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An engraving of Orion from Johann Bayer's Uranometria, 1603

Orion (Greek: Ὠρίων or Ωαρίων, Latin: Orion) was a giant huntsman in Greek mythology whom Zeus placed among the stars as the constellation of Orion.


The legend of Orion was first told in full in a lost work by Hesiod, probably the Astronomy. Orion was the son of the sea-god Poseidon and Euryale, daughter of Minos, King of Crete. Orion could walk on the waves because of his father; he walked to the island of Chios where he got drunk and attacked Merope, daughter of Oenopion, the ruler there. In vengeance, Oenopion blinded Orion and drove him away. Orion stumbled to Lemnos where Hephaestus — the lame smith-god — had his forge. Hephaestus told his servant, Cedalion, to guide Orion to the uttermost East where Helios, the Sun, healed him; Orion carried Cedalion around on his shoulders. Orion returned to Chios to punish Oenopion, but the king hid away underground and escaped Orion's wrath. Orion's next journey took him to Crete where he hunted with the goddess Artemis and her mother Leto, and in the course of the hunt, threatened to kill every beast on Earth. Mother Earth objected and sent a giant scorpion to kill Orion. The creature succeeded, and after his death, the goddesses asked Zeus to place Orion among the constellations. Zeus consented and, as a memorial to the hero's death, added the Scorpion to the heavens as well.

According to another version of the myths, Scorpio was a friend of Taurus the bull, who was hunted and killed by Orion. In retaliation for his friend, Scorpio stung Orion to death, but was crushed beneath the hunter's feet when he thrashed about in his death throes. All three were then put into the sky by Zeus so that their story would be remembered.


In Ancient Greece, Orion had a hero cult in the region of Boeotia. The number of places associated with his birth suggest that it was widespread. Hyria, the most frequently mentioned, was in the territory of Tanagra. A feast of Orion was held at Tanagra as late as the Roman Empire. They had a tomb of Orion most likely at the foot of Mount Cerycius (now Mount Tanagra). Maurice Bowra argues that Orion was a national hero of the Boeotians, much as Castor and Pollux were for the Dorians. He bases this claim on the Athenian epigram on the Battle of Coronea in which a hero gave the Boeotian army an oracle, then fought on their side and defeated the Athenians.


Mythographers have discussed Orion at least since the Renaissance of classical learning; the Renaissance interpretations were allegorical. In the 14th century, Boccaccio interpreted the oxhide story as representing human conception; the hide is the womb, Neptune the moisture of semen, Jupiter its heat, and Mercury the female coldness; he also explained Orion's death at the hands of the moon-goddess as the Moon producing winter storms.

The 16th-century Italian mythographer Natalis Comes interpreted the whole story of Orion as an allegory of the evolution of a storm cloud: Begotten by air (Zeus), water (Poseidon), and the sun (Apollo), a storm cloud is diffused (Chios, which Comes derives from χέω, "pour out"), rises though the upper air (Aërope, as Comes spells Merope), chills (is blinded), and is turned into rain by the moon (Artemis). He also explains how Orion walked on the sea: "Since the subtler part of the water which is rarefied rests on the surface, it is said that Orion learned from his father how to walk on water."

Similarly, Orion's conception made him a symbol of the philosophical child, an allegory of philosophy springing from multiple sources, in the Renaissance as in alchemical works, with some variations. The 16th-century German alchemist Michael Maier lists the fathers as Apollo, Vulcan and Mercury, and the 18th-century French alchemist Antoine-Joseph Pernety gave them as Jupiter, Neptune and Mercury.

Nicolas Poussin (1658) "Landscape with blind Orion seeking the sun"

Modern mythographers have seen the story of Orion as a way to access local folk tales and cultic practices directly without the interference of ancient high culture; several of them have explained Orion, each through his own interpretation of Greek prehistory and of how Greek mythology represents it. There are some points of general agreement between them: for example, that the attack on Opis is an attack on Artemis, for Opis is one of the names of Artemis.

