Halcyon Days - An Ancient Greek Love Story - Greek Mythology


Ceyx and Alcyone - 1750 - Carle van Loo
Ceyx and Alcyone - 1750 - Carle van Loo

The last couple of days here in Loutraki  have been absolutely idyllic.
Very welcome indeed, as, for the last two weeks or so, the weather has been anything but idyllic!

Could these be the Halcyon days of Greek mythology?
 Days of warm sun and calm seas.

When we think about Halcyon days, our minds usually turn, to the long, lazy days of summer, or we associate them, with the, never to come again, sublime summer days of our childhood.

This is not the case.

Let me tell you a story, a love story.

Illustration from Ovid Metamorphoses Florence 1832
Illustration from Ovid Metamorphoses Florence 1832

Long, long ago, in ancient Greece, Ceyx , son of the morning star, and Alcyone (Halcyon), daughter of Aeolus, god of the wind,  fell madly in love, a love so passionate, it became a legend, known all over the ancient lands.

One stormy morning, Ceyx set sail to visit The Oracle at Delphi.

Alcyone, knowing all about the treacherous ways of the weather (had she not witnessed the storm clouds and lightening wreaking havoc around her father’s palace?) begged him not to go, or at least, to take her with him.

Ceyx, said not to worry, he would be fine and be home before she knew it.


Alcyone's farewell to Ceyx Christoffer Wilhelm Ekersberg 1813 National Gallery of Denmark
Alcyone's farewell to Ceyx
Christoffer Wilhelm Ekersberg 1813
National Gallery of Denmark

Alcyone was left alone on the shore to watch Ceyx disappear into the misty, darkening sea.

Ceyx was not long out to sea when tragedy struck, a terrific storm blew up, tossing his ship around in the furious waves, the ship was wrecked and Ceyx drowned, his last dying thought being of his true love, Alcyone.


The storm that killed Ceyx.  Richard Wilson (1713/1714–1782)  National Museum Wales
The storm that killed Ceyx.  Richard Wilson (1713/1714–1782)
 National Museum Wales

Meanwhile, Alcyone, not knowing of the terrible fate of Ceyx, prayed to the Goddess Hera, to keep him safe and send him home quickly.

Hearing the prayers, Hera took pity on Alcyone, and, already knowing about the death of Ceyx, sent her messenger, Iris, to Hypnos, the God of sleep, to demand that he send a vision to Alcyone, revealing the death of Ceyx.

Hypnos, then sent his son Morpheus, God of dreams, to Alcyone.

Morpheus appeared at Alcyone’s bedside in the form of Ceyx, wet and naked and recounted the story of the shipwreck and his death.


On awakening, and, finding herself alone, Alcyone rushed to the shore, where she recognized something floating in the sea, it was the body of Ceyx.


Alcyone searches for Ceyx
Alcyone searches for Ceyx
Painting:Herbert James Draper

 Alcyone threw herself into the sea, but, before she had chance to drown, Zeus, who had been watching the drama from high above, transformed both her and Ceyx into kingfishers.

The two lovers, united again, flew off into the horizon.


Kingfisher
Kingfisher
Painting: Carel Pieter Brest Van Kempen.2004

Zeus ordered that Alcyone should lay her eggs in the winter, on the shore, at the spot where she had discovered Ceyx’s body.

But when Alcyone made her nest on the beach, fierce waves washed her nest away.

 Aeolus, her father, took pity on his daughter, and restrained his winds and calmed the waves for seven days, allowing Alcyone to lay her eggs.

 These seven days became known as the ‘halcyon days’. 


Kingfisher
Kingfisher

This then, is the story of the Halcyon days.

 They happen (not every year unfortunately) in Greece around Mid-January.

Oh, if only Ceyx had listened to his wife, Alcyone, and never gone to sea!

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