The Tale of Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Lepus
and Scorpio


Long ago in Boetia there lived a kind man named Hyrieus. He had worked so hard all his life that he never took the time to have a family, and now that he was very old, he regretted his decision.

"There's no sense feeling sorry for myself," Hyrieus said to himself. "There's too much to do in this world to waste time on self-pity. I'll just do the best I can for other people and their children." Although he talked to himself, Zeus and his son Hermes were listening.

"Ah, Hermes," Zeus confided to his son, "look at Hyrieus. He's such a kind and lonely man. It breaks my heart. I can't imagine being alone like him without a fine son like you to make me laugh when I feel blue. I'm very lucky." The god put his arm around his son's shoulder.

"Yes, Dad, he's a fine man. So why does he have to stay alone?" Hermes asked. "You're the most powerful god on Olympus. I'm sure you can do something to help him."

"Of course. You're right," Zeus said happily and, in a flash of lightning, they both disappeared bound for earth.

"Is that lightning up ahead on the road?" Hyrieus wondered aloud. "No, of course not. There are no storms, the sky is clear. I must be imagining things." But a little farther down the road he came upon two men who were dressed in ragged clothes. They carried bags painted with mountains and stars and they were teasing each other.

"Ah," said the young one, "you never know where you're going. I don't know why you always insist on leading."

"Planned or not, I always find the interesting places to go, don't I?" retorted the old one. "Left to you, life would be boring, boring, boring! OK, let's settle it. Let's ask this man where we should go tonight," he said holding his hand out to Hyrieus. "We're having a little disagreement here. Where should we go for the night?"

"I have just a simple house, but I would be happy to have some company. Please be my guest," Hyrieus said.

"See, this is much more interesting than going to that next town," the old one said. He gave the young one a gentle shove as they both laughed and thanked their host and followed Hyrieus to his home.

Sitting at a table outside of Hyrieus' home, after they had eaten and were drinking wine and telling funny and mysterious stories to their host, the light of the oil lamp suddenly fluttered when a gust of wind upset a cup of wine. It seemed as though the wind appeared just to give emphasis to their story. "Who are these men?" Hyrieus asked himself. "Their stories are too unusual to be those of common people." Hyrieus watched the young man as he wiped the spilled wine from the table. He had blonde curls and no hair upon his face. Then Hyrieus turned his head and noticed the old man staring at him, with the lamp's flame reflected in his eyes. His hair was long and thick and white and it flowed into a full white beard. Hyrieus poured more wine as the old man rose.

"If you could have anything in the world," the old man said seriously, pacing along the table, "what gift would you most like?"

"The only thing I ever really wanted that I don't have is a son," Hyrieus said. When he looked back toward his visitor, the old man had shed his ragged clothes and stood in a long white robe that glowed in the lamplight.

"Sacrifice a bull," the old man said in a commanding voice, "and bring us the hide."

Hyrieus wondered what this was about but, being drunk, it made sense to do what the stranger said. He went to the shed and killed a bull, then he skinned it and burned the meat while he brought the skin to the table.

While Hyrieus was busy, his guests had finished the entire urn of wine and rose with difficulty from the table. They both looked elegant now for the young man also had changed from his rags to a blue and yellow robe tied with a wide golden sash. Hyrieus placed the hide at their feet. His guests wobbled, then braced themselves against the side of the table while they laughed and urinated on the bull's hide. They had some problem with their aim. "Bury it in the garden," the old one said as they laughed again, but this time their laughter became lightning as cracks of thunder brought rain. The next time Hyrieus looked up, his guests had disappeared and once again, he was alone.

It rained all night, but in the morning Hyrieus dug a hole in the soft, wet earth and planted the bull's hide beneath the window, just as the old man told him. Nine months later, as he was waking in the morning, he heard a baby cry. On the spot where he had buried the bull's hide, a newborn baby boy lay. "You were urinated on as your beginning," he said as he tenderly picked up the child, "so I will call you Urion." But his neighbors thought that sounded terrible, so Hyrieus changed the baby's name to Orion.

Hyrieus was a kind and loving father who taught his son everything he knew, and Orion became a talented farmer and hunter. Orion was tall, strong and handsome, but although all the young ladies adored him, he chose Side to be his wife. They were happy together, but Side had a fatal character flaw; she was very vain. One day as she admired herself, she said "I do have a beautiful body. I'm sure that I'm shapelier than Hera herself!" She thought no more of it, but Hera had overheard her and was angry.

"How dare she compare herself to me, a goddess! She's just mortal and will soon learn her lesson." Hera called to her husband Zeus. "She has no respect for the gods and you must eliminate her. Do you hear me? I want her gone, now!" There was nothing Zeus could say to calm his angry wife. To keep peace at home, he grabbed a lightning bolt and hurled it toward earth. He killed Side instantly.

Shortly after Side's funeral, Orion made a fateful decision. "I must go away," Orion said sadly to his father. "I can't live here without Side, for there are too many memories. I'll return when I have made a new life and forgotten my sorrow." His father was sad, but he understood. He kissed his son one last time and Orion left with the two hunting dogs that he had raised from pups.

Orion had been traveling for weeks when he came to a land called Chios. There he heard a story about huge rabbits who lived on the nearby island of Leros. As the story went, there was a young man who saw them and thought they would be good as food for the people who lived on the island and that he would make a lot of money selling them. It was a good thought, but the young man was not very practical. He never considered how he would be able to manage the animals so the large rabbits, who were very strong, easily pushed over his flimsy fence and escaped into the wild. There, the rabbits grew and multiplied quickly. Rabbits were everywhere. They climbed through windows and over fences. People even found them in their beds. Soon the island was overrun, and the rabbits ate everything in sight. They devoured the crops, they chewed the flowers and then they even wiggled into the storehouses and ate the seeds. People brought food by boat from nearby islands but, before anyone could eat it, the rabbits found and ate it all. Finally, when a rabbit was found aboard a rescue boat, it was too much. The people gave up and evacuated the island, leaving it to the giant hares.

