Greek Mythology – Alkyonides

The ancient Greeks used mythology as a means of explaining the natural phenomenon that took place around them. This is true of the warm weather that we experience at about mid January of each year. This period is known as the Halcyon Days or Alkyonides (Greek: Αλκυονίδες). The love and commitment that is seen in this story explains the period of warm sunny days and calm weather that we have in mid January each year. We can also understand why the term ‘Halcyon Days’ has come to signify joy, prosperity and tranquility.

It all began when Alcyone, the daughter of Aeolus (ruler of the winds) married Ceyx (Greek: Κήϋξ), the son of Eosphorus (‘Morning Star’ or ‘Dawn-Bringer’) and the king of Thessaly, also known as ‘Aeolia’. Alcyone and Ceyx were so much is love that they often referred to each other as Zeus and Hera. This finally angered Zeus so much that he decided to punish them.

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One day, Ceyx decided to travel to Delphi in order to consult the oracle. Alcyone pleaded with him not to go as she had a premonition that something terrible would happen. Her fears proved to be right because a terrible storm rose and sank his ship not far from the coast.

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Realising that he was going to drown, Ceyx asked Poseidon to take his body back to his wife. In the meantime, Alcyone also asked Hera to ensure a safe journey for her husband. However, before Hera could help Ceyx, his ship sank. In order to break this terrible incident to Alcyone in as less a traumatic way as possible, she decided to ask Hypnos, the god of sleep, for help. Hypnos instructed Morpheus (god of dreams), to appear in Alcyone’s dreams and tell her about the tragedy. When Alcyone woke from her dream, she ran down to the coast where she found the body of her beloved Ceyx. Overcome with grief, she threw herself into the churning waves and died.

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The gods were amazed at the devotion that Alcyone showed towards Ceyx and so they decided to save them both by transforming them into seabirds so that they could always be together. These seabirds are also known as kingfishers. Zeus ordered Alcyone to lay her eggs in winter, but since her nest was in crevices on the rocky shore where she had found the body of her husband, the stormy waves of winter would sweep her eggs away. She therefore pleaded with Zeus to help her and this he did by giving her 14 days of warm calm weather in order to keep her eggs safe. This period is from after Christmas to mid January, which has become known as the ‘Halcyon Days’ or ‘Alkyonides’.

Besides the story of Alcyone and Ceyx, which is used to explain the mild weather that we experience in mid January, the name Alcyonides also refers to the seven daughters of Alcyoneus. When their father was slain by Heracles, they threw themselves into the sea and were transformed into halcyons or kingfishers by Amphitrite (Poseidon’s wife). Their names were Alkippe, Anthe, Asteria, Chthonia, Drimo, Methone, Pallene and Phthonia.  Methone, Anthe and Pallene give their names to the three Saturnian moons. Alcyonides is also the name given to a group of small rocky islands in the Corinthian Gulf (Greek: Κορινθιακός Κόλπος).

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Kingfishers are small to medium sized brightly coloured birds with little difference between the sexes. They have short tails, large heads and long bills. They are generally shy birds with a cosmopolitan distribution occurring throughout the world’s tropic and temperate regions. They belong to the Coraciiformes order and are divided into three groups: Alcedinidae (river kingfishers), Halcyonidae (tree kingfishers), and Crylidae (water kingfishers). There are roughly 90 species of kingfisher. They feed on insects or fish, and lay white eggs in a self-excavated burrow. Both adults incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.
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Despena Dalmaris

As a teacher of English, writing has always been a part of my life. As a Greek-Australian, I have always been interested in the history, culture and traditions of my country of origin, Greece. That is why I began writing short articles on the different places that I visited and the various activities that I took part in. I have shared my articles with many friends and the internet now gives me the opportunity to share these articles with you.