Jersey State Senator William "Billy" Musto, who was found guilty of charges of racketeering, fraud and extortion. Musto served three years in federal prison.

In the wake of the trial, Menendez's star rose ever higher, culminating in his appointment to the unexpired U.S. Senate seat of Gov. Jon Corzine, and his subsequent election to a full six-year term.

The Icarus Effect has dogged and brought down innumerable men who have sought to achieve greatness, from presidents to mob bosses, from CEOs to scam artists.

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