As readers will know, Orion’s Belt plays a big part in my sci-fi fantasy series, Legends of Origin. I can’t say I believe any of the legends surrounding the famous Orion constellation, but they do intrigue me – so much so that I rather enjoyed researching the Orion posts for my blog, and even learnt a few new things about the constellation in the process.
The most well-known Orion legend comes from the Ancient Greeks, who saw the constellation as the hero and hunter, the demigod Orion, who was the sea god Poseidon’s son. There are numerous versions of this story. In one, Orion was in love with Merope, one of the Pleiades. Some versions say he pursued all seven Pleiades sisters, so Zeus put them in the sky. Another myth has Merope as King Oenopion’s daughter. Some stories say that Poseidon gave Orion the ability to walk on water, while others claim Neptune, another sea god, is his father.
As most versions go, when Orion was slain, he was placed among the stars, to remain there forever. Some ancient tales say he boasted of his ability to kill any animal on Earth, so a scorpion stung and killed him to teach him a lesson. Others say he stepped on a scorpion and was stung, and the gods took pity on him and placed him in the heavens.
Roman legends say his death was due to the fact that he was about to marry Diana (Artemis, in Greek mythology), whose brother, Apollo, disapproved of the marriage to be and tricked his sister into killing Orion. The story ends with Diana tearfully placing Orion in a place of honour among the stars. Some versions, however, say that Apollo sent a scorpion to do the deed. Chinese legends, too, mention Orion’s death being caused by a ‘scorpion’. However, in the Chinese version of the story, Scorpius is Orion’s brother.
Another version of the story says that Orion got drunk and tried to force himself on King Oenopion’s daughter, Merope, and the angry king blinded and banished him. Orion then met an oracle who told him how to restore his vision, and his eyesight was returned.
Greek mythology depicts Orion as a superhuman giant, and a great hunter who used an unbreakable bronze club to kill animals. In Hungarian tradition, Orion is recognised as the famous hunter, Nimrod, and Scandinavian mythology associates the Orion constellation with the goddess Freya. In Egyptian mythology, Orion’s Belt was believed to be a symbol of Osiris, the God-pharaoh, and the Romans often referred to Orion as ‘the stormy one’ or ‘bringer of the clouds’. Norse mythology associates Orion with the creator goddess Frig, who held a wheel and spindle from which new worlds originated.
New Mexico’s Tewa tribe associated Orion with Long Sash, a hero who led their people to freedom. The Mayan people believed the Orion Nebula in Orion’s ‘sword’ is the origin of all of creation – as mentioned in a previous post, today’s astronomers have discovered that our solar system did, in fact, originate in the Orion constellation. Did the Mayan know this, or is it merely coincidence?
There are many more legends about Orion, and we will discuss some of them in future posts. However, if you know any other interesting legends about the constellation not mentioned here, please feel free to share them in the comments.
All images in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.