Alcyone

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In Greek mythology, Alcyone (Ancient Greek: Ἁλκυόνη Halkyónē) was the daughter of Aeolus, either by Enarete or Aegiale. She married Ceyx, son of Eosphorus, the Morning Star.

They were very happy together in Trachis, and according to Pseudo-Apollodorus's account, often sacrilegiously called each other "Zeus" and "Hera".[1] This angered Zeus, so while Ceyx was at sea (going to consult an oracle according to Ovid's account), the god threw a thunderbolt at his ship. Ceyx appeared to Alcyone as an apparition to tell her of his fate, and she threw herself into the sea in her grief. Out of compassion, the gods changed them both into halcyon birds, named after her.

Ovid[2] and Hyginus[3] both also recount the metamorphosis of the pair in and after Ceyx's loss in a terrible storm, though they both omit Ceyx and Alcyone calling each other Zeus and Hera (and Zeus's resulting anger) as a reason for it. Ovid also adds the detail of her seeing his body washed up onshore before her attempted suicide.

Ovid and Hyginus both also make the metamorphosis the origin of the etymology for "halcyon days", the seven days in winter when storms never occur. They state that these were originally the seven days each year (either side of the shortest day of the year) during which Alcyone (as a kingfisher) laid her eggs and made her nest on the beach and during which her father Aeolus, god of the winds, restrained the winds and calmed the waves so she could do so in safety. The phrase has since become a term used to describe a peaceful time generally.

The myth is also briefly referred to by Virgil, again without reference to Zeus's anger.[4]

Legacy

  • Various kinds of kingfishers are named after the couple, in reference to the metamorphosis myth:
  • Their story features in The Book of the Duchess.
  • Their story is the basis for the opera Alcyone by the French composer Marin Marais
  • A collection of Canada's celebrated nature poet, Archibald Lampman, Alcyone, his final set of poetry published posthumously in 1899, highlights both Lampman's apocalyptic and utopian visions of the future.
  • TS Eliot draws from this myth in The Dry Salvages: "And the ragged rock in the restless waters,/Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;/On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,/In navigable weather it is always a seamark/To lay a course by: but in the sombre season/Or the sudden fury, is what it always was."

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