The Mythology Behind The Orion Constellation Explained

The constellation Orion sits on the Celestial Equator, making it visible to people in both the northern and southern Hemispheres (via NASA's Chandra x-Ray Observatory). It is said to represent the figure of Orion, a famed hunter from Greek mythology. One of the earliest references to this constellation by the name Orion can be found in the ancient Greek epic poem "Iliad" by Homer (via Britannica). According to Wired, this constellation includes some of the brightest stars of the night sky. Rigel, which makes up one of Orion's knees, is the brightest, while Betelgeuse, the second brightest, is one of his shoulders, per In the Sky. Three stars in a diagonal line, Alnilam, Mintaka, and Alnitak, form Orion's belt (via Space).

As far as constellations go, the mythical character of Orion is an interesting choice for such a prominent placement in the sky. He was thought to be a giant, but he wasn't a major god or even an important human who accomplished some impressive feat. Stories about his parents vary, with the most common one making him the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. A much stranger origin story had him born from Gaia, the earth goddess, and a bull hide soaked in the urine of the gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes (via Theoi). 

The Orion constellation has different meanings to different cultures

Orion is also known for his personal troubles. In one tale, he fell in love with Merope, who did not return his affections, according to Wired. Merope's background varies in different myths, but in one version she is said to be the daughter of Oenopion, king of Chios, who didn't like Orion so he had him blinded (via Britannica). 

Other stories say Orion moved to the island of Crete to live with Artemis, goddess of the hunt. In some versions, her brother Apollo was jealous of their relationship and tricked his sister into killing Orion with one of her arrows. Another adaptation has Orion dying because of a battle with a scorpion. According to Space, this deadly arachnid was sent by Artemis and her mother to punish Orion for being boastful about his ability to hunt down any animal.

In any case, Orion was placed into the sky after his death along with his two dogs, which are known separately as the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor. The creature that killed Orion also went into the heavens as the constellation Scorpius (also known as Scorpio).

The constellation Orion appears in the mythology of multiple cultures. Ancient Egyptians believed that the stars of Orion's belt were where the soul of the god Osiris dwelled after his death. The location of the constellation also signaled to the Navajo when it was time to plant their crops.