Does Orion the hunter have a dark, dual personality?
The constellation Orion has the honour of being the second most recognizable star pattern in our winter sky. Only the Big Dipper exceeds his popularity with more people in the northern hemisphere.
Orion rides the celestial equator and can therefore be seen by people in both hemispheres. This global exposure probably makes Orion the most familiar constellation of all eighty-eight.
For thousands of years his hourglass shape has been associated with a human form by numerous civilizations. The ancient Arabs saw him as Al Jabbbar, the giant. To the Egyptians of old he was the likeness of Osiris, the god of the underworld. While ancient Indians knew him as Prajapati, the god of creatures.
But despite his friendly and familiar countenance, does the mighty hunter who comes to visit with the first snowfall have a darker side. According to Greek mythology the answer is yes. But letís start with Orion the good.
The first thing most people do when you say Orion is to mention his belt. It is made up of three bright stars in a straight line and is highly recognizable. In fact many people spot the threesome first, then the surrounding stars that make up the rest of the constellation.
Some see Orion as holding a club over his head while others see a sword in the same hand. A thin arc of stars to his front is said to be either a shield or a lionís pelt. Iíll vote for the club and the lionís pelt. Itís just more hunter-like. Besides, if the Orion Nebula is the jewel in his sword, then it must remain hanging from his belt. After all, thatís where you look for it.
As hunters go, I always snicker at the fact that the constellation Lepus the hare huddles unseen right beneath the mighty hunterís feet. Maybe he just has a taste for bigger game. One thing for certain, Orion certainly does have a taste for women.
According to Greek legend he was in constant pursuit of the gentler gender. To this day he is still hot-footing it after the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades. According to estimates based on lithium depletion, the Pleiades are about 100 million years old. Thatís a long time to chase any woman or even a gaggle of girls.
Orion is often associated with stormy weather, be it winter storms on land or on the sea. He is mentioned in poetry as early as The Odyssey. He was also boastful claiming that no animal could kill him.
The goddess Hera put an end to that when she placed a scorpion at his feet. Although he clubbed the scorpion to death, it had already bitten him and thus mighty Orion fell to a small insect.
The bodies of both were placed in the sky. The scorpion took up residence in the summer sky while Orion got the winter sky. Thus the two shall never meet again.
The next time we enjoy the winter luxury of a clear night bundle up, venture out and have a look at Orion. Chances are heís not as bad as mythology makes him out to be.
John can be reached at www.buckhornobservatory.com.
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