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Orion

Part 1 - Greece, Sumer, Babylon and Egypt

Orion and Scorpius Orion is one of the most prominent and most recognizable constellations in our winter sky. Located on the celestial equator, the constellation is visible throughout the world.

The constellation is named after the hunter Orion in Greek mythology.
There are a number of variations to the saga.

The saga originated in Mesopotamia and has parallels in Egypt.


Greek Mythology

Most likely, the legend was first told by Hesiod at around 700 BC. The third century BC scholar Eratosthenes gives a fairly long summary of Hesiod's story in his work on the constellations.

Wikipedia describes Hesiod's version as follows:

Orion was likely 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. Gaia, Mother Earth objected and sent a giant scorpion to kill Orion. The creature succeeded. 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.

(End of Wikipedia Quote)

Some versions refer to the location of Orion and Scorpion on opposite sides of the sky as Zeus making sure that the Scorpion can never hurt Orion again; others refer to the same positioning as Orion still running away from the Scorpion.

Orion in "The Geography of the Heavens"
Elijah Hinsdale Burritt, 1835
Source: Atlas Coelestis

Orion in "Uranographia"
Joannes Hevelius, 1690
Source: Atlas Coelestis

Links to other versions of the story in Greek Mythology

Wikipedia - other Variants of the myth

Astrobites - The story of Orion and Scorpion

Norm McCarter - Orion, the great hunter

Comfy Chair - Orion, the hunter

Myth Encyclopedia - Orion

Chandra Observatory - Orion

Ian Ridpath - Orion

Astronomy Rewind - The story of Orion and Scorpion

Globe at Night - The Mythology of Orion

Greek Mythology Star Myths - Orion

Stellar Journeys - The Legend of Orion

Orion in "Cicero's Arathea"
Source: British Library


While the Greek myth is the most popular and best known Orion legend, the story of the famous hunter dates back far beyond Greek mythology.

Sumer

The constellation Orion originated with the Sumerians, who named it URU AN-NA, the "Light of Heaven." Next to it was the constallation GUD AN-NA, the "Bull of Heaven", modern-day Taurus.

The two constellations depicted Sumer's great hero Gilgamesh, fighting the Bull of Heaven.

Sources: Ian Ridpath's Star Tales

Neo-Sumerian Terracotta Relief
2250-1900 BC; Source: Wikipedia

Babylon

The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written circa 1600 BC, but has its roots in legends dating back to the Sumerian poems about Bilgamesh (written about 2100 BC) may be one of the sources of the epic antagony between Orion and Scorpius.

On his journey to the homeland of Utnapishtim, Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh encounters initiated priests known as the scorpion-men.

Sources: Gnostic Warrior and Chandra Observatory

Scorpion Man firing an arrow
Middle Assyrian cylinder seal
Source: Wikiedia
In Babylonian star catalogues, Orion is named "The Heavenly Shepherd" or "True Shepherd of Anu" (Anu was the chief god of the heavenly realms).

Later Mesopotamian mythology would assimilate Ninshubur with the Akkadian messenger god Papshukal to become a herald to the general pantheon of gods.

On Babylonian border stones (carved stone used to mark a royal land grant), Papshukal is generaly depicted as a walking bird.

Sources: Wikipedia, Petros Koutoupis, J. H. Rogers, Astronomytrek

Babylonian Border Stone
1157-1025 BC
Source: John Bedell

Egypt

The Metternich Stela is dated to the Thirtieth dynasty of Egypt, around 380342 BC. The stela tells the story of the death and resurrection of Horus.

Horus, usually depicted as a falcon headed man, was one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities. Most notable was his role as King of the Sky.

Among other myths, the hieroglyphic text of the stela tells the story of Horus' death by a scorpion sting. After Horus' death, the God and magician Thoth blesses Horus' mother Isis with a spell that enables her to bring Horus back to life.

This legend may have been one of the sources of the Greek legend of Orion.

Sources: Sacred Texts and Chandra Observatory

Metternich Stela; Source: Wikipedia

Egypt

In Egyptian astronomy, the stars of Orion and Lepus, together with some neighboring stars formed the constellation Sah.

In the Old Kingdom, Sah was referred to as "the Father of Gods." After his death, a pharaoh was thought to travel to Orion.

Later, Sah came to be associated with Osiris, the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life, and vegetation.

Sources: Wikipedia, Hmolpedia and Astronomytrek

Sah (Orion) riding his star-boat
Temple of Hathor, Dendera, Egypy
Source: Astronomytrek



Modern Day Applications

The Orion spacecraft is a partially reusable space craft to be used in NASA's human spaceflight programs.

The first manned flight of the Orion spacecraft is expected to take place around 2023.

Source:Wikipedia

Orion Spacecraft
Source: space.com

Modern Day Fiction

As one of the brightest and best-known stars, Betelgeuse ( α Ori) has featured in many works of fiction. The star's unusual name inspired the title of the 1988 film Beetlejuice, and script writer Michael McDowell was impressed by how many people made the connection.

For much more on Betelgeuse in the modern world, see Wikipedia's Betelgeuse in fiction and Betelgeuse in popular culture.

In the popular science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, one of the main characters, Ford Prefect was from "a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse."

Source: Wikipedia
Ford Prefect; Screenplay
In the Star Trek Universe, Rigel (β Ori) is orbited by at least ten planets, six of which are inhabited.

For details, see alpha.fandom.com and Wikipedia's Rigel in Fiction, which offers has a comprehensive list of movies and novels around Rigel.
Rigel VII; alpha.fandom.com
In Wolf in the Fold, an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the crew visits the (fictional) planet Argelius II, a planet orbiting Iota Orionis.

Source: Wikipedia, alpha.fandom.com
Argelius II; alpha.fandom.com
In Who Watches the Watchers, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mintaka III a planet orbiting Mintaka (δ Ori) is inhabited by the Mintakans, a preindustrial Vulcan-like race that is under observation by the Federation.

Sources: Wikipedia, alpha.fandom.com
Mintaka III; alpha.fandom.com

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