Meanings: “Halcyon”

July 30, 2012

Are these the “halcyon days of summer?”  Here in Maine we have been having a simply lovely summer, one full of blue skies and warm but not scorching days.  For his part, Calvin wonders if he, too, is in the “halcyon days of youth”:

I wondered, of course, where the word “halcyon” comes from.  It smells Greek, and indeed it is Greek.  It comes from the Alcyone, a figure in Greek mythology who incurred Zeus’s wrath whereupon Zeus turned her into a bird — a kingfisher.

But it also turns out the “halcyon days” are not in summer or in youth but rather in winter.  The “halcyon days” are a stretch of calm days spanning the winter solstice when Alcyone (now a kingfisher) builds a nest on the sea (or in other versions, on the shore) to lay her eggs.  Her father Aeolus, god of the winds, calms the seas and the winds so all will be well.

So, Calvin, these are not your halcyon days — or mine.  But by all means, go ask Mom.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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