These two extraordinary etchings are part of a series of four falling men, entitled The Four Disgracers, Goltzius produced in collaboration with the painter Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem in 1588. All four depicted fallers in this series – Icarus, Ixion, Tantalus and Phaeton – are figures from Greek mythology, who attempted to enter the realm of the gods but were punished for their hubris.
Goltzius chose a tondo (circular) format for this audacious series, working from Cornelisz’s designs. All four men are depicted in the moment of their free fall through the clouds. Their faces are panic-stricken, their naked muscular bodies are shown from different angles with one leg bent down, the other raised; one arm raised, the other lowered.
The present two prints are dedicated to Icarus and Ixion.
Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the creator of the famous labyrinth for King Minos of Crete. In order to keep the secret of the labyrinth the king had imprisoned Daedalus and his son. Daedalus, however, built two sets of wings, made of feathers and wax. Before their escape from the tower in which they were held, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too low, which would cause the feathers to get wet with sea water, nor too close to the sun, which would cause the wax to melt. Together they took off, but Icarus didn’t listen to his father’s warnings, and soared higher and higher, until the wax started melting from the sun’s heat. Icarus fell into the sea and drowned.
A Latin inscription around Icarus’ image reads:
SCIRE, DEI MVNVS, DIVINVM EST NOSCERE VELLE, SED FAS LIMITIBVS SE TENVISSE. / DVM SIBI QVISQUE SAPIT, NEC IVSTI EXAMINA CERNIT, ICARVS ICARYS NOMINA DONAT AQUIS.
[It is something divine to want to acquire knowledge, the gift of God, but man must keep to his limits. As long as everyone has his own wisdom and does not keep the right measure in mind, Icarus gives his name to the Icarian Sea] 
Ixion, who had murdered his father-in-law, lived as an outcast. Zeus considered pardoning him and invited him to the Olympus. Ixion, however, abused his welcome and tried to seduce Zeus’ consort, Hera. The irritated Zeus then created a cloud in Hera’s shape with whom Ixion fathererd Centaurus, the first of the Centaurs. The enraged Zeus hurled a thunderbolt against Ixion and threw him off mount Olympus. Hermes later bound Ixion to an ever-spinning fiery wheel for eternity.
The Latin inscription around Ixion’s image reads:
CVI SIBI CORPRVRIT PLAVDENS POPULARIBVS AVRIS, QVEM FAMAE STOLIDVM GLORIA VANA IVVAT. EXEMPLO SIT EI IXION, CVI IVPPITER ATRAM PRO IVNONE SVA SVPPOSVIT NEBVLAM
[Let him whose wildly beating heart lusts after popularity, the fool who is absorbed by meaningless fame, take warning from Ixion, for whom Jupiter replaced his wife Juno with a dark cloud.]
 Translation from Huigen Leeflang and Ger Luijten, et. al, Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617): Drawings, Prints and Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2003, p.98.
 Ibid. Jupiter and Juno are the equivalents to Zeus and Hera in the Roman Pantheon.