1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Orion

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ORION (or Oarion), in Greek mythology, son of Hyrieus (Eponymus of Hyria in Boeotia), or of Poseidon, a mighty hunter of great beauty and gigantic strength, perhaps corresponding to the “wild huntsman” of Teutonic mythology. He is also sometimes represented as sprung from the earth. He was the favourite of Eos, the dawn-goddess, who loved him and carried him off to Delos; but the gods were angry, and would not be appeased till Artemis slew him with her arrows (Odyssey, v. 121). According to other accounts which attribute Orion’s death to Artemis, the goddess herself loved him and was deceived by the angry Apollo into shooting him by mistake; or he paid the penalty of offering violence to her, or of challenging her to a contest of quoit-throwing (Apollodorus i. 4; Hyginus, Poet, astron. ii. 34; Horace, Odes, iii. 4, 71). In another legend he was blinded by Oenopion of Chios for having violated his daughter Merope; but having made his way to the place where the sun rose, he recovered his sight (Hyginus, loc. cit.; Parthenius, Erotica, 20). He afterwards retired to Crete, where he lived the life of a hunter with Artemis; but having threatened to exterminate all living creatures on the island, he was killed by the bite of a scorpion sent by the earth-goddess (Ovid, Fasti, v. 537). In the lower world his shade is seen by Odysseus driving the wild beasts before him as he had done on earth {Odyssey, xi. 572). After his death he was changed into the constellation which is called by his name. It took the form of a warrior, wearing a girdle of three stars and a lion’s skin, and carrying a club and a sword. When it rose early it was a sign of summer; when late, of winter and stormy weather; when it rose about midnight it heralded the season of vintage.

See Küentzle, Über die Sternsagen der Griechen (1897), and his article in Roscher’s Lexikon; he shows that in the oldest legend Orion the constellation and Orion the hero are quite distinct, without deciding which was the earlier conception. The attempt sometimes made to attribute an astronomical origin to the myths connected with his name is unsuccessful, except in the case of Orion’s pursuit of Pleione and her daughters (see Pleiades) and his death from the bite of the scorpion; see also C. O. Müller, Kleine Deutsche Schriften, ii. (1848); O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, ii. pp. 945, 952; Preller-Robert, Griechische Mythologie (1894), pp. 448-454; Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (Eng. trans., 1883), ii. p. 726, iii. p. 948.

In Astronomy.—The constellation Orion is mentioned by Homer (Il. xviii. 486, xxii. 29; Od. v. 274), and also in the Old Testament (Amos v. 8, Job ix. 9). The Hebrew name for Orion also means “fool,” in reference perhaps to a mythological story of a “foolhardy, heaven-daring rebel who was chained to the sky for his impiety” (Driver). For the Assyrian names see Constellation. Ptolemy catalogued 38 stars, Tycho Brahe 42 and Hevelius 62. Orion is one of the most conspicuous constellations. It consists of three stars of the 1st magnitude, four of the 2nd, and many of inferior magnitude. α Orionis, or Betelgeuse, is a bright, yellowish-red star of varying magnitude (0·5 to 1·4, generally 0·9). β Orionis or Regel is a 1st magnitude star. γ Orionis or Bellatrix, and κ Orionis are stars of the 2nd magnitude. These four stars, in the order α, β, γ, κ, form an approximate rectangle. Three collinear stars ζ, ε and δ Orionis constitute the “belt of Orion”; of these ε, the central star, is of the 1st magnitude, δ of the 2nd, while ζ Orionis is a fine double star, its components having magnitudes 2 and 6; there is also a faint companion of magnitude 10. σ Orionis, very close to ζ Orionis, is a very fine multiple star, described by Sir William Herschel as two sets of treble stars; more stars have been revealed by larger telescopes. θ Orionis is a multiple star, situated in the famous nebula of Orion, one of the most beautiful in the heavens. (See Nebula.)