Friday, 15 December 2017

brooding and blissful halcyon days

Thanks to our faithful chronicler Doctor Caligari we not only learn that the period of time seven days on either side of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, are referred to as halcyon days for a time when the seas are calmed but also the term’s etymology: from the Latin form of Alcyone, the hapless daughter of Æolus, the god of the winds, and his wife Enarete. Alcyone met and fell in love with a sailor called Ceyx—who also had divine parentage as a son of Phosphorus, the Morning Star. Husband and wife were very happy together but the king and queen of the gods took umbrage at the fact that their pet-names for each other were Zeus and Hera. I could imagine better terms of endearment than evoking a philandering, incestuous relationship but couples can be peculiar, and this sacrilege earned the scorn of Zeus, who wielded a thunderbolt at Ceyx’ ship. Alcyone was of course inconsolable and the other gods (their parents and in-laws presumably) took pity on them both by transforming them to kingfishers (taxonomically speaking, Halcyon) who migrate from Africa to Greece at this time of year to roost and the weather is fair so that they can nest in peace.