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Constellation Myths Orion, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

  Author:  50864  Category:(Ancient Beliefs) Created:(8/9/2002 4:40:00 PM)
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Orion, the Hunter There are two different versions of the Orion myth, depending on the identity of his parents. The first of these identifies the sea-god Neptune as Orion's father and the the great huntress Queen Euryale of the Amazons as his mother. Orion inherited her talent, and became the greatest hunter in the world. Unfortunately for him, with his immense strength came an immense ego, and he boasted that he could best any animal on earth. In response to his vanity, a single small scorpion stung him and killed him. Another version of the Orion myth states that he had no mother but was a gift to a pious peasant from Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury. "Orion supposedly was able to walk on water and had greater strength and stature than any other mortal. A skilled blacksmith, he fabricated a subterranean palace for Vulcan. He also walled in the coasts of Sicily against the encroaching sea and built a temple to the gods there" (Magee, 48). Orion fell in love with Merope, daughter of Oenopion and princess of Chios. Her father the king, however, would not consent to give Orion his daughter's hand in marriage--even after the hunter rid their island of wild beasts. In anger,

Orion attempted to gain possession of the maiden by violence. Her father, incensed at this conduct, having made Orion drunk, deprived him of his sight and cast him out on the seashore. The blinded hero followed the sound of a Cyclops' hammer till he reached Lemnos, and came to the forge of Vulcan, who, taking pity on him, gave him Kedalion, one of his men, to be his guide to the abode of the sun. Placing Kedalion on his shoulders, Orion proceeded to the east, and there meeting the sun-god, was restored to sight by his beam. After this he dwelt as a hunter with Diana, with whom he was a favourite, and it is even said she was about to marry him. Her brother [Apollo] was highly displeased and chid her [she was, after all, a virgin huntress], but to no purpose. One day, observing Orion wading through the ocean with his head just above the water, Apollo pointed it out to his sister and maintained that she could not hit that black thing on the sea. The archer-goddess discharged a shaft with fatal aim. The waves rolled the body of Orion to the land, and bewailing her fatal error with many tears, Diana placed him among the stars (Bulfinch's Mythology, 191-192).

It is also stated in some versions that Apollo, worried for Diana's chastity, sent a scorpion to kill Orion. Orion is visible in the northern hemisphere in the south during the winter. He is generally shown as a hunter attacking a bull with an upraised club, and is easily recognizable by his bright belt of three stars. In addition, his shoulder is marked by the red supergiant Betelgeuse (literally "armpit of the central one" in Arabic), and his left leg is marked by the blue-white supergiant Rigel. According to the versions of the myth which have him killed by Scorpius, the two were placed on the opposite sides of the sky from each other so that they are never visible at the same time.

Callisto was a maiden in the wild region Arcadia. She was a huntress, "not one who spent her time in spinning soft fibres of wool, or in arranging her hair in different styles. She was one of Diana's warriors, wearing her tunic pinned together with a brooch, her tresses carelessly caught back by a white ribbon, and carrying in her hand a light javelin or her bow" (Metamorphoses II 412-415). Jupiter caught sight of her and immediately desired her. He took on the shape of the goddess Diana and spoke to Callisto, who was delighted to see who she thought was her mistress. She began to tell him of her hunting exploits, and he responded by raping her. "She resisted him as far as a woman could--had Juno seen her she would have been less cruel--but how could a girl overcome a man, and who could defeat Jupiter? He had his way, and returned to the upper air" (Metamorphoses II 434-437).

Callisto bore a son, Arcas, which infuriated Juno. Out of jealousy, the wife of Jupiter transformed the girl into a bear. She lived for a time in the wild, until Arcas came across her one day while hunting. He was about to kill the bear his mother, but Jupiter stayed his hand and transformed him into a bear as well. The king of gods then placed both mother and son into the heavens as neighboring constellations.

The constellation Ursa Major is quite commonly known. It includes the Big Dipper, perhaps the most-recognized feature of a constellation in the heavens.

Arcas was the son of Callisto, who was transformed by Juno into a bear. When Arcas was fifteen, he was out hunting in the forest when he came across a bear. The bear behaved quite strangely, looking him in the eyes. He of course could not recognize his mother in her strange shape, and was preparing to shoot her when Jupiter prevented him. He too was transformed into a bear, and both mother and son were taken up into the sky. Juno was annoyed that the pair should be given such honor, and took her revenge by convincing Poseidon to forbid them from bathing in the sea. It is for this reason that Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are both circumpolar constellations, never dipping beneath the horizon when viewed from northern latitudes. Ursa Minor is better known as the Little Dipper. Polaris, the star marking the end of the dipper's handle, is located at the north celestial pole.

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Halloween is Right around the corner.. .

Date: 8/9/2002 5:59:00 PM  From Authorid: 59348    cool
Date: 8/9/2002 8:13:00 PM  From Authorid: 46486    Cool and very intersting!  
Date: 8/9/2002 9:03:00 PM  From Authorid: 4548    excellent post, very informative. thank you for sharing!  
Date: 8/10/2002 5:26:00 PM  From Authorid: 58923    I love reading myths. Thanks for posting.  

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