You may be wondering why Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, would kill Orion, her lover and like-minded mighty hunter. The answer may surprise you!
Why did Artemis kill Orion? The god Apollo tricked Artemis into shooting an arrow at a man trying to swim away and escape after committing a crime. The man turned out to be Orion swimming out at sea, fleeing from a giant scorpion that Apollo sent after him. Considering Artemis never missed a shot, she effortlessly shot and killed her lover. Apollo knew that the far away target was actually Orion in the distance. Apollo also knew Artemis would never say no to a challenge.
Orion was the son of the god Poseidon and the human Euryale. Being a handsome demigod, many women and goddesses loved Orion – and Artemis would be no exception. But something (or someone) would get in the way of the hunters’ love – Apollo, god of the Sun and Artemis’ twin brother. Apollo was profoundly jealous once he learned of Artemis and Orion’s relationship. In response, Apollo sent a giant scorpion to attack Orion. While Orion was escaping the scorpion he jumped into the sea to swim far away into safety, not knowing this would be his doom.
What Happened Between Artemis and Orion?
Let’s back up – who is Artemis? Also known as Diana in Roman mythology, Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto. While Artemis is most famously known as the goddess of the hunt illustrated by ancient depictions of her touting a bow and arrow, she was also the goddess of the moon and wilderness. From a very young age, she could be seen running through the fields of Arcadia.
She was also highly praised for her purity as the goddess of virginity and vowed to remain a pure maiden. In fact, she often punished any man who approached her or her gaggle of nymphs with lust. There was a story amidst the mortals that said a man once wandered into
her forest and found her bathing in the stream. She flicked some water on him and he turned into a stag. Her flock of doves then chased after him and tore him into pieces. For this reason, no one dared enter her forest – except for Orion.
Orion heard that the best catch was in Artemis’ forest, and even though he had heard the stories he disregarded them and persisted on his hunt. As he walked through, he saw something white bustling in the bushes. Thinking it was birds, Orion sent his dogs after the commotion.
But as they emerged from the bushes he realized it was the nymphs of the Artemis. Even though he called his dogs off, they continued to chase and nip at the heels of the nymphs. Artemis heard the nymphs screaming in terror and asked Zeus for help. Zeus looked down and turned the seven nymphs into seven doves who soared high into the sky and then transformed into a cluster of stars. These stars would be known as the constellation, Pleiades – the Seven Sisters.
Artemis was furious as she approached the remorseful Orion with her bow and arrow drawn. He averted his gaze and dropped to his knees as a sign of respect. But as she gazed upon his soft features and handsome face, she lowered her weapon. Instead, she asked him to join her in the hunt. And so he did. They spent the days running through the forests, hunting, and gathering. At night they would share stories around the fire about their triumphs and tribulations. They would dance and sing, laugh and cry. Some would even argue that they fell in love, even though there is no evidence that Artemis broke her vow to her maidenhood. One morning, Apollo was walking through the forest when he saw a low-burning fire. He found his sister, Artemis sleeping in the arms of Orion. Apollo was immediately filled with rage and jealousy at the thought of Artemis loving a mortal.
That night, Orion had a nightmare that a giant scorpion was trying to kill him. No matter how hard he stabbed at the scorpion with his sword, the blade would not pierce the monster’s shell. Just as the scorpion lunged its tail to pierce Orion in the chest. He awoke drenched in sweat. Grateful that it was all a dream, he got up and searched for Artemis. But to his dismay, he saw the giant scorpion from his dream
in the flesh. Just like the dream, as hard as he tried he could not pierce the scorpion’s armor. He ran away while dodging the scorpion’s tail
until he reached the ocean’s edge. He decided to jump in and swim as fast and as far as he could.
Apollo watched the entire episode from a high tower. Enraged at the thought that Orion just might escape the deadly scorpion, Apollo found
Artemis and told her that a man had broken into the high temple and attempted to attack a high priestess. Apollo told Artemis that this man
was now swimming away trying to escape. Artemis grabbed her bow and arrow and raced to the beach to get a better shot. Apollo identified
the target way out along the horizon and Artemis let her arrow loose. As soon as she saw the smug look upon her brother’s face, she knew who she had killed.
What is the Relationship Between Artemis and Apollo?
Directly after her birth, Artemis helped her own mother deliver her twin brother, Apollo. God of the sun, poetry, music, archery, prophecy, and healing. While Artemis quickly became the best hunter in the land, Apollo became insistently jealous. He would often break her bow in two and trip her as she ran. When Artemis was the right age, she begged her father Zeus to allow her to live in the forests and mountains. He agreed and gifted her seven nymphs to keep her company and look after her. In no time, she would be able to catch and hunt anything she sought after – never missing a target.
So maybe you’re thinking, Apollo was just being an overprotective brother? It seems like that’s what siblings do for each other! Another myth tells the tale of Apollo’s lover, Coronis, deserting him for another love. So big sis Artemis killed Coronis with her arrows. But it can also be argued that it was all jealousy – the same jealousy that originated during their childhood when Artemis would surpass Apollo in hunting skills.
What Happened to Orion?
After Artemis fatally shot her new love, she swam out to sea in hopes to save him. But she was too late, and there was nothing she or any of the gods could do to bring him back. So she carried him ashore and gathered him into her moon chariot. She rode into the night sky and placed him amongst the stars as a tribute to their love. She also killed the scorpion and placed it next to Orion to remind us of what happens to those who are subject to deception and jealousy. This is where we get one of the most recognizable constellations that can be seen throughout the world.
Is this the Only Interpretation of the Myth?
There are many different versions of this myth. In some versions, they are romantic partners, in others they are just friends. Another common interpretation of the story involves Orion purposely pursuing and attacking Artemis’ nymphs, so Artemis kills him intentionally. Another version insists that the scorpion that Apollo sent killed Orion on the first try. Whatever the case, the myth serves as an important lesson regarding jealousy and rash decisions.