A retelling by J. Kearns
Looking over the sea at night, where water ends and sky begins can be difficult to tell, the waters of the ocean as dark as the heavens and seeming as mysteriously, unfathomably deep to land-dwellers.
Some say the mother of burly Mountain Man, Orion, was the great earth herself, Gaia, and his father was Atlas whose feet are planted on the floor of the deepest ocean canyon, the highest heavens weighing upon his broad, muscle-knotted shoulders. Then others say Orion's mother was one of the three snake-haired Terrors, the Gorgon Euryali, Wide-ranging One of the wide threshing floor, or perhaps, again, Gaia, and his father the great ruling spirit of the ocean, Poseidon, Lord of the Goddess. Whoever Mountain Man's parents, their son was
a giant so tall that when he waded in the ocean, even where the waters were at their deepest, his head could crest their surface in calm and storm, his thick, unruly mountain man beard floating like seaweed in the salty foam.
Mountain Man was born long ago. When it was cold, during a time of great glaciers when ice blanketed the northern lands, he was already walking the earth. His chest, back and shoulders were covered with thick hair, as were his arms and legs. The hair on his head was long and tangled. He was a brother to the wild animals, drinking water from the springs alongside them, eating alongside them. They had no fear of him. They never fled from him.
Mountain Man was so huge and hairy that when the earth began to warm, the ice melting and flowers and plants appearing where none had been before, some humans happened upon him and believing the hair on his chest was grain began to cut it. Then Orion, who had been napping, moved and the threshers fell in terror. "This is a giant," they said, and remembering the old tales of the Mountain Man, they went away to discuss the problem of the Mountain Man, for though animals had no fear of him, people did.
"His might demands our respect," they said. "But his size and wildness make him a dangerous threat when going amongst humans. He must be civilized. He will destroy us otherwise."
So, Mountain Man was married to Side, a mortal woman esteemed powerful enough, more than attractive enough to introduce Mountain Man to the world of human affairs. Side was versed in all the secret rites and prayers of men, and when Side was finished with him, Mountain Man was no longer Mountain Man, but Orion, and the meaning of his name and who he was became more distant to the civilized world with each passing year. When he attempted to return to the world of his wild animal brothers, they fled from him now, saying, "He is no longer one of us." Orion had the perfume of Side and the scent of civilization on him. He was of both realms now, yet did not fully belong to either. So, with his knowledge of the wild, Orion became a great hunter who would be praised by men. He wore about his waist a hunter's belt which had, at its middle and to either side, three fine decorative pieces of metalwork which shone like fire at night and distinguished Orion's belt from all others. On his belt was hung his hunting dagger, the metal of which now shines in the sky as the Orion Nebula. His favorite assistants in the hunt were his two dogs, the foremost called Sirius, who always followed him, his constant companions.
His two dogs following after him, Orion stepped into the ocean and waded the waters to Chios, that
Greek island in the Aegean sea off the western coast of Turkey where dwelt a famous school of epic poets, home of Homer. The ruler at the time was Oinopoionas, the Wine-maker, grandson of King Minos of Crete by his daughter Ariadne and Dionysus.
From the distance, Oinopoionas saw Orion coming, as did the eloquent Merope in her bee-mask, protector of the bee hive, performing her bear dance They watched from the palace at Hyria, the beehive, Orion arrive from his homeland of Hyria at Boeotia. And perhaps it was this dance that attracted Orion, the great hunter. For as a great hunter he walked in the spirit of the great huntress, Artemis, the she-bear. Others say that Orion came to Chios, promised Merope in marriage if he, the tamed Mountain Man, would free the island of its wild beasts. Others say he came to Chios and it was then the promise of Merope in marriage was made, on the stipulation he would rid the island of its wild beasts, a delaying ruse. But I believe the dance of bears and bees attracted him. That he was called from Hyria to Hyria by the bees' dance.
Who best to free Chios of its beasts than Orion, once so intimate with their natures that he ate and drank with them. Who best to free Chios of its beasts than Orion, civilized, who retained knowledge of their natures, but from whom the beasts now fled even as he stepped ashore, his dogs following, rain at their heels. Ruthless, his eye on Merope, during the day he pursued the beasts one after another, felling them, heaping mounds of pelts at the feet of Oinopoionas. At night, Oinopoionas plied Orion with the thick intoxicating honey-wine of Chios. Seeming unwilling to permit Orion the promised Merope, the wine-maker said, "There are yet more beasts in the hills, Orion. You say you have exterminated them all, but either you lie or you are unaware of the wolves, the lions, the bears who still lurk there."
Drunk, Orion forced himself into Merope's chamber. In the morning, drunk, he sank into a deep stupor, a sleep so deep he was a breath away from death.
When Orion awoke, the world was still dark. He heard the sound of the sea, felt the waves lapping at the soles of his feet, the sand a gritty bed. He was on the seashore, not in the palace. He felt the sun's radiance but when he opened his eyes he was unable to see it. Putting his hands to his eyes, he found his eye sockets were empty.