There was a movement in the late nineteenth century to interpret all the Boeotian heroes as merely personifications of the constellations;there has since come to be wide agreement since that the myth of Orion existed before there was a constellation named for him. Homer, for example, mentions Orion, the Hunter, and Orion, the constellation, but never confuses the two. Once Orion was recognized as a constellation, astronomy in turn affected the myth. The story of Side may well be a piece of astronomical mythology. The Greek word side means pomegranate, which bears fruit while Orion, the constellation, can be seen in the night sky. Rose suggests she is connected with Sidae in Boeotia, and that the pomegranate, as a sign of the Underworld, is connected with her descent there.

The 19th-century German classical scholar Erwin Rohde viewed Orion as an example of the Greeks erasing the line between the gods and mankind. That is, if Orion was in the heavens, other mortals could hope to be also.

The Hungarian mythographer Karl Kerényi, one of the founders of the modern study of Greek mythology, wrote about Orion in Gods of the Greeks (1951). Kerényi portrays Orion as a giant of Titanic vigor and criminality, born outside his mother as were Tityos or Dionysus. Kerényi places great stress on the variant in which Merope is the wife of Oenopion. He sees this as the remnant of a lost form of the myth in which Merope was Orion's mother (converted by later generations to his stepmother and then to the present forms). Orion's blinding is therefore parallel to that of Aegypius and Oedipus.

In Dionysus (1976), Kerényi portrays Orion as a shamanic hunting hero, surviving from Minoan times (hence his association with Crete). Kerényi derives Hyrieus (and Hyria) from the Cretan dialect word ὕρον - hyron, meaning "beehive", which survives only in ancient dictionaries. From this association he turns Orion into a representative of the old mead-drinking cultures, overcome by the wine masters Oenopion and Oeneus. (The Greek for "wine" is oinos.) Fontenrose cites a source stating that Oenopion taught the Chians how to make wine before anybody else knew how.

Joseph Fontenrose wrote Orion : the Myth of the Hunter and the Huntress (1981) to show Orion as the type specimen of a variety of grotesque hero. Fontenrose views him as similar to Cúchulainn, that is, stronger, larger, and more potent than ordinary men and the violent lover of the Divine Huntress; other heroes of the same type are Actaeon, Leucippus (son of Oenomaus), Cephalus, Teiresias, and Zeus as the lover of Callisto. Fontenrose also sees Eastern parallels in the figures of Aqhat, Attis, Dumuzi, Gilgamesh, Dushyanta, and Prajapati (as pursuer of Ushas).

In The Greek Myths (1955), Robert Graves views Oenopion as his perennial Year-King, at the stage where the king pretends to die at the end of his term and appoints a substitute, in this case Orion, who actually dies in his place. His blindness is iconotropy from a picture of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops, mixed with a purely Hellenic solar legend: the Sun-hero is captured and blinded by his enemies at dusk, but escapes and regains his sight at dawn, when all beasts flee him. Graves sees the rest of the myth as a syncretism of diverse stories. These include Gilgamesh and the Scorpion-Men, Set becoming a scorpion to kill Horus and the story of Aqhat and Yatpan from Ras Shamra, as well as a conjectural story of how the priestesses of Artemis Opis killed a visitor to their island of Ortygia. He compares Orion's birth from the bull's hide to a West African rainmaking charm and claims that the son of Poseidon should be a rainmaker.


The ancient Greek and Roman sources which tell more about Orion than his being a gigantic huntsman are mostly both dry and obscure, but poets do write of him: The brief passages in Aratus and Vergil are mentioned above. Pindar celebrates the pancratist Melissus of Thebes "who was not granted the build of an Orion", but whose strength was still great.

Cicero translated Aratus in his youth; he made the Orion episode half again longer than it was in the Greek, adding the traditional Latin topos of madness to Aratus's text. Cicero's Aratea is one of the oldest Latin poems to come down to us as more than isolated lines; this episode may have established the technique of including epyllia in non-epic poems.

