Orion-(The Hunter) Greek Mythology

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Orion was the great hunter of Greek mythology, famous for his good looks and many love stories. The gods turned Orion into a constellation, either as a result of his attack or Artemis' adoration. Referred to by ancient authors such as Hesiod and Homer, the constellation of Orion was used throughout antiquity as an important navigational and agricultural aid.

(Orion - Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) - PD-art-100)

Ancestry and Birth

The myths about Orion are diverse and contradictory. In some versions, he is the son of Poseidon and Euryale, one of the three Gorgon sisters. Other writers consider him the son of Alcyone (One of the Lands) and Hyrieus, son of Poseidon. In this story, Hyrieus, a poor old farmer and beekeeper, gives his hospitality to Zeus and Hermes in exchange for the gift of a son.

Orion was born when Hyrieus followed the gods' instructions and buried the skin of a sacrificed bull in his wife's tomb. For this trick to work, the farmer had to put water on the leather first, and nine months later Orion emerged from the ground. This miraculous birth involving water explains the association with the coming of rains on the rise and fall of the constellation Orion.

Orion was said to have come from Hyria in Boeotia. It was an indisputable fact that he had a great body, good looks, and was an excellent hunter. Orion was also alleged to have fathered 50 boys from sleeping with 50 fairies, making him one of the greatest Greek lovers.

Orion and Merope

Not content with conquering the fairies, Orion went to Chios, and one of the Pleiades pursued Merope, the daughter of Oenopion, the granddaughter of Dionysus, and attacked her. Oenopion had offered his daughter to the famous hunter in exchange for getting rid of the island's troublesome wild animals. Orion did as he was told, but Oenopion, afraid of losing his daughter, refused to keep his word and pretended that many wild creatures still roamed Chios.

Orion later took his reward anyway and attacked Merope in her room. When Oenopion realized the crime, he sought help from Dionysus, and the god of wine first got the hunter drunk and then had him blinded by the satyrs. The unfortunate Merope would later become the wife of Sisyphus, and the shame of being the only one of her sisters to marry a mortal would explain why her star shone less in the Pleiades.

Fortunately, Orion would regain his sight if he could get himself to the point where Helios - the Sun - first rose each day above the Ocean, far to the east. So he crossed the sea in a boat, and when he stopped at Lemnos he took Cedalion, Hephaestus' assistant, as his guide along the way. Having achieved his goal, Helios properly restored Orion's vision, and Eos, the personification of Dawn and Helios' sister, immediately fell in love with the handsome hunter. Their illicit affair is said to explain the beautiful morning blush of dawn.

Orion and Artemis

Orion's next mission was even more ambitious and deadly, as he went to the goddess Artemis, who was also a famous hunter. For his bravery, Orion was transformed into the eponymous constellation, and his dog likewise into the bright star Sirius. However, in an alternate version of the story (and Homer's), Eos falls in love with the mighty hunter while visiting Helios, and Artemis jealously kills him with his arrows somewhere near Ortygia (Syracuse?).

In another version, Artemis accidentally killed Orion after Apollo was tricked into thinking the hunter was actually a villain who attacked one of his priestesses. While Orion swam to escape a giant scorpion (again sent by Apollo), he could only see the goddess's bobbing head in the distance and was killed by Artemis' arrows, as he could not recognize the hunter.

This tragedy occurred after two great hunters played sports together around Crete. Artemis attempted to enlist the medically gifted Asklepios to bring Orion back to life, but was just then destroyed by Zeus' lightning bolt as it was so useful in bringing the dead back to life and blurring the distinction between mortals and gods.

Artemis tried to commission Asclepius, a master of medicine, to resurrect Orion, but was overthrown by the lightning bolt of Zeus, who was very skilled at resurrecting the dead and blurring the lines between mortals and gods. This version, too, had to do with regret over the loss of his hunting mate that had allowed Artemis to become a constellation and gain immortality among the stars.

Another legend would say that Orion was not among the heavens, but less poetically, he was buried at Tanagra, north of Athens. The Greek travel writer Pausanias, who lived in the 2nd century AD, claimed to have even visited the site considered to be the place where Atlas sat and meditated.


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