Boeotian Hero


Diana Accepts the Huntsman Orion into her Company by Etienne Delaune

Diana Accepts the Huntsman Orion into her Company by Etienne Delaune (1540–1583)

The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublic Domain


Orion is best remembered as a mighty hunter. However, there is no standard version of his mythos: many different tales were told about Orion, and more often than not these myths contradicted each other. 

Virtually all traditions agree that Orion was a mortal hunter of extraordinary size, strength, and skill, and that he later became the constellation still known as Orion. All further details—his family, birth, homeland, death, and so on—diverge widely across ancient sources.

One of Orion’s most important characteristics was his lustfulness. He had many lovers (fathering fifty sons by as many nymphs) and pursued many others still. In one tradition, he raped the daughter of the Chian king Oenopion, who then put out Orion’s eyes in a rage. Orion was forced to travel to the Far East to regain his eyesight. 

In other traditions, Orion even made amorous advances toward Artemis herself, the virgin goddess of the wild and of hunters. Some said that Orion’s love for Artemis was what led to his death, though in other accounts it was Gaia, the primordial goddess of the earth, who had Orion killed.

Following his death, Orion was put in the sky as a constellation—a reward, it seems, for his bravery and strength. Though he was an important figure in early Greek mythology, Orion was later eclipsed by other, similar mythical figures, such as Heracles

Some traditions connected Orion to Crete or even Sicily, but he was most often said to have been Boeotian in origin. Indeed, the Boeotians worshipped him as a hero.


The etymology of the name “Orion” (Greek Ὠρίων, translit. Ōríōn) is obscure. The ancient Greeks sometimes claimed that it came from the verb οὐρέω (ouréō), meaning “to urinate, ejaculate”—an etymology connected to one of the myths of how Orion was born (see below). But this is likely no more than a folk etymology.


  • English
    Orion Ὠρίων (Ōríōn)
  • Phonetic
    [uh-RAHY-uhn]/əˈraɪ ən/

Alternative Names

In the ancient sources that claimed Orion’s name was derived from οὐρέω (ouréō, “to urinate, ejaculate”), some added that this name was later changed for the sake of propriety.[1]

According to one author, Orion was sometimes also called Candaon (Greek Κανδάων, translit. Kandáōn) by the people of Boeotia—a name he shared with an obscure god worshipped by the Greeks’ northern neighbors. This name may have meant something like “dog strangler.”[2]



Orion was usually associated with the region of Boeotia in central Greece. His homeland was most often named as Tanagra, in the southernmost corner of the region,[3] though some said that he was born in a town called Hyria (itself regarded as part of either Tanagra or nearby Thebes).[4] Others said that Orion was from Euboea, the large island separated from Boeotia by a narrow strait.[5]

But this was not the only tradition concerning Orion’s homeland, nor perhaps even the original one. In the earliest known sources on Orion, he was connected instead with Crete, a major island in the Aegean Sea; his mother, it was said, was one of the daughters of the Cretan king Minos. Other traditions linked Orion with lands even further away, including the island of Sicily.[6]

Appearance and Abilities

Orion was described as a powerful hunter of incredible size.[7] But he was not just a large brute: he was also said to have been astonishingly handsome.[8] Orion could be recognized by the weapons he carried: a great sword and a bronze club.[9] In Book 11 of the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus claims to have marveled at Orion—and his arms—during his visit to the Underworld:

I marked huge Orion driving together over the field of asphodel wild beasts which he himself had slain on the lonely hills, and in his hands he held a club all of bronze, ever unbroken…

In addition to his strength and ability as a hunter, Orion was also granted the ability to walk on water.[10] But this may have simply meant that Orion was so tall that he could wade through the sea without being fully submerged. The Roman poet Virgil, for instance, writes of

tall Orion stalking o'er the flood.

(When with his brawny breast he cuts the waves,

His shoulders scarce the topmost billow laves)[11]

One early source added another skill to Orion’s already impressive list of powers, stating that Orion had inherited the gift of prophecy from his male ancestors.[12]


Orion was known as a constellation from a very early period,[13] having been placed in the heavens after he died. This constellation was thought to pursue the Pleiades (a star cluster) across the sky, a celestial phenomenon that inspired further myths about Orion.[14] Another constellation—Sirius, or the “Dog Star”—was regarded as Orion’s dog.[15]

As a constellation, Orion—ever the hunter—was said to be in constant pursuit of the constellation Lepus, the hare. But some sources, deeming a hare unworthy of Orion’s talents, instead claimed he was chasing Taurus, the bull.[16]

Eridanus, Orion, and Lepus by John Flamsteed

Eridanus, Orion, and Lepus by John Flamsteed (1776)

Jean Nicolas Fortin, Atlas Celeste de ForsteedPublic Domain


When Orion appeared in ancient art, he was always depicted in full hunter regalia. Usually he would be shown carrying some kind of weapon, such as a club, a sword, or a lagobolon (a kind of missile used for hunting hares). He sometimes sported a hunter’s outfit (a short tunic and mantle), but more often he was shown nude.

