The Archaeological News Network reports that the open air plays of the ancient Hellenes may offer us a valuable insight into the Mediterranean climate of the time. According to the article, new research into the ancient plays and the artwork about them has identified 'halcyon days'--days of theatre friendly weather even in (what now equates as) January and February--or so says Dr. Christina Chronopoulou, from the National and Kapodestrian University of Athens.

"We explored the weather conditions which enabled the Athenians of the classical era to watch theatre performances in open theatres during the midwinter weather conditions. We aimed to do so by gathering and interpreting information from the classical plays of Greek drama from 5th and 4th centuries B.C."

In order to conduct this research, the writings of 43 plays--7 by Aeschylus, 7 by Sophocles, 18 by Euripides and 11 by Aristophanes--were examined for references about the weather, and many did. If the plays are to be believed, the ancient Hellenes enjoyed long, hot, dry summers, yet also were treated to the rare theatre friendly 'halcyon days' of clear, sunny weather during winter.

"The comedies of Aristophanes, often invoke the presence of the halcyon days. Combining the fact that dramatic contests were held in mid-winter without any indication of postponement, and references from the dramas about the clear weather and mild winters, we can assume that those particular days of almost every January were summery in the fifth and maybe in the fourth centuries BC."

According to the research conducted, the Halcyon days, a phenomenon also observed nowadays, has its origins in an ancient myth. According to one version, the goddess Halcyon, daughter of Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, insults Zeus and Hera. So, the father of gods transformed her into a bird and condemned her to lay her eggs only in the mid-winter. Consequently, the little birds were hardly able to survive. Crying and praying endlessly, Halcyon managed to make Zeus feel pity for her and so he decided to give her 14 days of good and calm weather in mid-January in order to lay her eggs in security. The Halcyon days were named after this Greek myth, and in Aristotle's Histories about animals (p. 5.8; 350 BC) he writes The halcyon breeds at the season of the winter solstice. Accordingly, when this season is marked with calm weather, the name of “halcyon days” is given to the seven days preceding and to as many following the solstice (Wentworth Tompson, 2007).

The report als shows that the ancient Hellenes used to forecast by looking for the signs of diosimies, which are phenomena caused by Zeus. Meteorological calendars called ‘Parapigmata’ were being circulated in the ancient Agora (a place of gathering and a market) since the fifth century (McCormick et al., 2012). Philosophers were observing weather phenomena from mountains such as Mithimna, Idi and Lycabettus (Theophrastus, third to fourth century BC), and by combining astronomy with their empirical knowledge of the local meteorology they composed the Parapigmata, a kind of empirical forecast report.

The entire article is well worth the read and was published in the magazine 'Weather', Volume 69, Issue 3, pages 66–69, March 2014. The entire article can be found here.