Oh Ryan, tall, dark and handsome, you are truly heavenly.
I have a crush on Orion. He is the big guy in the winter night sky. Easily identifiable, he lights up my nights.
To find the object of my affection, look overhead on a cloudless night for a group of three bright stars in a line. These three stars Mintaka, Alnilan, and Alnitak create his belt. Four stars make up his heavenly body. Above his belt find Betelguese, which is Orion’s left shoulder and Bellatrix, his right shoulder. Complete Orion’s manly form with Rigel, a star denoting his left foot and Saiph, his right.
And of course, Orion needs a good head on his shoulders to steal my heart — the star Meissa takes this supporting role. No warrior would be complete without a weapon, so look for Hatsya, the tip of his sword.
Orion is known as a giant and a great hunter. He faces Taurus the bull, his celestial prey; his hunting dogs, the constellations Canus Major and Canus Minor, follow at his heels. Though his parentage is honorable, his behavior quickly made him disreputable. His father was Poseidon, god of the oceans, and his mother Eurydale, daughter of King Minos of Crete. Like all of our constellations, he has a story, one that perhaps shows that my affections are definitely misplaced.
Depending on which story you believe, this heavenly hunk could be a scoundrel, rather than a hero. Just ask any one of Pleiades, the seven sisters. Orion was enamored with the youngest, Merope, who refused his advances. After some wine, he forced himself on her but was rebuffed by her father, who put Orion’s eyes out as punishment.
Orion eventually regained his vision but obviously did not learn his lesson. He still pursues the seven sisters in the sky. Perhaps the ladies have the last laugh, as he will chase them through eternity but never catch them.
Orion has other enemies, too: well-deserved, I might add. Another myth describes Orion as a braggart who claimed that he could kill any beast on earth. And again, his lecherous tendencies got the better of him. In this story, Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt, was whom he desired. She, too, refused his advances and he was punished for eternity for his boasting and bad behavior.
To avenge the maidens wronged by Orion, a scorpion was released from the crack of the earth to do battle with him. The scorpion quickly stung Orion, killing him. To this day, their rivalry continues. The constellation Scorpio rises in the east, on the opposite side of the sky, and chases Orion, who escapes by fleeing west below the horizon.
Orion has also been billed as a hero and victim. Some myths suggest that he died protecting maidens rather than violating them. The noted mythologist Edith Hamilton wrote: “Some say that Dawn, also called Aurora, loved him and that Artemis in jealous anger shot him. Others say that he made Apollo angry and that the god by a trick got his sister to slay him.” Somehow, though, those stories have been eclipsed by the celestial gossip that portrays Orion as a bad guy.
No matter which myth is believed, Orion will always have a place in our sky, if not in our hearts.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.