It was not unheard of for artists to depict Orion as the opponent of Artemis, echoing many literary accounts of his myth. But he was most often represented as a constellation, eternally pursuing his quarry across the heavens.[17]


There were several different versions of Orion’s parentage. In the earliest accounts, Orion was the son of the sea god Poseidon and a mortal woman named Euryale (herself a daughter of the Cretan king Minos).[18]

In another famous tradition, perhaps of somewhat later origin, Orion was born from a bullhide covered in the semen of the gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes; he was then brought up by a Boeotian man named Hyrieus.[19] Other sources described Orion as “earth-born,” or a son of the earth goddess Gaia.[20]

Orion was a prolific lover. He had a wife named Side, about whom nothing is known except that she was cast into Hades for boasting that she rivaled the goddess Hera in beauty.[21] Orion also had many lovers, including Eos, the rosy goddess of dawn,[22] and a Chian girl named Merope.[23]

Orion’s various unions gave him many children. Two of his daughters, Metioche and Menippe (also known as the Coronides), sacrificed themselves to save Boeotia from a plague, after which they were worshipped in the region.[24] Another daughter of Orion’s, Menodice, was the mother of Hylas, a companion of Heracles who sailed with the Argonauts.[25]

In one tradition Orion was also the father of Mecionice, sometimes named as the mother of Euphemus—one of the Argonauts and an ancestor of the Battiads.[26]

To these daughters we may add some fifty sons whom Orion fathered with as many nymphs.[27] One of these sons was the prophet Acraephen, who gave his name to the town of Acraephia near the sanctuary of Apollo on Mount Ptois.[28] Another son of Orion, Dryas, helped defend Thebes against the invading army led by the “Seven against Thebes.”[29]



The myth of Orion appears to have been very ancient; he may have emerged as a hunting hero as early as the Bronze Age. Orion has often been compared to shaman figures and larger-than-life heroes from other cultures, especially figures known for their extraordinary size, strength, and hunting prowess. Examples include the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, the Ugaritic Aqhat, and the Celtic Cúchulainn.[30]

But the Greeks’ interest in Orion seems to have waned early on. Perhaps he was viewed as too primitive a hero amidst an influx of new technologies, including agriculture, writing, and organized warfare. 

At any rate, many of Orion’s functions—as a hunter of wild beasts, a warrior, and so on—were assumed by other heroes (especially Heracles), who quickly eclipsed him in importance. This early loss of interest may explain why Orion’s myths were never “standardized” by any poets.

The strange patchwork quality of Orion’s mythology is reflected in accounts of his birth. In one tradition, the pious Boeotian Hyrieus had acted as a host to the gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes; wishing to reward the man’s hospitality, the gods promised to grant him a single request. Hyrieus asked for a son. 

The three gods promptly ejaculated on a bullhide, then buried the semen-covered scrap of leather in the earth. This was how Orion was born (and perhaps how he got his name, which can be translated as “the ejaculated one”).[31]

This eventually became the prevailing myth of Orion’s birth. But other traditions connected Orion with the royal family of Crete or with other genealogies (see above).

Orion, Oenopion, and Merope

Orion was notorious for his lecherous ways. In one story, he tried to force himself on the Pleiades (or their mother Pleione), who implored Zeus to help them escape. Zeus answered their prayer by turning them into stars—the star cluster still known today as the Pleiades.[32]

In another story, it was Eos, the goddess of the dawn, who pursued Orion, abducting the handsome hunter so that she could have her way with him.[33]

But the most notorious of Orion’s affairs was with Merope (sometimes called Aero), the daughter of King Oenopion of Chios. Orion had fallen in love with Merope and tried to win her hand. 

In one version of the story, Oenopion promised to let Orion marry his daughter if the famous hunter cleared Chios of wild beasts—only to change his mind after Orion had already delivered on his end of the bargain. Eventually, the frustrated Orion broke into Merope’s chamber and raped her. Oenopion retaliated by putting out Orion’s eyes.

