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?