|Greek and Roman Mythology > Ceyx and Halcyone
Ceyx and Halcyone
violence or wrong. He was son of Hesperus, the Day-star, and the
glow of his beauty reminded one of his father. Halcyone, the
daughter of Aeolus, was his wife, and devotedly attached to him.
Now Ceyx was in deep affliction for the loss of his brother, and
direful prodigies following his brother's death made him feel as
if the gods were hostile to him. He thought best therefore to
make a voyage to Claros in Ionia, to consult the oracle of
Apollo. But as soon as he disclosed his intention to his wife
Halcyone, a shudder ran through her frame, and her face grew
deadly pale. "What fault of mine, dearest husband, has turned
your affection from me? Where is that love of me that used to be
uppermost in your thoughts? Have you learned to feel easy in the
absence of Halcyone? Would you rather have me away?" She also
endeavored to discourage him, by describing the violence of the
winds, which she had known familiarly when she lived at home in
her father's house, Aeolus being the god of the winds, and having
as much as he could do to restrain them. "They rush together,"
said she, "with such fury that fire flashes from the conflict.
But if you must go," she added, "dear husband, let me go with
you, Otherwise I shall suffer, not only the real evils which you
must encounter, but those also which my fears suggest."
These words weighed heavily on the mind of king Ceyx, and it was
no less his own wish than hers to take her with him, but he could
not bear to expose her to the dangers of the sea. He answered,
therefore, consoling her as well as he could, and finished with
these words: "I promise, by the rays of my father the Day-star,
that if fate permits I will return before the moon shall have
twice rounded her orb." When he had thus spoken he ordered the
vessel to be drawn out of the ship-house, and the oars and sails
to be put aboard. When Halcyone saw these preparations she
shuddered, as if with a presentiment of evil. With tears and
sobs she said farewell, and then fell senseless to the ground.
Ceyx would still have lingered, but now the young men grasped
their oars and pulled vigorously through the waves, with long and
measured strokes. Halcyone raised her streaming eyes, and saw
her husband standing on the deck, waving his hand to her. She
answered his signal till the vessel had receded so far that she
could no longer distinguish his form from the rest. When the
vessel itself could no more be seen, she strained her eyes to
catch the last glimmer of the sail, till that too disappeared.
Then, retiring to her chamber, she threw herself on her solitary
Meanwhile they glide out of the harbor, and the breeze plays
among the ropes. The seamen draw in their oars, and hoist their
sails. When half or less of their course was passed, as night
drew on, the sea began to whiten with swelling waves, and the
east wind to blow a gale. The master gives the word to take in
sail, but the storm forbids obedience, for such is the roar of
the winds and waves that his orders are unheard. The men, of
their own accord, busy themselves to secure the oars, to
strengthen the ship, to reef the sail. While they thus do what
to each one seems best, the storm increases. The shouting of the
men, the rattling of the shrouds, and the dashing of the waves,
mingle with the roar of the thunder. The swelling sea seems
lifted up to the heavens, to scatter its foam among the clouds;
then sinking away to the bottom assumes the color of the shoal,
a Stygian blackness.
The vessel obeys all these changes. It seems like a wild beast
that rushes on the spears of the hunters. Rain falls in
torrents, as if the skies were coming down to unite with the sea.
When the lightning ceases for a moment, the night seems to add
its own darkness to that of the storm; then comes the flash,
rending the darkness asunder, and lighting up all with a glare.
Skill fails, courage sinks, and death seems to come on every
wave. The men are stupefied with terror. The thought of
parents, and kindred, and pledges left at home, comes over their
minds. Ceyx thinks of Halcyone. No name but hers is on his
lips, and while he yearns for her, he yet rejoices in her
absence. Presently the mast is shattered by a stroke of
lightning, the rudder broken, and the triumphant surge curling
over looks down upon the wreck, then falls, and crushes it to
fragments. Some of the seamen, stunned by the stroke, sink, and
rise no more; others cling to fragments of the wreck. Ceyx, with
the hand that used to grasp the sceptre, holds fast to a plank,
calling for help, alas, in vain, upon his father and his
father-in-law. But oftenest on his lips was the name of
Halcyone. His thoughts cling to her. He prays that the waves
may bear his body to her sight, and that it may receive burial at
her hands. At length the waters overwhelm him, and he sinks.
