“February made me shiver with every paper I’d deliver” goes the well-known song “American Pie”, and certainly the weather conditions lately have led me to the point of checking out the neighbourhood on a regular basis to see if some smart local Noah is secretly building an ark someplace!
Writing this in mid-January, I’m surely hoping that by the time the paper really is delivered, Don Mclean’s words will prove happily superfluous and we shall have the chance once again to experience at least a few days of clear blue skies, warm sunshine and balmy temperatures.
Known as “Halcyon Days” (Alkyonides Imeras) since ancient times and written about by Aristotle and others, these sudden summer weather conditions in mid-winter occur between 15th December and 20th February and are beautifully explained by the Greek myth of Alkyoni.
Daughter of the immortal Aiolos, God of the winds, Alkyoni and her husband Kiykas, King of Trachina, were such a handsome, wealthy and joyful couple that they began to think of themselves as more like gods than men. Their good fortune had made them both blind and proud - considering themselves equal to Zeus and Hera, they ordered their subjects to no longer call them by their own names, but to address them by the names of the king and queen of the Mount Olympus Gods.
This angered the immortals and, in particular, Zeus, who decided to punish them. One day when Kiykas was taking a journey by boat, Zeus sent a terrible storm, smashing the boat to pieces and causing Kiykas to be swallowed up by the huge waves. When Alkyoni learned what had happened, she rushed to the seashore to search for her missing husband, dead or alive, but she found nothing except a few shreds of the sails from his boat and, kneeling down on a rock, she began to cry inconsolably. There she stayed weeping all through the day and night and after a while her grief began to soften Zeus’ heart. In order to end her suffering, he transformed her into a beautifully coloured bird (the kingfisher) which took her name and lives always close to the sea, as though still waiting for the lost Kiykas to appear out of the waves.
The transformed Alkyoni laid her eggs and nested amongst the rocks in the middle of winter. But the wild seas destroyed her nest and smashed the eggs. Again Zeus felt pity for her and made a decision that every year there should be a period of about fifteen days of clear skies and warm sunshine, when the winds and the sea remain calm and Alkyoni has the chance to incubate her eggs until the baby birds are hatched.