The Halcyon Days

The dictionary defines the term “halcyon” as a period of time in the past that was happy and tranquil. Halcyon is also a genus that contains 12 species of tree kingfishers. So how did these kingfishers come to be named so?

The word halcyon itself finds its origin in Greek mythology and is derived from Alcyone who was the daughter of King Aeolus, the keeper of the winds. Alcyone was happily married to Ceyx and the two formed a most endearing couple. Once, during a journey by sea, the ship carrying Ceyx was caught in a thunderstorm and got wrecked, resulting in his death. When Alcyone heard the news, she rushed to the shore and came upon the dead body of her husband. Overcome with grief Alcyone threw herself into the sea wanting to drown. The Gods, moved by the couple’s love for each other, transformed Alcyone and Ceyx into halcyon birds or kingfishers, who could ride on the winds and fly over the waters.

In winter, when Alcyone tried to build a nest floating on the seas, the waves turned menacing. So King Aeolus restrained the winds to keep the seas calm for seven days before the solstice, so that Alcyone could build her nest, and for seven days after the solstice so that she could hatch the eggs. Thus these 15 days of winter came to be known as the “halcyon days” when there would be no storms.

Though the mythical fable has no validation in nature – firstly, the kingfisher does not build nests on the seas but rather is a cavity nester, mostly nesting in holes dug in the earth by water bodies; and secondly, the eggs take about three weeks to hatch – yet, it makes for an interesting tale, a conversation filler and a recall for the Greek origin name.

Which leaves me with just these two niggling doubts:

1) Will these “tree” kingfishers need rechristening soon? And,

2) Will the “halcyon” come to be just that?

[In pictures: the white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)]

– Narendra Nayak © 2019

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11 thoughts on “The Halcyon Days

  1. Dear Narendra, thank you for this lovely post:) Being Greek, and having lived many of my winters in Greece, we always marvel at this phenomenon of the Halcyon Days. Apart from the myth, meteorologists have justified these spring days in the middle of the winter due to the fact that Greece lies in one of the most southern parts of Europe. They usually occur between mid December and the beginning of February and can be anything from 3-4 days, to a couple of weeks. The temperature rises and is between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius and there is no wind whatsoever. It’s like a mini Spring.
    As for the myth, your version is very close to what I grew up listening to. In my mother’s version, it was Zeus who felt sorry for Halcyone and asked the god of the sun Helios to warm the days and Aeolus to calm the winds, so that halcyone’s chicks can hatch and live.
    The Blue kingfisher in Greece does lay its eggs along the waterside❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Theresa, thank you so much for your kind words of appreciation and contributing such an amazing postscript to my story! I cannot be thankful enough for the knowledge and thoughts you’ve shared. They’re priceless! 🙂

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  2. Fables have their own charm and they don,t need any validation with the reality or the present times as change is a continuous process and so is the nature.May be when such fable was created,it complied with the then reality…..so kingfisher does not need to be rechristened.Enjoyed reading it.Had heart about but never knew the story behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ratna Ma’am; I’m glad you liked the story. You are absolutely right in your analysis. In mentioning rechristening of the “tree kingfisher”, I was attempting to point out that with trees fast disappearing, this distressful event will soon be upon us; and the meaning of halcyon as a “happy time in the past” will fast near reality in the near future…

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    1. Thank you so much for visiting my blog and your appreciation of my work!
      I came across your site on the reader and found it quite interesting. I’ll definitely stop by more often to read your posts. Best wishes!

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