Orion, now blind, made his way to the island of Lemnos, where the smith god Hephaestus had his workshop. Hephaestus took pity on Orion and gave him his servant Cedalion as a guide. From astride Orion’s massive shoulders, Cedalion led his new master east, where Orion regained his vision when he looked upon the rays of the rising sun (others said it was the sun god Helios himself who healed him). 

Orion then turned back to take revenge on Oenopion, who escaped by having his people hide him beneath the earth.[34]

Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun by Nicolas Poussin

Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun by Nicolas Poussin (1658)

The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublic Domain

Orion in Sicily

Another body of myths told of Orion’s adventures in Sicily. In one story, Orion was said to have helped Zanclus, the founder of the Sicilian city of Zancle (later known as Messina), to build the promontory that formed its harbor.[35]

Another story, seemingly very ancient, related that there was once a broad sea separating Sicily from the boot of Italy. It was Orion who built the headland, known as the Peloris (modern Punta del Faro), that extended along the northern part of the island. He then erected a temple to Poseidon on the very tip of the island and migrated east to Euboea.[36]

The Death of Orion

There were many different versions of how Orion died, some of them flatly contradicting one another. These traditions can be roughly divided into two groups.

In the first group of myths, Orion was killed by Artemis. But her motivation for killing him, as well as her method, varied across sources. In the earliest attested account, Orion was shot down by Artemis on Ortygia for reasons that are not entirely clear.[37]

Other authors elaborated on this story, begetting further variants. According to some, Orion tried to rape Artemis, who sent a giant scorpion to kill him[38] or else shot him down with her arrows.[39] According to others, Orion tried to rape not Artemis herself but rather Artemis’ handmaiden Upis, and it was for this reason that Artemis killed him.[40]

According to others still, Orion did not try to rape anyone but simply challenged Artemis to a discus contest[41] or mocked her abilities as a huntress[42]—displaying an insolence for which he could only pay with his life.

But in one account, Artemis actually fell in love with Orion and even wished to marry him, despite the fact that, until then, she had been firmly committing to remaining a virgin. This horrified Artemis’ twin brother Apollo, who decided to trick Artemis into killing her would-be ravisher. 

Spotting Orion’s head one day as he was swimming in the sea, Apollo bet Artemis that she could not hit the distant speck with her arrow. Not one to miss an opportunity to show off, Artemis shot Orion straight through the head, not realizing what she was doing until it was too late.[43]

Diana Over Orion’s Corpse by Daniel Seiter

Diana Over Orion’s Corpse by Daniel Seiter (1658)

Louvre Museum, ParisPublic Domain

In another group of traditions, Orion was killed not by Artemis but by Gaia, the goddess of the earth (in these accounts, Orion was usually described as a friend and hunting companion of Artemis, rather than her enemy). 

As the story goes, Orion foolishly boasted that no beast of the earth was a match for him. This evidently offended or provoked Gaia, who promptly brought forth a giant scorpion to disprove Orion’s claim.

After Orion was killed by the scorpion, Artemis and her mother Leto asked that he be placed in the stars (in some accounts, this was a reward for saving them from the terrible scorpion). Zeus agreed to their request, and Orion became a constellation.[44]


Orion was highly revered in Boeotia and had a famous tomb in Tanagra (near Mount Cerycius, modern-day Mount Tanagra).[45] The presence of a tomb suggests that Orion was likely worshipped as a hero in the region. He may have also been the recipient of hero cult elsewhere in Greece.



  1. Euphorion, frag. 101 Powell; Ovid, Fasti 5.535.

  2. John Tzetzes on Lycophron’s Alexandra 328.

  3. Corinna, frags. 654, 655 Poetae Melici Graeci; Euphorion, frag. 103 Powell; Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.20.3; scholia on Nicophron’s Theriaca 15; etc.

  4. Strabo, Geography 9.2.12; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.34.

  5. Strabo, Geography 10.1.4; Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 149 Merkelbach-West (from Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.85.5).

  6. Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.85.1ff. Cf. an account recorded by the Renaissance author Boccaccio (ascribed to a mysterious author named Theodontius) in which Orion was the son of Oenopion, a king of Sicily. This version of Orion was banished for raping his sister Candiope and traveled east, ultimately establishing a new kingdom in Thrace (Boccaccio, Genealogy of the Pagan Gods 11.19).

