Two are two versions of the ancient Greek figure Alcyone. One version has her as the nymph daughter of the titan Atlas, and sea nymph Pleione. The second places her as the daughter of Aeolus, the god of the winds and his lover Enarete. There is some overlap between both stories, making it difficult to tell the two apart. There are many versions of her name’s origin, but a few of translates them as “strong-helper” from the Greek words “alke” and “oneo,” and kingfisher from “alkyon.”
Who Was Alcyone?
Alcyone is one of seven daughters who are named the Pleiades, a group of mountain nymph companies of the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. All of them share the same father, titan Atlas. Not all stories name their mother but the most commonly brought up is the sea nymph Pleione. She is the second born of the Pleiades sisters and also considered their leader, however there are other accounts that the eldest sister, Maia, is the leader instead.
After gaining the attention of the god of the sea, Poseidon, she had several children with him. Their names are Hyrieus, Hyperenor, Aethusa, Hyperes, Anthas and Epopeus.
When the sisters were chased by the mortal hunter Orion for their beauty, Artemis begged with Zeus to step in to help. Instead of offering support to the nymphs, he turned them into doves and they fled into the heavens, well beyond Orion’s reach but also no longer Artemis’s companions. In rage over losing her friends, the goddess killed the hunter Orion with a scorpion after persuading her brother Apollo. That act offended Zeus, who then placed the dead hunter among the stars to pursue the Pleiades for all of eternity, where the constellations are seen today. Of all the Pleiades stars, Alcyone shines 1,000 times more luminous. At one point Maia shone brighter than Alcyone, but that is no longer the case; Alcyone is 1,000 times more luminous. Some say it represents sibling rivalry.
Alcyone is also mentioned as the daughter of the god of wind, Aeolus with the woman Enarete. She married Ceyx, King of Thessaly and the son of the Morning Star (the planet Venus) Phosphorus. Their love and devotion for one another and their immense physical beauty earned the admiration of both the gods and mortals alike. Being so in-love and happy with their marriage, they playfully called one another Zeus and Hera. Insulted by their words, Zeus decided it was necessary to punish the husband and wife. He waited until the time was right.
Ceyx still mourned the death of his brother Daedalion. While telling the story of his brother’s fate, a servant interrupted by warning Ceyx of a wild wolf attacking his people and cattle. Viewing this as an ominous sign, he decided to go across the sea to visit the oracle of Apollo. Knowing not even her father Aeolus maintained full control over the fury of the winds, Alcyone begged her husband to take her along. Ceyx refused and left without her. It was then when Zeus decided to strike. The thunderbolt that he threw created a massive storm and pulled Ceyx’s ship into it. Knowing he was on the brink of dying, he prayed to the gods that Alcyone would find his body on the shore so that she could perform the funeral rites.
Each day Alcyone prayed to Hera for her husband’s safe return. Knowing that Alcyone truly loved her husband, Hera sent the god of sleep, Hypnos to appear to her in her dreams. She learned of her husband’s fate and in desperation, ran out to the coast where she found Ceyx’s body. Unable to contain her grief, she jumped into the water to her death. The gods took pity upon the couple for their undying love for one another and to atone for his impulsive action, Zeus turned them into the kingfisher (Halcyon) birds.
When someone brings up the “halcyon days,” it comes from the myth of Alcyone and Ceyx. According to legend, a few weeks every January is when Aeolus calms the winds enough for the waves to die down so that Alcyone, as a bird, can safely make her nest. Halcyon days are a period of peace and calm.
While this Alcyone and the Pleiades Alcyone appear to be separate people, their stories may be related. In 2000 BCE, a time where ancient astronomy was at its peak, there are records that the Pleiades came up nearly four hours earlier than they usually do today for that same time of the year. They were also overhead on the night of the winter solstice when the Halcyon birds supposedly nested. That, along with the sun during the spring equinox, may have something to do with their association of the cluster of birds who symbolize life and renewal.
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