Y OU know that the fixed stars are divided into groups, called constellations. A name has been given to every constellation; and each is supposed to be like the shape of some creature or thing—such as the Great Bear, the Swan, the Cup, the Eagle, the Dragon, and so on. Most of their names were given by the Greeks, who fancied they could see in them the shapes after which they were named. We have kept the old names, and still paint the supposed figure of each constellation on the celestial globe, which is the image or map of the sky.
Now the grandest, brightest, and largest of all the constellations is named Orīon. It is supposed to represent a giant, with a girdle and a sword, and is rather more like what is fancied than most of the constellations are. You are now going to read the story of Orion, and how he came to be placed among the stars. You may notice, by the way, that the planets, the sun, and the moon are named after gods and goddesses; the fixed stars after mortals who were raised to the skies.
There was once a man named Hyrĭēus, whose wife died, and he loved her so much, and was so overcome with grief that he vowed never to marry again. But she left him no children. And when, in course of time, he grew old, he sadly felt the want of sons and daughters to make his old age less hard and lonely.
One day it happened that Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury (who was one of the gods, and Jupiter's chief minister and messenger) were on a visit to earth. The night fell, and they grew tired and hungry. So they wandered on to find rest and food; and, as luck would have it, they came to the cottage of Hyrieus, and asked for shelter. Hyrieus thought they were only three poor benighted travelers who had lost their way. But he was very good and charitable, so he asked them in and gave them the best fare he had—bread, roots, and wine—he himself waiting upon them, and trying to make them comfortable. He poured out a cup of wine, and offered it first to Neptune. But Neptune, instead of drinking it, rose from his seat and gave the cup to Jupiter, like a subject to a king who should be first served. You may not think there was much to notice in this; but Hyrieus noticed it, and then, looking intently upon the stranger to whom Neptune had given the cup, he was struck by a sudden religious awe that told him he was in the presence of the king and father of gods and men. He straightway fell on his knees and said: —
"I am poor and humble; but I have in my stall one ox to plough my field. I will gladly offer him up as a sacrifice for joy that Jupiter has thought me worthy to give him bread and wine."
"You are a good and pious man," said Jupiter. "Ask of us any gift you please, and it shall be yours."
"My wife is dead," said Hyrieus, "and I have vowed never to marry again. But let me have a child."
"Take the ox," said Jupiter, "and sacrifice him."
So Hyrieus, being full of faith, sacrificed his ox, and, at the bidding of Jupiter, buried the skin. And from that skin, and out of the ground, there grew a child, who was named Orion.
Orion grew and grew till he became a giant, of wonderful strength and splendid beauty. He took the most loving care of Hyrieus, and was the best of sons to him. But when the old man died, Orion went out into the world to seek his fortune. And the first service he found was that of Diana, the sister of Apollo, and queen and goddess of the Moon.
Diana, however, had a great deal to do besides looking after the moon. She was three goddesses in one—a goddess of the sky, a goddess of earth, and a goddess of Hades besides. In heaven she was called Luna, whose duty is to light the world when Apollo is off duty. In Hades she was called Hĕcătē, who, with her scepter, rules the ghosts of dead souls. And on earth her name is Diana, the queen of forests and mountains, of wild animals and hunters. She wears a crescent on her forehead and a quiver at her back; her limbs are bare, and she holds a bow, with which she shoots as well as her brother Apollo. Just as he is called Phœbus, so she is often called Phœbe. She goes hunting all night among the hills and woods, attended by the Nymphs and Oreads, of whom she is queen. There are not so many stories about her as about the other gods and goddesses, and yet she is really the most interesting of them all, as you will see some day.
This great strange goddess had sworn never to love or marry—had sworn it by Styx, I suppose. But Orion was so beautiful and so strong and so great a hunter that she went as near to loving him as she ever did to loving any one. She had him always with her, and could never bear him to leave her. But Orion never thought of becoming the husband of a goddess, and he fell in love with a mortal princess, the daughter of Œnopion, King of Chios, an island in the Ægean Sea.
When, however, he asked the king for his daughter, Œnopion was terribly frightened at the idea of having a giant for his son-in-law. But he dared not say "No." He answered him:—
"My kingdom is overrun with terrible wild beasts. I will give my daughter to the man who kills them all." He said this, feeling sure that any man who tried to kill all the wild beasts in Chios would himself be killed.
But Orion went out, and killed all the wild beasts in no time, with his club and his sword. Then Œnopion was still more afraid of him and said:—
"You have won my daughter. But before you marry her, let us drink together, in honor of this joyful day."
Orion, thinking no harm, went with Œnopion to the sea-shore, where they sat down and drank together. But Œnopion (whose name means "The Wine-Drinker") knew a great deal more about what wine will do, and how to keep sober, than Orion. So before long Orion fell asleep with the strong Chian wine, which the King had invented; and when Orion was sound asleep, Œnopion put out both his eyes.
The giant awoke to find himself blind, and did not know what to do or which way to go. But at last, in the midst of his despair, he heard the sound of a blacksmith's forge. Guided by the clang, he reached the place, and prayed the blacksmith to climb up on his shoulders, and so lend him his eyes to guide him.
The blacksmith consented, and seated himself on the giant's shoulder. Then said Orion:—
"Guide me to the place where I can see the first sunbeam that rises at daybreak in the east over the sea."
Orion strode out, and the blacksmith guided him, and at last they came to the place where the earliest sunbeam first strikes upon human eyes. It struck upon Orion's, and it gave him back his sight again. Then, thanking the blacksmith, he plunged into the sea to swim back to Diana.
Now Apollo had long noticed his sister's affection for Orion, and was very much afraid for fear she should break her vow against love and marriage. To break an oath would be a horrible thing for a goddess to do. While Orion was away, making love and killing wild beasts in Chios, there was no fear; but now he was coming back, there was no knowing what might happen. So he thought of a trick to get rid of Orion, and he said:—
"My sister, some people say that you can shoot as well as I can. Now, of course, that is absurd."
"Why absurd?" asked Diana. "I can shoot quite as well as you."
"We will soon see that," said Apollo. "Do you see that little dark speck out there, in the sea? I wager that you won't hit it, and that I can."
"We will see," said Diana. So she drew her bow and shot her arrow at the little dark speck, that seemed dancing on the waves miles and miles away. To hit it seemed impossible. But Diana's arrow went true. The speck was hit—it sank, and rose no more.
It was the head of Orion, who was swimming back to Diana. She had been tricked into killing him with an arrow from her own bow. All she could do was to place him among the stars.
So her vow was kept; and from that time she never allowed herself to be seen by a man. Women may see her; but if men see her, they go mad or die. There is a terrible story of a hunter named Actæon, who once happened to catch a glimpse of her as she was bathing in a pool. She instantly turned him into a stag, so that his own dogs fell upon him and killed him. And another time, when she saw a shepherd named Endymion on Mount Latmos, and could not help wishing to kiss him for his beauty, she covered herself with clouds as she stooped, and threw him into a deep sleep, so that he might not see her face, or know that he had been kissed by the moon. Only from that hour he became a poet and a prophet, full of strange fancies; and it is said that every man becomes a madman or a poet who goes to sleep in the moonlight on the top of a hill. Diana comes and kisses him in his dreams.