  7. Homer, Odyssey 11.310; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 11.390.

  8. Homer, Odyssey 11.572; Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3; etc.

  9. Aratus, Phaenomena 588ff; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.33; etc.

  10. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 148a Merkelbach-West (from Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 32); Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.34.

  11. Virgil, Aeneid 10.763–65, trans. John Dryden; see also Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid 10.763.

  12. Corinna, frag. 654.38–39 Poetae Melici Graeci.

  13. E.g., Homer, Iliad 18.486.

  14. Hesiod, Works and Days 619–20.

  15. Homer, Iliad 22.29. One Renaissance scholar, likely drawing on an ancient source that no longer survives, recorded the names of Orion’s hunting dogs as Leucomelaena, Maera, Dromis, Cisseta, Lampuris, Lycoctonus, Ptoophagus, and Arctophonus (Natalis Comes, Mythologiae 2.752). Another source added that Orion also owned a horse given to him as a gift by Hephaestus (scholia B on Germanicus’ Aratea 331).

  16. Hyginus, Astronomica 2.33.

  17. Catherine Lochin, “Orion,” in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (Zurich: Artemis, 1994), 7:78–80.

  18. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 148a Merkelbach-West (from Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 32); Pherecydes, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 3 frag. 52; Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3. In some sources, it seems the name of this daughter was Brylle rather than Euryale (scholia on Aratus’ Phaenomena 322; Natalis Comes, Mythologiae 8.13).

  19. Ovid, Fasti 5.535; Hyginus, Fabulae 195. Some sources refer to Orion simply as the son of Hyrieus, but this does not necessarily imply a separate tradition from the one involving a bullhide (Parthenius, Love Romances 20; Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 25). Cf. Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid 10.763, where Servius remarks that Orion was indeed born this way, but was brought up by Oenopion rather than Hyrieus (though the text may be corrupt).

  20. Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4.338, 13.99. However, this may simply be another way of saying that Orion was born from the earth after Zeus, Poseidon, and Hermes buried their semen-covered bullhide near Hyrieus’ home.

  21. Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3; Ovid, Art of Love 1.731.

  22. Homer, Odyssey 5.118ff; Apollodorus, Library 1.4.4.

  23. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 148a Merkelbach-West (from Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 32); Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3; etc.

  24. Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 25; Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.685ff.

  25. Hyginus, Fabulae 14.

  26. John Tzetzes, Chiliades 2.613ff; Hesiod, frag. 253 Merkelbach-West. In other traditions, Mecionice was the daughter of Eurotas, not Orion.

  27. Corinna, frag. 655.14ff Poetae Melici Graeci.

  28. Corinna, frag. 654.32ff Poetae Melici Graeci.

  29. Statius, Thebaid 7.255ff, 9.841ff.

  30. See esp. Joseph Fontenrose, Orion: The Myth of the Hunter and the Huntress (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

  31. Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Tales 51; Ovid, Fasti 5.493ff; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.34, Fabulae 195; etc. Some sources apparently made Hyrieus a Theban, while one even said that he lived on the island of Chios.

  32. Scholia A on Homer’s Iliad 18.486; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.21; Pindar, frag. 74 Snell-Maehler.

  33. Homer, Odyssey 5.118ff; Apollodorus, Library 1.4.4.

  34. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 148a Merkelbach-West (from Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 32); Parthenius, Love Romances 20; Apollodorus, Library 1.4.3; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.34; Lucian, On the Hall 28–29; Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid 10.763. Cf. Pindar, frag. 72 Snell-Maehler, where the girl raped by Orion is described as another man’s wife (her name is not given). There seems to have also been an alternative tradition in which Orion was cured of his blindness by Asclepius (scholia on Pindar’s Pythian Ode 3.54/96).

  35. Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.85.1.

  36. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 149 (from Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.85.5).

  37. Homer, Odyssey 5.121ff. At first glance, the passage seems to imply that Artemis envied Eos, Orion’s immortal lover, but this is implausible considering Artemis was famously defensive of her virginity.

  38. Palaephatus, On Unbelievable Tales 51; Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 7; Aratus, Phaenomena 634ff; Euphorion, frag. 101 Powell; Nicander, Theriaca 13ff; Hyginus, Fabulae 195.

  39. Callimachus, frag. 570 Pfeiffer (from Hyginus, Astronomica 2.34); Callimachus, Hymn 3.265.

  40. Apollodorus, Library 1.4.5.

  41. Apollodorus, Library 1.4.5.

  42. Scholia on Germanicus’ Aratea 63–64.

  43. Istrus, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 334 frag. 64 (from Hyginus, Astronomica 2.34).

  44. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women frag. 148a Merkelbach-West (from Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 32); Ovid, Fasti 5.537ff; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.26. Cf. the scholia on Germanicus’ Aratea 63–64, where Gaia sends the scorpion at Artemis’ behest. In one account, Orion was resurrected after his death by the physician Asclepius (scholia on Euripides’ Alcestis 1).

