Kingfisher

CatholicSaints

Marysville, United States

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There are several species of Kingfisher in China that are admired for their bright, iridescent plumage.

The feathers have been used to create colorful artwork collages.

It is a metaphor for the more showy forms of female beauty.

In Greek mythology, Alcyone (/ælˈsaɪəˌni/; Greek: Ἁλκυόνη, Halkyónē) was the daughter of Aeolus, either by Enarete or Aegiale.

She married Ceyx, son of Eosphorus the Morning Star.

Alcyone and Ceyx were very happy together in Trachis, and according to Pseudo-Apollodorus’s account, often sacrilegiously called each other “Zeus” and “Hera”

This angered Zeus, so while Ceyx was at sea (going to consult an oracle according to Ovid’s account), the god threw a thunderbolt at his ship.

Soon after, Morpheus (god of dreams) disguised as Ceyx appeared to Alcyone as an apparition to tell her of his fate, and she threw herself into the sea in her grief.

Out of compassion, the gods changed them both into halcyon birds, named after her.

Ovid2 and Hyginus[ both also recount the metamorphosis of the pair in and after Ceyx’s loss in a terrible storm, though they both omit Ceyx and Alcyone calling each other Zeus and Hera (and Zeus’s resulting anger) as a reason for it.

Ovid also adds the detail of her seeing his body washed up onshore before her attempted suicide.

Ovid and Hyginus both also make the metamorphosis the origin of the etymology for “halcyon days”, the seven days in winter when storms never occur.

They state that these were originally the 14 days each year (seven days on either side of the shortest day of the year4) during which Alcyone (as a kingfisher) laid her eggs and made her nest on the beach and during which her father Aeolus, god of the winds, restrained the winds and calmed the waves so she could do so in safety.

The phrase has since come to refer to any peaceful time.

Its proper meaning, however, is that of a lucky break, or a bright interval set in the midst of adversity; just as the days of calm and mild weather are set in the height of winter for the sake of the kingfishers’ egg laying.

The myth is also briefly referred to by Virgil, again without reference to Zeus’s anger

Various kinds of kingfishers are named after the couple, in reference to the metamorphosis myth:

The genus Ceyx (within the river kingfishers family) is named after him

The kingfisher family Halcyonidae (tree kingfishers) is named after his wife, as is the genus Halcyon.

The belted kingfisher’s Latin species name (Megaceryle alcyon) also references her name.

Their story features in The Book of the Duchess.

Their story is the basis for the opera Alcyone by the French composer Marin Marais

A collection of Canada’s celebrated nature poet, Archibald Lampman, Alcyone, his final set of poetry published posthumously in 1899, highlights both Lampman’s apocalyptic and utopian visions of the future.

TS Eliot draws from this myth in The Dry Salvages: “And the ragged rock in the restless waters,/Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;/On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,/In navigable weather it is always a seamark/To lay a course by: but in the sombre season/Or the sudden fury, is what it always was.”

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