Alcyone and Ceyx

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Alcyone and Ceyx transformed into Halcyons

In Greek mythology, Alcyone (or dubiously Halcyone)[1] (/ælˈsəˌni, hælˈsəˌni/; Ancient Greek: Ἀλκυόνη, romanizedAlkyónē) and Ceyx (/ˈsɪks/; Κήϋξ, Kḗÿx) were a wife and husband who incurred the wrath of the god Zeus for their romantic hubris.


Alkyóne comes from alkyón (ἀλκυών), which refers to a sea-bird with a mournful song[2] or to a kingfisher bird in particular.[3] The meaning(s) of the words is uncertain because alkyón is considered to be of pre-Greek, non-Indo-European origin.[4] However, folk etymology related them to the háls (ἅλς, "brine, sea, salt") and kyéo (κυέω, "I conceive"). Alkyóne originally is written with a smooth breathing mark, but this false origin beginning with a rough breathing mark (transliterated as the letter H) led to the common misspellings halkyón (ἁλκυών) and Halkyóne (Ἁλκυόνη),[5] and thus the name of one of the kingfisher bird genus' in English Halcyon. It is also speculated that Alkyóne is derived from alké (ἀλκή, "prowess, battle, guard") and onéo (ὀνέω, from ὀνίνεμι, onínemi,[6] "to help, to please").[7]

Kéyx as referring to a sea-bird appears to be related to kaúax (καύαξ),[8] which is a ravenous sea-bird (λάρος, láros). These suggest that Kéyx may have been turned into either a sea mew or a tern.[9]


Herbert James Draper, Halcyone, 1915.

Alcyone was a Thessalian princess, the daughter of King Aeolus of Aeolia, either by Enarete[10] or Aegiale.[11] She was the sister of Salmoneus, Athamas, Sisyphus, Cretheus, Perieres, Deioneus, Magnes, Calyce, Canace, Pisidice and Perimede.

Later on, Alcyone became the queen of Trachis after marrying King Ceyx. The latter was the son of Eosphorus (often translated as Lucifer).[12] The couple were very happy together in Trachis.

According to Pseudo-Apollodorus's account, this couple often sacrilegiously called each other "Zeus" and "Hera".[13] This angered Zeus, so while Ceyx was at sea (in order to consult an oracle, according to Ovid), he killed Ceyx with a thunderbolt. Soon after, Morpheus, the god of dreams, disguised as Ceyx, appeared to Alcyone to tell her of her husband's fate. In her grief she threw herself into the sea. Out of compassion, the gods changed them both into "halcyon birds" (common kingfishers), named after her. Apollodorus says that Ceyx was turned into a gannet, and not a kingfisher.

Ovid[14] and Hyginus[11] 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. On the contrary, it is mentioned that while still unaware of Ceyx's death in the shipwreck, Alcyone continued to pray at the altar of Hera for his safe return.[15] Ovid also adds the detail of her seeing his body washed ashore before her attempted suicide. Pseudo-Probus, a scholiast on Virgil's Georgics, notes that Ovid followed Nicander's version of the tale, instead of Theodorus's starring another Alcyone.[16]

Virgil in the Georgics also alludes to the myth - again without reference to Zeus's anger.[17]

It is possible that the earlier myth was a simpler version of the one by Nicander, where a woman named Alcyone mourned her unnamed husband; Ceyx was probably added later due to him being an important figure in mythology and poetry, and also having a wife whose name was Alcyone (as evidenced from the Hesiodic poem Wedding of Ceyx).[18]

Halcyon days[edit]

Ovid and Hyginus both also make the metamorphosis the origin of the term "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 year[19]) 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. Aeolus controls the wind and the bird couple can nurture their young nestlings.[15] 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' egglaying according to the myth. Kingfishers however do not live by the sea, so Ovid's tale is not based on any actual observations of the species and in fact refers to a mythical bird only later identified with the kingfisher.

The expression ἀλκῠονίδες ἡμέραι (alkuonídes hēmérai) first occurs in Aristophanes' play The Birds 1594, then again in Aristotle, Philochorus, and Lucian.[20] In Latin it occurs as alcyonides dies in Pliny the Elder, alcyonei (-nĭī) diēs in Columella and Varro, alcyonia in Hyginus, and alcedonia in Plautus and Frontinus.[21]


  • Various kinds of kingfishers are named after the couple, in reference to the metamorphosis myth:
  • Their story features in The Book of the Duchess.
  • Their story is the basis for the opera Alcyone by the French composer Marin Marais and the cantata Alcyone by Maurice Ravel
  • 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."


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Halcyone".)
  2. ^ "ἀλκυών". Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  3. ^ Woodhouse, Sidney Chawner (1910). English–Greek Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Attic Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited. p. 470. ISBN 9780710023247.
  4. ^ Beekes, Robert Stephen Paul; van Beek, Lucien (2010). Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill. p. 71. ISBN 978-90-04-17420-7.
  5. ^ Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert. "A Greek-English Lexicon, ἀλκυών". Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  6. ^ "ὀνέω - Ancient Greek (LSJ)". Liddell, Scott, Jones Ancient Greek Lexicon. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  7. ^ "ALCYONE (Alkyone) - Boeotian Pleiad Nymph of Greek Mythology". Theoi Project. Retrieved 29 July 2023.
  8. ^ Beekes, Robert Stephen Paul; van Beek, Lucien (2010). Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill. p. 691. ISBN 978-90-04-17420-7.
  9. ^ Beekes, Robert Stephen Paul; van Beek, Lucien (2010). Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill. p. 657. ISBN 978-90-04-17420-7.
  10. ^ Apollodorus, 1.7.3
  11. ^ a b Hyginus, Fabulae 65
  12. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.271
  13. ^ Hesiod, Ehoiai fr. 15; Apollodorus, 1.7.4
  14. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.410 ff.-748 (also here Archived 2005-04-19 at the Wayback Machine)
  15. ^ a b Roman, L., & Roman, M. (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman mythology , p. 55, at Google Books
  16. ^ Gildenhard, Ingo (July 5, 2017). Transformative Change in Western Thought: A History of Metamorphosis from Homer to Hollywood. Routledge. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-907975-01-1.
  17. ^ Virgil, Georgics 1.399 - "[At that time] not to the sun's warmth then upon the shore / Do halcyons dear to Thetis ope their wings"
  18. ^ Forbes Irving, Paul M. C. (1990). Metamorphosis in Greek Myths. Clarendon Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-19-814730-9.
  19. ^ William Smith, ed. (1867). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Volume 1. p. 108. It was fabled, that during the seven days before, and as many after, the shortest day of the year, while the bird ἀλκυών, was breeding, there always prevailed calms at sea.
  20. ^ Liddell, Scott, Jones, Greek Lexicon, s.v. ἀλκῠονίς.
  21. ^ Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary.


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