The Day-star looked dim that night. Since it could not leave the
heavens, it shrouded its face with clouds.
In the mean while Halcyone, ignorant of all these horrors,
counted the days till her husband's promised return. Now she
gets ready the garments which he shall put on, and now what she
shall wear when he arrives. To all the gods she offers frequent
incense but more than all to Juno. For her husband, who was no
more, she prayed incessantly; that he might be safe; that he
might come home; that he might not, in his absence, see any one
that he would love better than her. But of all these prayers,
the last was the only one destined to be granted. The goddess,
at length, could not bear any longer to be pleaded with for one
already dead, and to have hands raised to her altars, that ought
rather to be offering funeral rites. So, calling Iris, she said,
"Iris, my faithful messenger, go to the drowsy dwelling of
Somnus, and tell him to send a vision to Halcyone, in the form of
Ceyx, to make known to her the event."
Iris puts on her robe of many colors, and tingeing the sky with
her bow, seeks the palace of the King of Sleep. Near the
Cimmerian country, a mountain cave is the abode of the dull god,
Somnus, Here Phoebus dares not come, either rising, or at
midday, or setting. Clouds and shadows are exhaled from the
ground, and the light glimmers faintly. The bird of dawn, with
crested head, never calls aloud there to Aurora, nor watchful
dog, nor more sagacious goose disturbs the silence. (This
comparison of the dog and the goose is a reference by Ovid to a
passage in Roman history.) No wild beast, nor cattle, nor branch
moved with the wind, nor sound of human conversation, breaks the
stillness. Silence reigns there; and from the bottom of the rock
the River Lethe flows, and by its murmur invites to sleep.
Poppies grow abundantly before the door of the cave, and other
herbs, from whose juices Night collects slumbers, which she
scatters over the darkened earth. There is no gate to the
mansion, to creak on its hinges, nor any watchman; but in the
midst, a couch of black ebony, adorned with black plumes and
black curtains. There the god reclines, his limbs relaxed with
sleep. Around him lie dreams, resembling all various forms, as
many as the harvest bears stalks, or the forest leaves, or the
seashore grains of sand.
As soon as the goddess entered and brushed away the dreams that
hovered around her, her brightness lit up all the cave. The god,
scarce opening his eyes, and ever and anon dropping his beard
upon his breast, at last shook himself free from himself, and
leaning on his arm, inquired her errand, for he knew who she
was. She answered, "Somnus, gentlest of the gods, tranquillizer
of minds and soother of careworn hearts, Juno sends you her
commands that you dispatch a dream to Halcyone, in the city of
Trachinae, representing her lost husband and all the events of
Having delivered her message, Iris hasted away, for she could not
longer endure the stagnant air, and as she felt drowsiness
creeping over her, she made her escape, and returned by her bow
the way she came. Then Somnus called one of his numerous sons,
Morpheus, the most expert at counterfeiting forms, and in
imitating the walk, the countenance, and mode of speaking, even
the clothes and attitudes most characteristic of each. But he
only imitates men, leaving it to another to personate birds,
beasts, and serpents. Him they call Icelos; and Phantasos is a
third, who turns himself into rocks, waters, woods, and other
things without life. These wait upon kings and great personages
in their sleeping hours, while others move among the common
people. Somnus chose, from all the brothers, Morpheus, to
perform the command of Iris; then laid his head on his pillow and
yielded himself to grateful repose.
Morpheus flew, making no noise with his wings, and soon came to
the Haemonian city, where, laying aside his wings, he assumed the
form of Ceyx. Under that form, but pale like a dead man, naked,
he stood before the couch of the wretched wife. His beard seemed
soaked with water, and water trickled from his drowned locks.
Leaning over the bed, tears streaming from his eyes, he said, "Do
you recognize your Ceyx, unhappy wife, or has death too much
changed my visage? Behold me, know me, your husband's shade,
instead of himself. Your prayers, Halcyone, availed me nothing.
I am dead. No more deceive yourself with vain hopes of my
return. The stormy winds sunk my ship in the Aegean Sea; waves
filled my mouth while it called aloud on you. No uncertain
messenger tells you this, no vague rumor brings it to your ears.
I come in person, a shipwrecked man, to tell you my fate. Arise!
