Artemis and Orion: A Tragic Love Story in Greek Mythology

Artemis and Orion

Quick Disclaimer: As with most stories of love in Greek mythology, they often end in tragedy. So, today’s article on the love story of Artemis and Orion may not be the perfect love story you were looking for.

Some of you may be thinking that a love story featuring Artemis sounds a bit odd because she doesn’t have much interaction with anyone outside of her close followers and the wildlife of her forest. Most male interaction doesn’t end too well.

We saw this with the hunter Actaeon, who was turned into a stag when he came across the goddess during a hunt, and even with Siproites, a young boy who’s given the choice of death or being turned into a girl. Granted, both stories began with them stumbling across Artemis naked when she took a bath, so perhaps, these particular stories were always destined to end poorly.

There are other stories where minor deities pursued Artemis, but these all ended in rejection, and for those who couldn’t take ‘no’ as an answer, the consequences were a tad more severe.

When Artemis had rejected the river god Alpheus, he decided to kidnap her anyway. When Artemis then found out of Alpheus’ plan, she covered her face in the mud. When Alpheus came to collect his new bride, he walked past Artemis because he didn’t recognise her. Artemis was then able to escape unharmed while still giving herself one of those fancy mud facials at the same time.

So, what does all of this have to do with the story of Artemis and Orion? It helps us paint a picture because we don’t know a lot about Orion in terms of personality. If Artemis rejected all other men’s advances but then suddenly opens up and falls in love and we get the idea that Orion was different or unique in some way.

The Birth of Orion

As for Orion’s backstory, he’s always described as an incredibly handsome giant hunter. His birth is one of the weirdest stories in Greek mythology. Some accounts state that he was the son of Poseidon and Euryale, the wife of King Minos. Some other accounts say that he was born from a patch of earth covered by a bull’s hide. Several gods would come across this particular patch of land and then urinate on the hide, from which then sprang forward Orion—like a giant man-plant which had just been watered with divine pee.

Orion’s Early Love Life

In Orion’s early life, he fell in love with the princess Merope, but her father disapproved of their union so much that he had Orion blinded. His vision would eventually be restored by the healing rays of Helios, the Sun. Now, finally getting the message that the king did not want him around, Orion would travel to the island of Crete, where he would eventually meet Artemis.

Artemis and Orion—Various Love Stories Visited

We’ve now reached the part of their encounter that I guess we can consider the crossroads that lead down the numerous paths and variations of the story.

For example, there is one story where Orion meets Artemis and just immediately forces himself upon her. Which, needless to say, resulted in him dying quite quickly. So, this path is somewhat of a dead-end in terms of a love story.

This initial encounter in Crete would have been where Orion tried to impress Artemis, and with them, both being hunters, likely, some kind of hunt or a shared interest in the wild and nature would have been where they first established a connection. How long this connection lasted again varies depending on which path we take.

Love Story 1: The Boastful Orion

Artemis and Orion battling with the scorpion

There was a story where the two fell madly in love and would then hunt together, continuously trying to outdo each other. That is until Orion made the mistake of telling Artemis and her mother that he could slay anything that came from the earth.

This only served to anger Gaia, who considered all living things on earth to be her children, and so she took Orion’s boasting as a threat. As you would expect from any mother who thought her children were in danger, Gaia attempted to protect them.

She summoned a giant scorpion which Artemis and Orion would have to fight together. Orion would sadly be killed during this battle; whether it came from the scorpion’s sting or Artemis’s accidental arrow—the love story ends here.

At the request of Artemis, the fallen hunter would be placed in the sky as the constellation Orion and the Scorpion as Scorpio.

Now at this point, some of you may be thinking, ‘this isn’t much of a love story; this just sounds like the many deaths of Orion’, and I guess that in itself is a testament to the difficulties that Artemis faced in the love department.

Love Story 2: Apollo, the Jealous Brother

Artemis and Orion, Apollo the jealous brother

So, let’s continue to the part of the story where Artemis and Orion defeat the giant scorpion and go on to live a long, happy and peaceful life together—except that never happened. Their relationship was never really left uninterrupted.

If Orion wasn’t being killed by Artemis or a giant scorpion, then it would be Artemis’ twin brother Apollo who ensured that the two would never be together.

It’s not easy to pinpoint the exact reason for Apollo’s actions, but jealousy and a dislike for giants may have something to do with it. Apollo could have been jealous for numerous reasons. One of them being the fact that he and his twin sister were very close. They grew up shunned and isolated by the rest of the gods, and together they battled and earned respect and the position they believed they deserved.

There’s no doubt that they were much more potent and a force to be reckoned with when they were together. Apollo would have been shoved to one side with Orion now in the picture, and their time together would have been limited, arguably making Apollo weaker. He also may not have liked the fact that Artemis was willing to give up the vows that she had taken, especially for a giant.

It’s no secret that Zeus and several other deities weren’t a massive fan of the Giants, and Apollo sharing his father’s despise quite possible.

There is also, of course, the idea that Apollo wanted a romantic relationship with Artemis, and that is why he devised the plan to remove Orion from the equation.

One day, Apollo came across Orion when he was bathing in a lake. When standing, the giant was submerged to the point where only his head was visible. Apollo approached Artemis and challenged her to a competition to determine who was superior with the bow. When she asked her brother what exactly she would be aiming at, he pointed across the lake at what seemed like a rock. She accepted her brother’s challenge, pulling back her bow, firing and hitting the target.

Apollo was then overcome with joy, which was quite weird for someone who had just lost. Artemis drew closer to see exactly what she had hit; she realised that it was Orion in the lake. It was Orion’s head that she had hit, and it was her lover Orion who was now dead. Orion would once again become a constellation along with his pack of hunting hounds.

In one story, Apollo instead pointed to Orion’s head which bubbled in the lake and told Artemis it was the man responsible for attacking one of her followers. So Artemis wanting vengeance did not examine the situation; she just aimed and fired.

There is a variant of this story where Artemis enlists the healer god Asclepius, who brings Orion back from their dead. Unfortunately, shortly after, he was struck down by Zeus, who then reminds Asclepius that he must be careful who he brings back from the dead because it blurs the lines between the dead and the living.

The story of Artemis and Orion is rather odd. Not in terms of the story itself but in how many variations there are, which all end with the same outcome.

Regardless of what story you read, there are none where Artemis and Orion just live a happy life together. They all end with the death of Orion.

Conclusion

The only variables that change in this story are how we get to Orion’s death and responsible. There are, however, some meanings or lessons that we can take from this story—one of those being the importance of remaining level-headed and making rational, informed decisions.

We see this with Orion when he makes the bold claim that he can kill everything on the earth, which at the time may have sounded like a way to impress Artemis and her mother, but it also angered Gaia and set in motion a series of events that would lead to him being killed.

This can also be applied to Artemis when she fired the arrow that killed Orion. Whether it was the pride of being better than her brother or the need for revenge, she could have approached a situation in a far more rational and systematic manner, examining her surroundings and making sure she knew what or, in this case, whom she was firing at.

With that being said, emotions such as love do make it difficult for us to remain rational. One idea that always stood out to me in terms of this particular story is that sometimes some things in life are just not meant to be, and given the numerous versions of this story, all end in heartbreak or tragedy. I get the feeling that Artemis and Orion are just one of those many things.

I don’t know where this story may rank for you in terms of Greek mythology’s best love stories because it’s kind of a love story that comes to an end before it began.

Featured image source: MET Museum

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