A Halcyon Solstice

Kingfisher, Allen W. Seaby, 1929

Kingfisher, Allen W. Seaby, 1929

Alcyone, daughter of the keeper of the Wind, was married to Ceyx, son of the morning star. They were very much in love and totally devoted to each other, yet Alcyone’s love was powerless to relieve the suffering of her husband over the loss of his brother.

Even from the depths of despair, Ceyx knew it was time to get on with his life and he thought his best hope was a consultation with the oracle of Apollo at Claros. This required a sea journey, which, being daughter of the Wind, Alcyone knew to be perilous, especially in Winter, which it was. She pleaded with her husband not to go to no avail.

Ceyx was barely underway when his ship was seized by a pitiless storm. Swamped and splintered, the sturdy vessel and all her crew were swallowed up in the angry sea. Ceyx’s last living thought was of his beloved wife.

Unaware he was already lost, Alcyone prayed many times a day for her husband’s safe return. The gods took mercy and sent her a vision in the form of Ceyx to tell her of his fate. Desperate to be near Ceyx again, she ran to the shore where she last saw him and collapsed at the water’s edge, heaving in bitter anguish. Some hours later, as she stared blindly out to sea, the lifeless body of Ceyx returned to her on the surf. Crazed with grief, Alcyone threw herself into the sea to join her husband in death.

Very moved by the scene, the gods intervened to restore Alcyone and Ceyx to each other by changing them into a pair of Kingfisher birds, thereafter known as Halcyon. Furthermore, the gods promised calm seas every year for one week either side of the Winter Solstice so the birds could safely make their nests on the water.

This ancient Greek story gave a genus of birds their name and is the source of the phrase Halcyon Days.

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