This year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. While we don’t know the exact date of his birth, only the day he was baptised—26 April 1564—the 23rd has become a favoured date as Shakespeare died on this day in 1616. How’s that for tragic? Dare I say rather fitting for a writer whose most famous play (arguably) is a tragedy?
Today, we celebrate Shakespeare’s life and his work. Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to agree that his writings have stood the test of time. More than four centuries later, we still read and study his work. His plays are told and retold again. Always being reinterpreted. This must, surely, be the mark of a great writer. That even long after your death, your words are still read and cherished. Even once you are gone, they remain, still reaching new people all the time.
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”
Twelfth Night is my utmost favourite tale from Shakespeare, far surpassing the infamous tragedy most associate with the playwright. My sister—who is five years older than me—had it as a set piece at school. I was about ten, maybe eleven, when she had to read it as homework and for some odd reason asked if she could read it aloud to me. I believe it was a trick to help her understand and remember it better, if I recall correctly.
I loved it! The tale of Viola dressed as a man and falling in love, the comedy of errors that follow until the truth is revealed. It’s a fantastic piece and even at such a young age I listened with great interest as my sister read the words. Romeo and Juliet may forever be the most recognised of Shakespeare’s plays, but for me, it will always be Twelfth Night.
As a follow-on from last week’s instalment, I thought I’d focus on Orion instead of continuing with the Olympian gods and goddesses. After all, Orion was the only man to ever win the heart of an eternal virgin.
Let’s start by refreshing our memories. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus (king of the gods) and his mistress Leto (Titan). She was born on the island of Delos and helped her mother deliver her twin brother, Apollo. While the protector of wild animals, Artemis also loves to hunt and is often found in the mountains armed with a bow and arrow, like her brother.
The siblings share a fiercely protective instinct, even moved to murder when their mother is threatened. Artemis stands as protector of young girls and Apollo protects young boys. This is all well and good, however, this trait leads to a tragic end when Artemis falls in love and Apollo attempts to protect her virtue.
Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain more about Orion. The myths regarding him are varied, from his conception to his death. In some tales he is the son of Poseidon while others weave an odd imagining of him being born from a bull-hide on which three gods (Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes) had urinated. In all incarnations, Orion stands as a giant huntsman, known for his extreme good looks and love of the fairer sex.
In his many affairs, Orion sired a long list of children. He is said to have fifty sons born of various Naiad nymphs of the River Kephisos—known as the Kephisides—and to be the father of Dryas, who was slain by an unknown hand. Perhaps most notably, Orion is the father of The Koronides, two nymph daughters named Menippe and Metiokhe, however there is no mention of their mother.
The story surrounding The Koronides is a sad and gruesome one, even by mythology standards. The sisters sacrificed themselves when their homeland was plagued by pestilence and drought. The manner of their deaths differs, one tale saying they bashed their own heads while another says they slit their own throats. Either way, Persephone took pity on them and turned the siblings into comets.
One of Orion’s most infamous relations is his interactions with Artemis. Again, these vary, with tales ranging from a chaste friendship and shared love of hunting, to a seduction of the virgin goddess and finally a mutual attraction. I favour the last one, where the two fall in love, bonding over their love of the hunt and Orion intends to marry Artemis. Of course we know this does not end well.
Some say that Orion raped one of Artemis’ handmaidens and she killed him for it, while others mention an accident during one of their hunting expeditions. Given how protective Apollo is of his sister, I side with the tale of his overzealous attempt to secure her modesty, hatching a plan to trick her into killing Orion. In this version, Apollo challenges his sister into firing an arrow at a target far out at sea. She does, unaware that the target is in fact Orion’s head, and thus kills her would-be lover.
In a different account of his death, Orion boasted that he would kill all the wild beasts of the earth, so Gaia (goddess of earth) sent a giant scorpion to kill the hunter. Most tales of his death end with Orion being placed in the night sky by Zeus, thus solidifying him as a well-known constellation in the modern world.
My sister introduced me to Orion’s belt (a cluster of three little stars) at a young age. It has always been the first constellation I look for in the night sky and easily visible from my part of the world. How about you? Which constellations do you search for when glancing up at night?
Artemis and Apollo are twin Olympian gods, the children of head honcho Zeus and one of his many mistresses, Leto. It is said that Zeus’ wife, Hera, pursued Leto in an attempt to prevent the birth of the twins. She ultimately found refuge on the island of Delos, where she gave birth first to Artemis, who immediately helped her deliver Apollo.
The eldest of the twins, Artemis is the goddess of the hunt, wilderness and wild animals. Some sources say she is the goddess of the moon and chastity/virginity. She also presides over childbirth and is known as the protector of young girls up until their wedding day. To this end, all of her handmaiden’s guarded their chastity.
Known as a virgin goddess, Artemis drew the attention of many prospective suitors, however, only one of them stole her heart—the giant hunter Orion. As in all mythology, the accounts are varied, though in all of them, the story ends rather tragically with Orion’s death. Some say that Artemis killed him in self-defence when he got too frisky, while others tell of his seductions of her handmaiden, driving Artemis to kill him for it. Two myths weave tales of a scorpion sent to end the giant, one blames Gaia and the other Apollo.
The younger twin Apollo is the god of prophecy and oracles, healing, plague and disease, music, song and poetry, archery, and the protection of young boys until marriage. Bit of an overachiever, if you ask me. In some tales, he is also seen as a sun god, guiding the sun across the sky each day on a chariot pulled by four horses. He is also said to have presided over the muses.
As an oracular deity with the gift of prophecy, Apollo had oracles in various locations, the most famous being that of Delphi. People travelled from across the Greek world to hear their future through the priestess Pythia.
The myths are filled with tales of Apollo’s love affairs—with both female and male consorts—and his numerous children. In some he falls in love with women who reject him while in others the roles are reversed. He is often depicted as vengeful when faced with rejection, as in the case of Cassandra, a human woman he seduced with a promise of the gift of foresight. Scorned by her rejection, he gave her the gift to see the future, but he also cursed her so that no one would believe her prophecies.
The twins share a love of hunting and both carry a bow and arrow as skilled archers. They are said to have remained close and cared deeply for their Titan mother, known to avenge her when anyone threatened Leto. Like night and day, Artemis is a chaste goddess associated with the moon while Apollo stands as a sun god with a string of lovers.
I think it’s safe to say they are a good example of “you can’t choose your family”.