Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of December 21st - December 27th,  2001

Orion Rising

Columns Archive

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   Orion of Boeotia, the handsomest man
Big O

and cleverest hunter alive, fell in love with Merope, daughter of Oenopion, King of Chios. 'You can marry my daughter' said Oenopion, 'but first you must kill all the wild beasts on my island.' This Orion did, and every evening he brought the skins of dead bears, lions and wolves, wildcats and foxes to Merope at the palace. Having cleared the island of everything bigger than mice or weasels, Orion knocked on Oenopion's door and declared, 'Now let me marry your daughter!'

   'Not so fast!' declared Oenopion. 'This morning I heard wolves howling, lions and bears roaring, foxes barking and wildcats mewing. You have not nearly finished your task!'

   Orion went away and got drunk. That night he burst into Merope's bedroom. "Come with me to the Temple of Aphrodite and we'll marry!" Merope screamed, but Oenopion was too intimidated by Orion to approach him directly, so he sent a band of satyrs, together with more wine.

   "Here's to a happy marriage!" the satyrs cried. Orion thanked them, drank more, and fell down in a stupor, drunk. Oenopion then crept in, and put out both of Orion's eyes. But Orion, though blind, heard the hammer of the Cyclopes in the distance and followed its sound to the forge. There he borrowed the boy of the Cyclopes to guide him to the furthest east, where Helios stabled his horses by the Ocean before their daily ride across the skies. The Sun took pity on Orion, and restored his sight. Orion then headed back for Chios and vengeance. But Oenopion, having been warned of his approach, hid in a tomb and told his servants to tell Orion that he was abroad. Orion went to Crete in search of Oenopion, and there was welcomed by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt.

Artemis

Artemis

   "Come, let us have a contest," said Artemis. "We will see which of us can shoot the most wild goats!" Orion responded politely, "I could never compete with a goddess such as yourself, but I would dearly love to see you shoot."

   Apollo, the brother of Artemis, heard of these intrigues and was jealous lest his sister fall in love with a mere mortal. In anger, he sent a huge scorpion, larger than an elephant, to attack Orion.

   Orion emptied his quiver of arrows into the beast, and attacked it with his sword, but he could not kill the monster. He turned and dove into the sea and swam far out from the shore in order to escape.

   Apollo turned to Artemis, who had just arrived with her bow and arrows, and said,

   "Do you see that thing bobbing up and down far out to sea?" "I do," said Artemis.

   "That is the wretch Candion. He dishonored one of your priestesses. Kill him!"

   Artemis selected one of her arrows, took careful aim, and shot. She was horrified when Orion's dead body washed ashore, and placed him in the stars as a constellation, with the Scorpion in eternal pursuit, so that everyone would know of Apollo's jealousy and lies.

   Orion and Scorpio oppose each other in heaven. As Orion sets, Scorpio rises. Orion is eternally running from the arachnid. Embedded in this myth, one of many variations on the tale of Orion, are the secret meanings of the stars in the constellation.

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