What are some good myths behind constellations

4) ORION - Orion

Photo: Th. Simon

In many eyes the constellation Orion is the most magnificent constellation in the northern sky.

Its size, bright stars, and memorable figure make it easy to find in the winter sky. Because of its location on the celestial equator, it can be seen from all parts of the world. In Central Europe, the constellation has its best visibility in the evening sky from December to February. It is fully visible from latitude 79º north to 67º south. The constellation assumes its highest position above the horizon (culmination) on December 13th at midnight.

Four of the bright stars form a somewhat distorted rectangle, in the middle of which three equally bright stars are lined up along a diagonal line, which is called a "belt" or "Jacob's staff".

Rigel, the brightest star in the constellation, shines in the lower right corner of the constellation. Together with the stars Sirius in the Big Dog, Procyon in the Little Dog, Pollux and Castor in the constellation Gemini and Capella in the Carter and Aldebaran in the Taurus, Rigel forms the auxiliary constellation Winter Hexagon, which connects six constellations, each with at least one very bright star.

The constellation Orion is also known for the nebula M 42, the famous Orion Nebula, a huge star formation region. You can find it with the help of binoculars below the middle belt star.

Orion is one of the oldest constellations and represents a gigantic fighter who, carrying a sword and swinging a club, fends off the furious attack of a bull, which is represented in the neighboring constellation Taurus.

4.2.1) Greek mythology

Orion has many legends about birth, life and death:

Orion's origin:

According to a legend, Orion is the gigantic son of the sea god Poseidon.

Ovid describes another story at length in his fasts:

One day the gods Poseidon and Zeus as well as the messenger of the gods Hermes stopped by a farmer named Hyrieus. This entertained them with everything he had and even slaughtered his only bull. In gratitude for his hospitality, the farmer, whose wife had died years ago, was granted his wish: a son. The gods practiced what may be called the early version of artificial insemination. After about ten months, Orion, the earth-born, developed from the Taurus's skin, which was lying on the ground and covered with earth.

Orion and the women:

Orion represents the ideal type of a great hunter. He was also interested in beautiful women and pursued them without ever reaching them. Because of its power and beauty, it aroused the love of even goddesses.

Orion freed the island of Chios from wild animals. However, he tried to take the king's daughter Merope by force. Her father blinded him as a punishment. Orion rushed towards the sunrise to be healed by the sun's rays. There Eos, the goddess of the dawn and sister of the sun god Helios, was passionate about him. However, her divine relationship did not grant her this admirer. So Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, shot him with an arrow out of jealousy and disapproval.

According to another version, Artemis fell in love with Orion and even wanted to break her vow of chastity. Her twin brother Apollon resorted to a ruse:
He persuaded Artemis to prove her marksmanship in archery and hit a distant object in the sea. Artemis met her lover Orion without knowing it. Then she put Orion in the sky in pain.

The following legend tells of other women whom Orion stalked:
Orion loved the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas, the bearer of the heavens, and pursued them without reaching them. Even today he hurries after them in the sky without catching up with them. You are in front of him in the constellation Taurus.

According to another story, Orion, who had a hunting friendship with Artemis, tried to abuse the virgin Artemis. Without much reading the goddess then shot him.

In another version of this story, the fatal stab of a scorpion brought an abrupt end to Orion and his attempt to harass Artemis. Asclepius, the god of healing, wanted to save Orion. But the anger of the gods on Orion was so strong that Zeus killed Asclepius with a lightning bolt in order to finally punish Orion. Asklepios was immortalized in the sky as the serpent-bearer constellation.

After a slightly modified presentation of this story, Asklepios brought Orion back to life. This angered Hades, the ruler of the underworld, and he complained to Zeus. Zeus then killed Asclepius with a lightning bolt. But soon he regretted this act. He turned Orion, Scorpio and Asclepius into stars and placed them in the sky.

Today we know the snake curled around a vertical rod as a symbol of medicine and pharmacy, the Aesculapian staff (Aesculapius = Asclepius).


Orion, Scorpio and the serpent bearer are so accommodated in the sky that they never meet: the serpent bearer is in the sky in summer, Orion is then invisible. Orion and Scorpio are located in opposite parts of the sky: the constellation Orion sets when Scorpio rises.

Orion, the great hunter:

Orion went hunting with his two dogs, one large and one small. As a courageous hunter, he took up battle with every animal. But he also had a heart for animals! One day when the big dog was chasing a hare, the hare took shelter at Orion's feet. Orion just had a good heart! The constellation Rabbit is at the feet of Orion, pursued by the Big Dog.

According to a legend, Orion died because he killed too many animals. Artemis as the goddess of the hunt was ultimately also the protector of wild animals.

According to another legend, Orion boasted that he could kill any animal. In doing so, he drew the wrath of the earth goddess Gaia. She sent a scorpion, which Orion killed with its poisonous sting.

The Orion saga may have its origins in the Sumerian-Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh from the third millennium BC.

Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, was two thirds God and one third man. He was of a handsome, strong build. At his side was the strong hunter Enkidu. When Gilgamesh refused to woo the love goddess Ishtar, she asked her father, the sky god Anu, to hand over the heavenly bull in order to wreak havoc in Uruk. But the two heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu managed to kill the bull.

There are further interpretations of the constellation Orion:

  • In Egypt the god Osiris, the ruler of the realm of the dead and god of vegetation, was seen in this constellation. They interpreted the hare at Orion's feet as the boat of Osiris.
  • From the Jewish tradition comes an identification with Nimrod, a figure from the Old Testament who was regarded as a great hunter.
  • Indians from central Brazil saw a large rack for drying manjock in the constellation.
  • South Sea residents saw a war boat in the constellation, others a butterfly.
  • Teutons recognized a hook plow in this constellation.


  • Gerhard Fasching: "Constellations and their Myths"
    Nikol Verlagsgesellschaft, 3rd edition 1998
  • Eckhard Slawik, Uwe Reichert: "Atlas of the constellations"
    Spectrum Academic Publishing House, 1998
  • Gerold Dommermuth-Gudrich: "50 classic MYTHS" Gerstenberg Verlag
    Hildesheim, 2nd edition 2000
  • Joachim Ekrutt: "Stars and Planets - Determine - Get to Know - Experience"
  • Dr. Klaus Lindner, Prof. Dr. Manfred Schukowski: "Astronomy"
    Volk und Wissen Verlag GmbH & Co., Berlin, 1st edition 1999
  • Joachim Herrman: "dtv atlas on astronomy"
    Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Munich 1973

We thank the publishers

Klett-Direkt for kindly handing over a copy of "Star Constellations and Their Myths".


Gerstenberg Verlag for supporting our project with a copy of "50 Classic MYTHS".

Both books are extremely informative, describe the topic in great detail and offer a lot of additional background information.
They represent a treasure trove and enrichment of our project.