Head buzzing with the hangover of the honey-wine with which he'd been intoxicated, Orion heard Merope whisper, "Mountain Man, the wine-maker has done this to you, which is your price for exacting the skins of all the wild beasts of Chios and daring to enter my chamber. If you wish your sight to be restored, travel to the east, towards Helius at the point where he, the sun, first rises from the ocean. When his first rays bathe your empty eye-sockets, you will see once again."
Orion reached out to seize Merope, but where his hand fell she wasn't. Ill, he lay a long while. Finally, he slowly raised himself from the seashore, where he'd been cast from the palace. He stepped into the ocean. It was spring, the safe season of sailing, and the mariners marveled at the Mountain Man striding sightless through the ocean.
Orion followed what he could hear, and what he could hear was the compelling hammer of Hephaestus, chang, chang, chang chang, the blacksmith striking the instrument against his anvil. Arriving at Lemnos, where Hephaestus had landed when cast out of Olympus, he went down into the underground chamber where the blacksmith labored around the clock, his hammer evolving ingenious works out of the metals of the earth.
Orion was dripping wet with the ocean, then bathed in sweat from the exhertions of the cavern in its extreme heat.
"What do you seek," Hephaestus asked.
"Helios, at the world's end where his light rises from the ocean," Orion replied.
"What guided you here?" Hephaestus inquired.
"The ringing of your hammer guided me here," Orion answered.
Hephaestus called his assistant Cedalion and placed him on Orion's shoulders. The little man riding atop the great one, together they climbed out of Hephaestus' forge where they shivered terribly in the cool air. "This way," Cedalion said, urging Orion on with his knees as one would a horse, and Orion obeyed, wading back out into the deep ocean.
On they went, ever East, to Colchis, which Herodotus believed a colony founded in ancient times by the Egyptians. And Orion never doubted for an instant his sight would be returned to him once he reached the world's end.
At Colchis, slept Helios nightly in the house of Aietes, until in the morning awakened by his sister Eos. She was lifting her head from her pillow when she was greeted by a strange sight, a giant head wading through the waters, and above this a man. "Look, Helios," she said, rousing her brother. As Helios raised his eyes, his notice falling upon Orion, under that primal light, sight was restored to Orion's empty eye sockets. Exhausted from his journey, wooed by Eos who had fallen in love with him, Orion remained in the athlete's house all summer with the plan of regaining his strength. But waking each morning under Eos' care, in the peculiar light of the dawn his new eyes observed his skin becoming more and more transparent.
It was time. Orion returned to Chios. He sought vengeance for the journey exacted on him by Oinopoionas, that's what most say. However, if Mountain Man had been able to find Helios, he hadn't the fortune to discover the hiding place of the wine-maker, who had secreted himself with his mead vats deep in an underground chamber made for him by Hephaestus. Orion reasoned wrongly that Oinopoionas, if he couldn't be found at Chios, must be at Crete, in the palace of his grandfather. Again, he stepped into the water.
Winter was ending when the Mountain Man arrived at Crete, where also dwelt Artemis, the divine mistress of animals, the many-breasted one.
Still believing himself protected by Eos, though every morning he saw with her his skin became more transparent, Orion had traveled with her to Crete. The Mountain Man who had gathered for Oinopoionas the skins of the beasts of Chios, was growing faint, but he felt revived in the presence of Artemis, who said to him, "Come, let us hunt together, you and I, the Mistress of Animals and Orion, the Mountain Man, their Master."
They would hunt at Delos, the place where things will be made clear, seat of the great oracle of Apollo, Artemis' brother.
A last time, Mountain Man entered the waters, still with Eos. They were not alone. A beast, unlike any the Mountain Man had before confronted, pursued him, conjured by Gaia at Apollo's urging, lest Artemis become enthralled with Orion as had Eos, and be seduced by him. High into the sky its tail rose and curled, a death-dealing sting at its tip. A scorpion. Orion tried his arrows, his club, every means at his disposal, but the creature defied him, its thick armor impervious to assault.
"I am master of the beasts," Orion shouted.
The scorpion behaved as though it had never heard of the great hunter from whom all wild things fled. It pursued, and Orion fled before it toward Delos.
On the beach at Delos, Apollo, the destroyer of the Python, by which act he gained his oracular powers, stood beside Artemis, waiting. "Do you see that object on the sea's horizon?" he asked his sister. "Over there by Ortygia, the island of Calypso, the Concealer?"
"I do," replied Artemis.
"That is the head of Candaon, who has just seduced one of your sacred North Wind priestesses, your mountain dedicant, Opos. I wonder if you can meet the challenge of striking it from here."
Now, Artemis should have known that Candaon was the Boeotian name for Orion. But this is how the story goes, that she didn't recognize the name as belonging to the Mountain Man, and raising her bow, took aim and fired three arrows.
Orion dead, his shade descended, and Artemis placed his image in the sky so that he may be remembered, forever following the hare and the bull in hunt, forever followed by his faithful dogs, and Scorpion.
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Retelling by j. Kearns based on Robert Graves and Bullfinch. ©
Copyright 2004 j Kearns
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