There is already much material on this site on the topic of mythology (especially, Gods and Goddesses and The Stories of the Ancient Greeks). In Myth Mondays I attempt to bring up an element of mythology that is either timely or less well known.One of the many sons of the sea god Poseidon was Orion, a great and handsome hunter on earth and in the Underworld*.
A print of the copperplate engraving for Johann Bayer's Uranometria (1603) showing the constellation Orion.
© Courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory Library
PleiadesThe Pleiades were Taugete, Elektra, Alkyone, Asterope, Kelaino, Maia, and Merope. The name Pleiades appears to be a patronymic. As Gantz points out, this doesn't make sense, since the father of the Pleiades is given as Atlas: Hesiod names the 7 women-stars "Atlageneis" 'born from Atlas'. Gantz suggests Pleiades is a matronymic based on the name of their mother, Pleione. Gantz further suggests that in a lost fragment of Pindar, Pleione, rather than the Pleiade Merope, is the object of Orion's amorous pursuit. In a scholion to the Iliad, the 7 young women, having chosen chastity, are companions of Artemis (although elsewhere they bear children to the gods). When Orion pursues the Pleiades, they turn to Zeus for help, which he provides by turning them into stars.
A different Merope brought out the beast in Orion when she resisted marrying him. As revenge for raping his daughter, Oenopion of Chios blinded Orion. But Orion recovered his vision thanks to the rising son, and then went on to infatuate Eos or Artemis.
Children of OrionThis list comes straight from Theoi on Orion:
- 50 sons by the Kephisides (Corinna Frag 655)
- The Kononides (Antoninus Liberalis 25, Ovid Metamorphoses 13.685)
- Dryas (Statius Thebaid 7.255)
Death of OrionAfter spending time with Artemis, Orion incurred the anger of either Artemis' brother or Mother Earth. Apollo, said to have been jealous of the affection Artemis bore Orion, arranged for Artemis to shoot at a distant object that just happened to be Orion. Mother Earth was outraged when Orion boasted that he would shoot all the wild beasts, so she sent a scorpion to kill him. Another version has Orion exhibiting his lustful self to Artemis who gets revenge by sending the scorpion. After Orion's death, he and the scorpion were set among the stars.
To add a complicating note, another version of the story of Orion has Eos abducting Orion, perhaps leading Artemis to believe he abandoned her.
Two Ancient Passages on Orion
Hesiod, "Astronomy", Fragment #4 -- Pseudo-Eratosthenes, Catast.** fr. xxxii: Orion.] -- Hesiod says that he was the son of Euryale, the daughter of Minos, and of Poseidon, and that there was given him as a gift the power of walking upon the waves as though upon land. When he was come to Chios, be outraged Merope, the daughter of Oenopion, being drunken; but Oenopion when he learned of it was greatly vexed at the outrage and blinded him and cast him out of the country. Then he came to Lemnos as a beggar and there met Hephaestus who took pity on him and gave him Cedalion his own servant to guide him. So Orion took Cedalion upon his shoulders and used to carry him about while he pointed out the roads. Then he came to the east and appears to have met Helius (the Sun) and to have been healed, and so returned back again to Oenopion to punish him; but Oenopion was hidden away by his people underground. Being disappointed, then, in his search for the king, Orion went away to Crete and spent his time hunting in company with Artemis and Leto. It seems that he threatened to kill every beast there was on earth; whereupon, in her anger, Earth sent up against him a scorpion of very great size by which he was stung and so perished. After this Zeus, at one prayer of Artemis and Leto, put him among the stars, because of his manliness, and the scorpion also as a memorial of him and of what had occurred.
Fragment #5 -- Diodorus iv. 85: Some say that great earthquakes occurred, which broke through the neck of land and formed the straits (3), the sea parting the mainland from the island. But Hesiod, the poet, says just the opposite: that the sea was open, but Orion piled up the promontory by Peloris, and founded the close of Poseidon which is especially esteemed by the people thereabouts. When he had finished this, he went away to Euboea and settled there, and because of his renown was taken into the number of the stars in heaven, and won undying remembrance.
* Homer, Odyssey 11. 572 :
"[Odysseus sees the shades of the dead heroes in the Underworld :] Next I discerned huge Orion, driving wild beasts together over the field of asphodel, the very ones that he once had killed on lonely mountains, he grasped in his hands a mace of bronze, never to be broken."
** The Catasterismi ("Placings among the Stars")
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The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 106, (1986), pp. 58-70
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Classical Antiquity, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Oct., 1995), pp. 317-347