The story of Alcyone and Ceyx is very touching and portrays the love that triumphs over tragedy. This young couple was so much in love that neither the gods nor death could set them apart. Alcyone followed her husband to the other life and did so with her free will. From this myth also derives a well-known phrase, the Halcyon Days.
Discover the myth of Alcyone and Ceyx
Showing arrogance to the gods
The lovely Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind, and her mother was either Enarete or Aegiale. She was the devoted wife of Ceyx, King of Trachis, in central Greece. Ceyx ruled his kingdom with justice and in peace. Alcyone and Ceyx were admired by gods and mortals alike for their great physical beauty, as well as the profound love they had for each other.
They were so happy in their marriage that they used to often playfully call one another Zeus and Hera. This infuriated the chief of the gods who regarded it an audacity. Zeus waited for the proper time to punish the arrogant couple who dared to make themselves comparable to gods.
Ceyx was still in mourning over his brother's death and deeply troubled over some ominous signs that had observed. So, he decided to consult the oracle of Apollo at Carlos in Ionia (Western Anatolia). Alcyone, however, tried to dissuade her husband from his decision to travel through the dangerous seas to consult the oracle.
She reminded him of the danger from the fury of the winds which even her father, the god of the winds, often found difficult to control: she put pressure over her husband to take her along with him. But Ceyx wouldn't put his beloved wife through unnecessary danger. Alcyone watched with a bad feeling as the ship carrying her husband was getting away from the harbour.
Zeus, the chief god, decided this was an opportune time to punish the couple for their sacrilege. He launched a thunderbolt that raised a furious hurricane engulfing the ship which began to sink.
Ceyx realized that the end had come for him and, before he got drowned, he prayed to the gods to allow his body be washed ashore so as to enable his beloved Alcyone to perform the funeral rites. As Ceyx gasped his last breath, his father Esophorous, the morning star, watched helplessly, shrouding his face with clouds, unable to leave the heavens and rescue his son.
The lovely Alcyone waited for her husband for a long time, praying continually to the gods, especially Hera, queen of the gods, for the safe return of Ceyx. Hera felt profound sorrow for the tragic fate of Ceyx. She sent her messenger Iris, goddess of the rainbow, to look for Hypnos, the god of Sleep and comforter of the afflicted, to whom was assigned the mission of gently informing Alcyone about the death of her husband. Hypnos, in his turn, entrusted the mission to his son Morpheus, an expert in forming apparitions.
Morpheus created a life-like specter of Ceyx which revealed to Alcyone the tragic circumstances concerning the shipwreck and death of her husband. In profound grief, Alcyone ran to the seashore beating her breasts and tearing her garments. She suddenly beheld the body of a man that had been washed ashore. Coming closer, she realized it was the body of her beloved Ceyx. After performing the last rites and unable to continue living without her husband, Alcyone threw herself into the sea and got drowned, determined to join her husband in the land of the dead.
The gods on Olympus were profoundly affected by the tragic fate of Alcyone and Ceyx, as well as their wonderful love for one other which not even the frosty hands of death could extinguish. In order to atone for his rash action that was responsible for this tragedy, Zeus transformed the couple into the Halcyon birds (kingfisher).
The myth lives till today through a phrase
The phrase halcyon days owes its origin to this beautiful myth of Alcyone and Ceyx. According to the legend, for tow weeks every January, Aeolus, father of Alcyone, calms down the winds and the waves so that Alcyone, in the form of a kingfisher bird, can safely make her nest on the beach and lay her eggs. Hence, the term "halcyon days" comes to signify a period of great peace and calm.