Friday, February 5, 2010

Halcyon Days?

Phrases like that spring to the half-asleep mind all too easily—but this morning, as I began the post that follows (the one that is, alas, above), something stirred, namely the eerie feeling that I hadn’t the slightest idea what the word halcyon actually meant. Etymonline to the rescue. Wonder of wonders. The word refers to a bird of all things, evidently a mythical bird, but one identified with the kingfisher. The word derives from Greek for hals meaning sea or salt and kyon, conceiving, therefore swelling, thus the swell of a sea wave. The mythological rootings are Halcyone (or Alcyone), daughter of Aeolus, the god of the winds. When her husband, Ceyx, king of Thessaly, drowns in the process of consulting the I Ching (so to say—actually he sails off to consult an oracle), Halcyone throws herself into the sea and becomes a kingfisher (and quite a beauty she is, too) or (in another version of the myth) Morpheus turns both her and the corpse of her husband, washed ashore, into kingfishers. In any case, there is supposed to be a two-week period of calm weather at the winter solstice, the time when the halcyon breeds in the calm seas. And that brief period, my friends, is what came to be known as the halcyon days. A brief duration of calm—not the happy days of the past as I ignorantly assumed. The picture is from Wikipedia here.

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