Why is Orion important?

The stars we’ve been following

Mankind has been making attempts at accurately tracking the stars and interpreting them since at least the days of ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt. It’s even possible that perhaps that our Neolithic, or even Paleolithic, ancestors understood stars to have some level of importance given what archaeological evidence they left behind for us.

One of the constellations that has been seemed to be reoccurring to the ancients is the constellation of Orion. In fact, there is evidence that both the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza were built in alignment with points of the constellation. Each pyramid appears to match a star on the belt, and the Sphinx appears to position exactly between Orion and Leo.

Orion and the Pyramids

The alignment of each pyramid to each star

The Pyramids of Giza are incredibly old. The Pyramid of Khufu was constructed around 2600 BC, the Pyramid of Khafre was constructed around 2570 BC, and the Pyramid of Menkaure was constructed around 2510 BC.

And yet despite nearly a hundred years between the construction of the Great Pyramid and the construction of the Pyramid of Menkaure, all three of them are lined up with a star of Orion’s Belt. As well, the Sphinx, which is also near, is lined up with Orion and Leo–it may even be possible that the lion body of the Sphinx is representative of Leo.

These ancients thousands of years ago used Orion for marking many things including equinoxes. There may have also been some association between Orion and Osiris as well, Osiris being the Egyptian god of rebirth and afterlife.

Orion in Greek Mythology

There are various legends circulating about Orion and there are quite a few variations to his birth and to his death. Orion may have been born in Boetia, he may have been born a son to Poseidon with one of King Minos’s daughters, and another tale even tells that Orion was the son of the King of Sicily.

Orion is known to be both a giant and a hunter, and in fact he was rather good at being a hunter. His connection as a giant does not link him to the giants who were sons of Gaea and the blood of Uranus, as no source links him to the Primordial Gods.

Primary Legend of Orion

Direct sources from Homer on Orion are limited. Odysseus witnessed Orion hunting in the underworld during the events of the Odyssey and the Iliad describes Orion as a constellation and tells that Sirius is his dog.

Hesiod provides more information about who Orion is and why he is relevant to the mythology. Orion is claimed have been a lover of Eos (Goddess of Dawn), the most handsome man on Earth, and that he was killed by Artemis.

Hesiod also informs us that the constellation Orion’s rising and setting were used to determine what year it was. And this was usually measured as to Orion’s relation to the sun as well.

Getting into the more astronomical sense, we have Eratosthenes who did quite a lot of work for Greek Astrology that can sometimes still hold up to work from later sources like Copernicus and Galileo. Eratosthenes preserves a fairly long summary of Hesiod’s Legend of Orion that would have been found in the lost text of Astronomia by Hesiod.

According to Eratosthenes’s summary of Hesiod, Orion is the son of Poseidon and Euryale who was the daughter of Minos. Orion was a giant, capable of walking on water, and a great hunter.

Using that ability to walk on water, Orion went to the island of Chios to party. He partied very hard and got incredibly drunk and then proceeded to rape the princess of the island, Merope.

Orion and Merope were believed to have been in love but King Oenopion of Chios would not give Orion the approval to marry her because Orion did not have Hera’s favor. This is the motivation that is believed to have led to Orion’s heavy drinking and assault of her, which seems to have killed any love she had for him.

Oenopion was furious and took his sword to the drunken Orion’s eyes, cutting them out. Then, the men of Chios took the hunter’s body and tossed him into the Aegean Sea.

Later, Orion somehow managed to navigate through the Aegean to arrive at the island of Lemnos and make his way to the forge of Hephaestus. Hephaestus agreed to give Orion the ability to see again but he would have to take Hephaestus’s servant Cedalion to Helios in the East.

Orion agreed to this and successfully brought Cedalion to Helios who then healed his eyes. After Orion was back in Greece, he returned to Chios to find Oenopion to fight him but Oenopion hid underground until he left.

Orion’s next adventure according to Eratosthenes’s account of Hesiod found him with Artemis and her mother Leto on the island of Crete. The three of them were engaged in a rather good hunt and it is implied that Artemis was in a growing relationship with him.

However, Orion angered Gaea by claiming that he would hunt and kill every single beast on the entire planet. Gaea then sent Scorpius, the giant scorpion, to kill Orion. The creature succeeded, though at the sacrifice of its own life in a brutal battle.

In another possible explanation, the scorpion may have been sent by Apollo instead. In this version and in other versions of Orion’s story, Apollo does not like Orion at all due to his relationship with Artemis.

Regardless of whether it was Gaea or Apollo that orchestrated Orion’s demise, Zeus agreed to grant the request of Artemis and Leto and place Orion as a constellation. However, he also added Scorpio to the constellations as well as a memorial to their battle.

Noteworthy Variants to the Orion story

In the margins of Empress Eudocia’s copy of the Iliad, there is a note that tells a completely different story about the birth of Orion. This note tells that Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes came to visit a man named Hyreius who roasted a bull for them.

The gods offer Hyreius a favor and he asks them for a son. The gods urinate into the hide of the bull, bury it, and in ten months Orion is born and given the title Earthborn.

This is relevant because Hyreius may have been the originator of Boetia which is usually said to be the place where Orion was born at.

Another source that varies from the Hesiod source of Orion comes from a Roman myth collection that claims to take their Orion story from Pherecydes of Athens. Pherecydes also describes Orion as Earthborn but does still say Poseidon and Euryale are his parents.

In Pherecydes’s story, Orion marries a woman named Side but Side is thrown into the underworld by Hera for challenging Hera’s beauty. Orion then marries Merope, which is a complete contrast to Hesiod’s telling where Orion did not marry Merope and actually assaulted her.

However, it appears that Orion was not satisfied with this marriage because he ran off with Eos, the Goddess of Dawn, something that Hesiod only gave a bit of an offhand mention to. Eos took Orion away from Boetia and brought him to Delos but he was killed by Artemis there because of his transgressions against nature via killing way too many animals with his hunting.

According to an unknown Latin writer, Orion was born through the ox hide method but it was at Thebes and the only god involved was Poseidon. Some modern historians believe that this may be the original version of the story.

That same unknown Latin writer also gives two stories as to how Orion died. In one he says that Orion and Oenopion challenged Artemis and Leto to a hunt to kill all things that walked the Earth but that Gaea killed the two men for their ambition via Scorpius.

In the other version he tells that Orion and Artemis hunted together, loved each other, and that Artemis was perhaps going to give up her status as one of the virgin goddesses to him. But Apollo, who was angry at the idea of Orion and Artemis being a couple, tricked Artemis into shooting him from really far away.

The arrow traveled right through Orion’s body and killed him, and she did not realize until he washed up onto the shore. She wept incredibly and placed him into the stars herself.

Other constellations with Orion

In addition to Scorpius, Orion has connection to a lot of constellations. Hesiod believed that the reason why Pleione and the Pleiades were constellations is because Zeus put them up there to withhold them from Orion who was chasing them down for seven years.

Taurus and Lepus are believed to be prey that Orion wants to pursue according to Hyginus. As well, Canis Major and Canis Minor are seen as his two dogs who have various names depending on what source.

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