Posted in History & Literature

Halcyon Days

There is a story in Greek mythology about a woman named Alcyone. Alcyone was married to Ceyx and the two were madly in love with each other. They would go as far as playfully calling each other Zeus and Hera (the king and queen of the gods). When Zeus heard of this, he became infuriated and plotted a way to punish the couple for their sacrilege.

One day, while Ceyx was sailing, Zeus threw a thunderbolt to raise a furious storm. The storm made quick work of Ceyx’s ship and Ceyx sank to the bottom of the sea. With his dying breath, he prayed to the gods to bring his body to the shore so that Alcyone may see him one last time and give him a funeral. The gods took pity and arranged for this to happen.

Meanwhile, Morpheus, god of dreams, appeared before Alcyone in the image of Ceyx, to gently inform her of her husband’s death. Alcyone ran to the shore in grief. There, she found the cold, lifeless body of her beloved husband. The loss of her true love was too much for her to bear. After Ceyx’s funeral, she threw herself in to the sea and drowned, so that she may meet her husband again in the underworld.

The gods, who were admirers of Alcyone and Ceyx’s beautiful love, were deeply saddened by this tragic fate. Zeus decided to atone for his rash actions by transforming the couple into a pair of kingfishers. The two birds lived happily ever after, but found that whenever they tried to lay eggs on the beach during the winter, strong waves would wash them away. Alcyone’s father Aeolus, god of the winds, saw this and calmed the winds for two weeks every winter, so that the couple may lay their eggs and make a nest in peace. Kingfishers have been referred to as halcyons since then.

Nowadays, the term halcyon days refers to a period of peace and calm, particularly during times of hardship.
Perhaps it is an allusion to the fact that we can navigate through any adversity when we are with our loved ones.

Posted in History & Literature

Zodiac: Cancer

Cancer is the Zodiac sign for those born between June 22 and July 22. The symbol for Cancer is a large crab.

The model for Cancer is a crab who served Hera. This story is closely tied to that of Hercules’ twelve labours. Hercules, being the son of Zeus and a human woman, was hated intensely by Hera, the wife of Zeus. Thus, she made him made, causing him to kill his family and being punished by having to undergo twelve near-impossible challenges. One of these was killing the nine-headed monster, the Hydra. Hercules had already accomplished the first task so easily that Hera wanted to distract him. She sent a crab down to the human world and commanded it to attack Hercules. The crab crawled all the way to the battle scene and ferociously bit his toe. But Hercules simply kicked the crab, causing it to get crushed and killed instantly. Hera felt sorry for the crab and sent its body into the heavens where it became a constellation. This is quite possibly the saddest death in all of Greek mythology.

(Part of the Zodiac series:

Posted in History & Literature

Judgement Of Paris

This is the story of how one man’s choice lead to a great war.

One day, Zeus held a banquet to celebrate a marriage, but did not invite Eris, the goddess of discord, for obvious reasons. Infuriated, she came up with a cunning plan, in which she arrived at the banquet, tossed a golden apple at the crowd, and disappeared.
On the apple, it was inscribed: For the fairest one.

Three goddesses approached the apple, claiming that it belonged to them: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They demanded that Zeus be the judge of who was the fairest, but Zeus knowing it was a catch-22 delegated the task to a mortal: Paris of Troy. This shepherd-prince was approached by each goddess, who offered a bribe using their godly powers.
Hera, the queen of gods, offered to make him the king of Eurasia, symbolising power and wealth.
Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, offered great strength and wisdom.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, offered the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen of Sparta.

After some thought, Paris presented the apple to Aphrodite, giving her the title of the “fairest one”. This earned him not only the beautiful Helen – who became infatuated with him under Aphrodite’s powers and brought to Troy – but also the scorn of the other two goddesses. Using their influences, and the fact that Helen was the wife of Menelaus – king of Sparta – the Trojan War sparked as Sparta formed a Greek alliance force to attack Troy, to reclaim their queen and seek vengeance and blood.

This goes to show how a man’s life, or his nation in the case of Paris, can be destroyed by the basic instinct of lust.

Posted in History & Literature

The Twelve Labours Of Hercules

After killing his children in a psychotic state inflicted by Hera, Hercules was dethroned and was set ten tasks, all deemed impossible, which he had to complete for forgiveness of his sins. Each task required problem-solving and unconventional thinking, which eventually granted Hercules the reward of immortality.

The twelve (including two that were added as he was blamed for cheating in two tasks) labours in order were:

  1. Kill the Nemean Lion, a monster with hide so thick that no arrow can pierce it. Hercules stunned the lion with a club and then strangled it, after which proceeded to skin its hide with its own claws to use as armour.
  2. Kill the Lernean Hydra, a monster with nine heads, which could regrow two heads in the place where one was cut. Hercules instructed his charioteer, Iolaus, to cauterise the necks after cutting the heads to prevent it regenerating, then used the poisonous blood to coat his arrows. This was considered cheating as he used the help of Iolaus.
  3. Capture the Cerynian Hind, Artemis’ beloved deer. Hercules followed the hind for an entire year and then safely carried it away, to avoid harming the frail creature and angering the goddess.
  4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar, a wild beast that intimidated all of the inhabitants of the mountain. Hercules captured the creature using a net.
  5. Clean the Augean Stables, a gigantic stable housing thousands of cows that had not been cleaned in 30 years, Hercules was given one day for the task, so he bent two rivers so they flowed through the stables to clean the filth. He was about to receive payment for his service, which was considered cheating by King Eurystheus (who set the tasks).
  6. Kill the Stymphalian Birds, murderous birds with bronze beaks and claws, and metallic feathers that they could shoot like darts. Hercules killed them with poison arrows tipped with the Hydra’s blood.
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull, a rampant bull capable of breathing fire. Hercules wrestled to control the beast and successfully captured it.
  8. Capture the horses of Diomedes, that were trained to feed on human flesh. Hercules killed King Diomedes who raised them and fed his corpse to the horses, thus taming them.
  9. Take the Girdle of Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons. Hercules was gifted the girdle by Hippolyte, but Hera spread a rumour that he was there to conquer the Amazons, forcing him to kill the Amazons and steal the belt in the end.
  10. Capture the Cattle of Geryon, a winged monster with three human bodies. Hercules killed Geryon and his guardian dog, and then took his herd of cattle.
  11. Take the Golden Apples of Hesperides, protected by Ladon, a dragon with a hundred heads. Hercules bargained with Atlas to hold the Earth while he retrieved it. Atlas tried to walk away free from his damned task, but Hercules tricked him by asking to hold the Earth while he shifted his cloak.
  12. Capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the underworld. Hercules had to wrestle Cerberus into submission as he was not allowed to use his weapons, and Cerberus agreed to be taken to see the king, after which it returned unharmed to the underworld.

This goes to show that any task is possible as long as one has the right mindset, can think outside the square and put in all of his or her strength into it.