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Swans have numerous legendary associations, including the story in Irish mythology that the Children of Lir were changed into swans by enchantment, and the Finnish belief that the swan sings once before it dies. In classical mythology the swan was sacred to Apollo and to Venus (occasionally, as by Shakespeare, also ascribed to Juno).

In reference to its pure white plumage and graceful appearance, the swan is often taken as a type of faultlessness or excellence.

A swan is the emblem of St Hugh of Lincoln.

swan maiden in Norse and Germanic folk tales, a girl who has the power of transforming herself into a swan by means of a dress of swan's feathers or of a magic ring or chain.

Swan of Avon a name for Shakespeare, deriving from Ben Jonson's ‘Sweet Swan of Avon!’ in his poem ‘To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author, Mr William Shakespeare’ (1623).

swan-upping the action or practice of ‘upping’ or taking up swans and marking them with nicks on the beak in token of being owned by the crown or some corporation.

See also black swan, all one's geese are swans.

Subjects: Religion.


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