12 March 2012


... the kingfisher - who knew!

We still use the phrase "halcyon days" - usually it connotes "the sunny days of youth" but its origin is a Greek myth in which Alcyone threw herself into the sea after her husband drowned. She was carried to him by the wind, and the gods turned them both into kingfishers. It was believed that kingfishers build their nest on the water around the winter solstice, and are able to calm the waters, and these are the original "halcyon days".

Later, indeed in Shakespeare's time, it was believed that the beak of the dried carcass of a kingfisher would always turn into the wind (autre temps, autres mores) - which explains this bit of King Lear -
     Bring oil to fire, snow to their colder moods;
     Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks
     With every gale and vary of their masters

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