Give me tears, give me lamentations, let me not go down to
Tartarus unwept." To these words Morpheus added the voice which
seemed to be that of her husband; he seemed to pour forth genuine
tears; his hands had the gestures of Ceyx.
Halcyone, weeping, groaned, and stretched out her arms in her
sleep, striving to embrace his body, but grasping only the air.
"Stay!" she cried; "whither do you fly? Let us go together."
Her own voice awakened her. Starting up, she gazed eagerly
around, to see if he was still present, for the servants, alarmed
by her cries, had brought a light. When she found him not, she
smote her breast and rent her garments. She cares not to unbind
her hair, but tears it wildly. Her nurse asks what is the cause
of her grief. "Halcyone is no more," she answers; "she perished
with her Ceyx. Utter not words of comfort, he is shipwrecked and
dead. I have seen him. I have recognized him. I stretched out
my hands to seize him and detain him. His shade vanished, but it
was the true shade of my husband. Not with the accustomed
features, not with the beauty that was his, but pale, naked, and
with his hair wet with sea-water, he appeared to wretched me.
Here, in this very spot, the sad vision stood," and she looked
to find the mark of his footsteps. "This it was, this that my
presaging mind foreboded, when I implored him not to leave me to
trust himself to the waves. O, how I wish, since thou wouldst
go, that thou hadst taken me with thee! It would have been far
better. Then I should have had no remnant of life to spend
without thee, nor a separate death to die. If I could bear to
live and struggle to endure, I should be more cruel to myself
than the sea has been to me. But I will not struggle. I will
not be separated from thee, unhappy husband. This time, at least
I will keep thee company. In death, if one tomb may not include
us, one epitaph shall; if I may not lay my ashes with thine, my
name, at least, shall not be separated." Her grief forbade more
words, and these were broken with tears and sobs.
It was now morning. She went to the sea-shore, and sought the
spot where she last saw him, on his departure. "Here he lingered
and cast off his tacklings and gave me his last kiss." While she
reviews every moment, and strives to recall every incident,
looking out over the sea, she descries an indistinct object
floating in the water. At first she was in doubt what it was,
but by degrees the waves bore it nearer, and it was plainly the
body of a man. Though unknowing of whom, yet, as it was of some
shipwrecked one, she was deeply moved, and gave it her tears,
saying, "Alas! Unhappy one, and unhappy, if such there be, thy
wife!" Borne by the waves, it came nearer. As she more and more
nearly views it, she trembles more and more. Now, now it
approaches the shore. Now marks that she recognizes appear. It
is her husband! Stretching out her trembling hands towards it,
she exclaims, "O, dearest husband, is it thus you return to me?"
There was built out from the shore a mole, constructed to break
the assaults of the sea, and stem its violent ingress. She
leaped upon this barrier and (it was wonderful she could do so)
she flew, and striking the air with wings produced on the
instant, skimmed along the surface of the water, an unhappy bird.
As she flew, her throat poured forth sounds full of grief, and
like the voice of one lamenting. When she touched the mute and
bloodless body, she enfolded its beloved limbs with her new-
formed wings, and tried to give kisses with her horny beak.
Whether Ceyx felt it, or whether it was only the action of the
waves, those who looked on doubted, but the body seemed to raise
its head. But indeed he did feel it, and by the pitying gods
both of them were changed into birds. They mate and have their
young ones. For seven placid days, in winter time, Halcyone
broods over her nest, which floats upon the sea. Then the way is
safe to seamen. Aeolus guards the winds, and keeps them from
disturbing the deep. The sea is given up, for the time, to his
The following lines from Byron's Bride of Abydos might seem
borrowed from the concluding part of this description, if it were
not stated that the author derived the suggestion from observing
the motion of a floating corpse.
"As shaken on his restless pillow,
His head heaves with the heaving billow;
That hand, whose motion is not life,
Yet feebly seems to menace strife,
Flung by the tossing tide on high,.
Then levelled with the wave "
Milton, in his Hymn for the Nativity, thus alludes to the fable
of the Halcyon:
"But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of light
His reign of peace upon the earth began;
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean
Who now hath quite forgot to rave
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave."
Keats, also, in Endymion, says:
"O magic sleep! O comfortable bird
That broodest o'er the troubled sea of the mind
Till it is hushed and smooth."