Orion is used by Horace, who tells of his death at the hands of Diana/Artemis,[82] and by Ovid, in his Fasti for May 11, the middle day of the Lemuria, when (in Ovid's time) the constellation Orion set with the sun. Ovid's episode tells the story of Hyrieus and the three gods, although Ovid is bashful about the climax; Ovid makes Hyrieus a poor man, which means the sacrifice of an entire ox is more generous. There is also a single mention of Orion in his Art of Love, as a sufferer from unrequited love: "Pale Orion wandered in the forest for Side."

Statius mentions Orion four times in his Thebaïd; twice as the constellation, a personification of storm, but twice as the ancestor of Dryas of Tanagra, one of the defenders of Thebes.[ The very late Greek epic poet Nonnus mentions the oxhide story in brief, while listing the Hyrians in his Catalogue of the Boeotian army of Dionysius.

References since antiquity are fairly rare. At the beginning of the 17th century, French sculptor Barthélemy Prieur cast a bronze statue Orion et Cédalion, some time between 1600 and 1611. This featured Orion with Cedalion on his shoulder, in a depiction of the ancient legend of Orion recovering his sight; the sculpture is now displayed at the Louvre.

Nicolas Poussin painted Paysage avec Orion aveugle cherchant le soleil (1658) ("Landscape with blind Orion seeking the sun"), after learning of the description by the 2nd-century Greek author Lucian, of a picture of Orion recovering his sight. In the painting, he combined this description with Natalis Comes's 16th century interpretation of the same scene.

The Austrian Daniel Seiter (active in Turin, Italy), painted Diane auprès du cadavre d'Orion (c.1685) ("Diana next to Orion's corpse"), pictured above.

In Endymion (1818), John Keats includes the line "Or blind Orion hungry for the morn", thought to be inspired by Poussin. William Hazlitt may have introduced Keats to the painting—he later wrote the essay "On Landscape of Nicholas Poussin", published in Table Talk, Essays on Men and Manners (1822).[90] Richard Henry Horne, writing in the generation after Keats and Hazlitt, penned the three volume epic poem Orion in 1843. It went into at least ten editions and was reprinted by the Scholartis Press in 1928. Science fiction author Ben Bova re-invented Orion as a time-traveling servant of various gods in a series of five novels.

Italian composer Francesco Cavalli wrote the opera, "L'Orione", in 1653. The story is set on the Greek island of Delos and focuses on Diana's love for Orion as well as on her rival, Aurora. Diana shoots Orion only after being tricked by Apollo into thinking him a sea monster—she then laments his death and searches for Orion in the underworld until he is elevated to the heavens.

Johann Christian Bach ('the English Bach') wrote an opera, "Orion, or Diana Reveng'd", first presented at London's Haymarket Theatre in 1763. Orion, sung by a castrato, is in love with Candiope, the daughter of Oenopion, King of Arcadia but his arrogance has offended Diana. Diana's oracle forbids him to marry Candiope and foretells his glory and death. He bids a touching farewell to Candiope and marches off to his destiny. Diana allows him his victory and then kills him, offstage, with her arrow. In another aria, his mother, Retrea (Queen of Thebes), laments his death but ultimately sees his elevation to the heavens.

The 2002 opera Galileo Galilei by American composer Philip Glass includes an opera within an opera piece between Orion and Merope. The sunlight, which heals Orion's blindness, is an allegory of modern science.Philip Glass has also written a shorter work on Orion, as have Tōru Takemitsu, Kaija Saariaho,and John Casken. David Bedford's late-twentieth-century works are about the constellation rather than the mythical figure; he is an amateur astronomer.=

The twentieth-century French poet René Char found the blind, lustful huntsman, both pursuer and pursued, a central symbol, as James Lawler has explained at some length in his 1978 work René Char: the Myth and the Poem.= French novelist Claude Simon likewise found Orion an apt symbol, in this case of the writer, as he explained in his Orion aveugle of 1970. Marion Perret argues that Orion is a silent link in T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), connecting the lustful Actaeon/Sweeney to the blind Teiresias and, through Sirius, to the Dog "that's friend to men".

See also