  45. Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.20.3.

  46. Parthenius refers to her as Aero.

Primary Sources


Orion first appeared in Greek literature as early as the eighth century BCE: in Homer’s Iliad, he is mentioned a few times as a constellation (18.485–86, 22.29), while in the Odyssey, Odysseus glimpses Orion’s shade during his visit to the Underworld (11.572ff). Hesiod (eighth/seventh century BCE) also mentioned the constellation Orion and its pursuit of the Pleiades across the heavens in his Works and Days (619–20).

Other early poems, such as the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (probably sixth century BCE), are known to have contained fuller accounts of the myth of Orion, but these are known today only from fragments. In fact, few surviving ancient sources deal with the myth of Orion in any great detail. As a result, most of our knowledge of this important figure comes from brief and often allusive references, or from dry summaries. 

Some important details about Orion can be found in the literature of the Hellenistic period (323–30 BCE). Aratus (ca. 315–before 240 BCE) gave a brief account of Orion’s myth and his transformation into a constellation in the Phaenomena (588ff). There are also valuable references to the myths of Orion in the epitome of the Catasterisms (7, 32), a summary of a work attributed to Eratosthenes (ca. 285–ca. 194 BCE). 

Nicander (second century BCE) briefly mentioned the death of Orion in his Theriaca (13ff), while the myth of Orion and Merope was retold by Parthenius (first century BCE) in his Love Romances (20).46

Further summaries and references to the myth of Orion were given by Diodorus of Sicily (before 90–after 30 BCE) in his Library of History (4.85); by Strabo (ca. 63 BCE–ca. 23 CE) in his Geography (9.2.12, 10.1.4); by Apollodorus or “Pseudo-Apollodorus” (first century BCE or later) in his Library (1.4.3ff); and by Pausanias (ca. 115–180 CE) in his Description of Greece (9.20.3).

Orion occasionally appears in later literature as well. The Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis (second/third century CE) contains a short account of the fate of Orion’s daughters, the Coronides, while Nonnus (fifth century CE) included a few scattered references to Orion in his Dionysiaca, a giant epic recounting the adventures of the young god Dionysus.


The principal Roman source for Orion is the poet Ovid (43 BCE–17/18 CE), who describes Orion’s death and his transformation into a constellation in Book 5 of the Fasti (535ff).

There are also valuable summaries of the myths of Orion in the Astronomica (2.26, 2.33–34) and the Fabulae (195), both works of dubious authorship attributed to a certain Hyginus or “Pseudo-Hyginus” (first century CE or later).


Additional information on Orion, including his role in works that are now lost, can be found in texts, reference works, and commentaries produced during the Byzantine and medieval periods. For further references, see the notes.

Secondary Sources

  • Fontenrose, Joseph. Orion: The Myth of the Hunter and the Huntress. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

  • Gantz, Timothy. “Orion.” In Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, 271–73. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

  • Hard, Robin. “The Myths of the Great Hunter Orion.” In The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology, 8th ed., 560–62. New York: Routledge, 2020.

  • Küentzle, H. “Orion.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, edited by W. H. Roscher, vol. 3.1, 3283–3317. Leipzig: Teubner, 1897–1902.

  • Lochin, Catherine. “Orion.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 7, 78–80. Zurich: Artemis, 1994.

  • Loehr, Johanna, and Renzo Tosi. “Orion.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006.

  • Schachter, A. “Orion.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 1429. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Smith, William. “Orion (1).” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed April 29, 2021.

  • Theoi Project. “Orion.” Published online 2000–2017.

  • Wehrli, Fritz. “Orion (1).” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, edited by Georg Wissowa and August Friedrich Pauly, vol. 18.1, 1065–82. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1939.


Kapach, Avi. “Orion.” Mythopedia, August 29, 2023.

Kapach, Avi. “Orion.” Mythopedia, 29 Aug. 2023. Accessed on 13 Dec. 2023.

Kapach, A. (2023, August 29). Orion. Mythopedia.


  • Avi Kapach

    Avi Kapach is a writer, scholar, and educator who received his PhD in Classics from Brown University

    Avi Kapach Profile Photo