"If you are willing to try, I have an idea," said Orion. "Collect as many people as you can. Tell them to grab their weapons and fishing nets and take their dogs. Together we'll go to the island." A crowd arrived and boats circled the beach. Men, women, and even the children filled the boats with fishing nets, clubs, spears, swords, bows and arrows, and all the people brought their dogs.

When they reached Leros, the children dug traps, the women strung nets and the men grabbed their weapons. Starting at one end of the island, they formed a human chain, yelling and clapping their hands. The noise scared the rabbits from their hiding places and, as they ran, the people shot them with arrows or clubbed them to death. Those that escaped ran from the noise straight into the nets and traps on the other side of the island. By sunset, the people had killed or captured all the rabbits and the people of Leros were able to return home. Orion became their hero and all the young women fell in love with Orion. He fell in love with a young woman named Merope and they decided to marry.

Most fathers in Chios would have been delighted to have Orion as a son-in-law. Unfortunately, Merope's father was not one of them. Her father, Oenopion, was a very suspicious man. When he heard that Orion wished to marry his daughter, the old man thought about everything bad that could happen. "He is very clever and will surely rob me of everything I own," Oenopion muttered to himself. "You can't trust strangers. I'm sure he came here after committing crimes elsewhere. For what other reason would a man leave his home? I'll protect us all from him." Oenopion made a plan.

When Orion came and asked to marry his daughter, Oenopion pretended to be delighted. "Of course," he said, "I already accept you as a son. Let's drink to the happy occasion." He brought a large jug of wine and poured cup after cup until Orion became dizzy and passed out. Then Oenopion took a poker from the fire and stuck it into Orion's eyes, blinding him. Orion screamed and fainted from the pain. When he awoke, water was lapping at his feet and his two dogs were licking his sightless eyes, for Oenopion had dragged Orion to the beach and left him with only his dogs to aid him.

Once again the gods were watching. Hephaestus stopped his work as he saw what had happened to this young man he had paid attention to since the day his own father and brother had visited Hyrieus. "How sad," Hephaestus thought, "I must help him."

"Orion," Hephaestus called out from Mt. Olympus, "I have asked my servant Cedalion to help you with anything you need." Hephaestus' servant Cedalion was a giant, and he easily lifted Orion onto his back.

"Helios, the god of the sun, is a great healer," Cedalion said. "I would like to take you to him and ask for his help. May I do that?" Orion nodded, and they set off on a journey to the east.

It took very little time for them to reach the eastern edge of the world, for Cedalion had long legs that covered a lot of ground quickly. When they arrived, they sat before Helios and Cedalion told the sun god Orion's story.

"For me to heal you, you must clear your mind of all angry or vengeful thoughts and point your eyes toward my face, " Helios said. Orion turned his head until he felt a warm glow upon his eyes and he saw a golden light. When he touched his eyes, they felt warm and when he removed his hands from his eyes, he could see again. "Go forward with your life and be happy," said Helios.

But Orion preferred revenge over happiness. "Thank you both," he said as he leapt to his feet. "I must go, for I have things to do." He called his dogs and left immediately for Chios where he planned to take his revenge against Oenopion. But Orion wasn't the only mortal that the gods protected. Poseidon heard what Orion was planning and hid the evil Oenopion in a cave.

"Poseidon is protecting Oenopion." Zeus said to Orion. "Forget revenge and go on with your life." Orion and his dogs went to Crete where they hunted in the lush forests and lived in solitude.

One day he heard a woman call to him, "Orion. Orion, turn around. I think I love you." When he turned he saw a woman whose skin was like the luminous moon. She had dark curly hair and wore a silver tunic. Her bow and quiver were silver and her arrows were tipped in pearl. "Don't you know me?" she asked. "I'm Artemis. I have never loved a man before, but I can tell that we were meant to be together."

Orion agreed that they were alike. He loved her more deeply than he ever believed possible and together they roamed the forests and hunted. "I am so happy I could kill every beast on Earth," he shouted for the whole world to hear.

Poor, foolish Orion didn't mean what he said, but Mother Earth didn't know that. She thought he meant to kill all her creatures and she sent the scorpion to champion them against their murderer. At night, while Artemis was away carrying the moon through the sky, the scorpion lay in wait and stung the mighty hunter on his foot, killing Orion instantly.

"You can't take the only man I've ever loved," she cried as Hades came to claim the body. Instead, as Zeus watched his daughter's despair, he picked up Orion's body and placed it in the sky so she could always be near him as she drove her chariot across the stars each night. Then he made Orion's stars the brightest so Artemis would always be able to see him, even if she were blinded by her own brilliant light. So he would never be lonely, Zeus placed Orion's loyal hunting dogs with him in the sky and called them Canis Major and Canis Minor. Then Zeus placed Lepus, the hare, in the sky to honor Orion's service to the people of Leros. Finally he placed the scorpion in the sky to remind us that no one is too big or powerful not to be felled by another.

"Please, father," Artemis called to Zeus, "keep Orion safe from the scorpion." Fulfilling his daughter's wish, Zeus rearranged the stars so when the scorpion rises in the east, Orion sets.

Myth Index

Tales of the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl


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