Greek goddess Artemis and the giant hunter Orion

Ancient Greek god Artemis was a fierce maiden goddess in charge of many things including hunting, the moon, childbirth, wilderness, and wild animals. In many of the myths surrounding Artemis, she is shown to prefer spending more time in the wild with animals of all kind than with mortals or her fellow gods. The few times that she interacted with humans or the gods usually resulted in disastrous outcomes. One such example was when she befriended the mighty hunter called Orion.

Who is Orion in Greek mythology?

An engraving of Orion from Johann Bayer’s Uranometria, 1603 (US Naval Observatory Library)

In many accounts of the myth, Orion is depicted as one of the most handsome characters. He was a towering figure, almost to the height of a giant. He was also the most skilled hunter in his tribe. Due to his extremely good looks and hunting prowess, he was desired by many women. Such was his blissful nature that many Greek gods were delighted to be in his company.

Orion’s interaction with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon

Known for howling with the wolf and hunting in the wild, the Greek goddess Artemis was one day hunting when her path crossed with Orion, the mighty hunter. Their shared love for the wild as well as their immense prowess in hunting was just some of the reasons why the two became good friends. Artemis and Orion would from then onward go on hunting expeditions together. The two also spent a great deal of time in the company of each other. In summer, they would challenge each other to a foot race, an archery competition, as well as bask under the moonlight with several delightful stories of their hunting adventures.

For the close friendship that had developed between Orion and Artemis, the former would often give enormous thanks to the gods and the Fates for making his path cross with a skilled hunter in the person of Artemis.

Apollo’s disapproval of Artemis-Orion friendship

Upon hearing the close friendship that existed between his twin sister Artemis and the Boeotian hunter Orion, Greek god Apollo set out end the friendship as he was afraid that Orion would make Artemis break her vows of chastity. Not even the strong words of assurances from Orion could dissuade Apollo from hatching up plans to end Orion’s friendship with Artemis. Orion, a known lover of men, had earlier confided in Apollo about his true intentions towards Artemis.

The death of Orion

Orion and Artemis

Orion and Artemis – Daniel Seiter’s 1685 painting of Diana over Orion’s dead body, before he is placed in the heavens

Still envious of the tight-knit friendship between Orion and Artemis, Apollo sends out a fierce scorpion to attack Orion. Unlike any of the beast or animals that he had slayed before, the scorpion proved to a tough opponent for the mortal hunter.

All of Orion’s attempts at piercing the scorpion with his sword and arrows were in vain, as the scorpion had a thick armor around its entire body. The scorpion backed Orion into a defensive posture, and soon, the scorpion and Orion found themselves fighting each other in a nearby sea. It was at this point that Apollo quickly rushed to sister Artemis and fabricated a story of how the mortal Candaon had defiled Opos, one of her beloved priestesses.

Artemis, who was known for avenging evil people that preyed and abused young girls, quickly sprung to her feet and demanded that Apollo disclosed to her where Canadoan was at that moment. Apollo led Artemis to the sea where Orion and the scorpion wrestled each other. Apollo intentionally pointed at a barely visible figure that was out in the sea, claiming it was Candaon. Overcome by rage and a strong appetite for vengeance, Artemis did not take a second to assess whether the speck that her brother had pointed to was actually Candaon. The goddess fired her arrow straight at the object.

Upon closer inspection, Artemis realized that she had instead shot her dear friend Orion. Apollo, fully content with actions, quickly fled the scene, leaving Artemis to rue her fatal mistake. She then quickly retrieved Orion’s body and sent him to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine. However, it was too late. In spite of Asclepius’s efforts, Orion simply could not be brought back to life.

The Orion Constellation

More than devastated over the death of Orion, Artemis visited her father Zeus and begged him to immortalize in some shape or form. So Zeus placed Orion among the stars, where it became the famous Orion Constellation. It was a befitting tribute to the mighty hunter, as well as an honor to the strong hunting companionship that existed between Artemis and Orion.

Artemis would then kill the scorpion that Apollo sent out to harm Orion. She placed the scorpion (the constellation Scorpio) in the sky, right behind her friend Orion.

In the heavens, Orion is seen chasing the Pleiades. Orion himself is then pursued by the constellation Scorpius.

Did you know: The brightest stars in the Orion constellation are the blue white Rigel (also known as Beta Orionis) and red Betelgeuse (also known as Alpha Orionis).

Other myths about Artemis and Orion

In some accounts of the myth, the goddess Gaia (Earth) was the one who sent the enormous scorpion to kill Orion. Gaia took this decision because she overheard Orion say that was prepared to kill every animal in the world to prove his love and devotion to Artemis. Gaia was simply not going to let her creations be killed by the mighty hunter, hence her decision to eliminate Orion.

In a different version of the death of Orion, Orion was slayed by Artemis in an act of self-defense. The hunter had tried to force himself on the goddess.

In some accounts, Orion is said to be the son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea and one of the twelve Olympians.

Some Greek myths associated Orion with the island of Chios, where his efforts to secure the hand of Merope in marriage prove futile. Merope was the daughter of Oenopion, the king of Chios. Orion ends up blind only for him to regain his sight by the rays of the sun.

Much of what we know about Orion and his relationship with the goddess Artemis comes from Book XVIII of Homer’s Iliad. Orion also appears in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, where the Greek hero and king of Ithaca Odysseus spots him in the underworld.

Artemis was born on either the island of Delos or Ortygia. She was born a day before her twin brother Apollo.

When Artemis’s father Zeus asked her what she desired, the goddess requested for an eternal virginity, many epithets, a powerful bow and arrow, and a hunting tunic of saffron and red hem. She also requested 60 ocean nymphs to be her maids of honor.

The major symbols of Artemis include the bow, arrow, the quiver, deer, the moon, and the cypress tree.

In Hesiod’s Theogony, Artemis is known as the ‘arrow shooting Artemis’, while in Homer’s Iliad Artemis is known as the ‘goddess of the loud hunt’ and ‘the archer goddess’.

Artemis sacred animals are a hunting dog, stage and a deer.

Ancient Greeks worshiped Artemis with sacrifices and in some cases a gift of clothing following a successful childbirth. Common places of her worship were at the Island of Delos, Perge, Tauris, and Brauron.

Artemis’s Family Tree

Artemis goddess

Artemis’s family tree

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