Artemis and Orion

Orion was the handsomest man in the world, a mighty hunter, an untiring dancer, a hearty eater. Many women loved him, and so did the men, because of his generous nature and caring heart. Orion loved the women as if he were their brother, and with the men he formed his most intimate and physically satisfying attachments. Even the gods and goddesses took notice of him, and enjoyed his company. But his favoured fortune led to his early death and legendary destiny. Such is the fate of heroes.

One day while he was hunting in the forest, he came upon a beautiful young woman who was also hunting, with a pack of the finest hounds he had ever seen. Both packs picked up the scent and they hunted together. When the deer was caught and killed, Orion saw that his companion was no mere girl, but the Virgin Goddess Artemis herself. He averted his eyes from her in respect.

"I thank thee for thy reverence, Orion," she said. "But come, let us be companions of the hunt together, thou and I."

Orion looked up at her, and foresaw many days of sport and fun together, and laughed with the pleasure of the thought. "Yes, my lady," he said. "I would be thy companion of the hunt."

"I love thy laugh," the goddess said, and they together dressed the animal and took it back to the city for distribution to the people.

Artemis and Orion passed the summer together. By day they hunted and sported, challenging each other to foot races, archery, and storytelling. In the evenings around the fire they bared their souls and told each other about their lives, their lost loves, their secrets. Orion spoke of the men he had loved and hoped to love again. Artemis spoke of the nymphs who attended her, their love affairs, and her romantic attachments to the goddesses and women of her cities. They became, in short, fast friends.

One night, when Artemis and Orion sat at their fire telling stories, Orion turned to her and said, "Artemis, my friend, my most beautiful crescent moon, I give thanks to the Fates that we are so well met. The love we share is as valuable as my life, and I am a better man for knowing you."

"I treasure our friendship also, Orion. Thou art a fine man and I bless our time together."

They shared an embrace. Then Orion jumped up and danced in celebration around the fire. Artemis followed him, and their shouts and laughter rang through the dark forest.

The next day, Apollo, the brother of Artemis, was walking through the forest. He smelled a low-burning campfire, and found the glade where Orion and Artemis lay still asleep. He saw and appreciated the beautiful Orion, but grew angry when he saw that Artemis lay with him. He assumed that Artemis also appreciated Orion in the masculine manner he himself did, and had compromised her virginity, her separateness from the sexuality of men. But he concealed his anger, put on a mask of friendliness, and whistled a bright tune until the two friends awoke. Seeing who was making the noise, they invited him to breakfast.

Later in the morning, Artemis attended to her priestesses elsewhere, and left her brother and friend to amuse themselves together.

Now Apollo is very beautiful; he is the sun; he is a god selected to sit among the twelve Olympians. He is vain, yet kind; wise, yet full of fun. Orion was immediately captivated by him, and naturally so. Apollo's heart was also caught by Orion's friendly company and gentle yet thoroughly masculine manner. Apollo took as his lovers many women and goddesses, and also men and gods. Unlike Orion, he was secretive about those male assignations, and would deny them if questioned about their exact nature.

But the attraction between Apollo and Orion took its natural course, and before the end of the afternoon the man and god had enjoyed together all the pleasures of manhood, to their mutual satisfaction. As the sun set they lay together in tender friendship murmuring in quiet conversation. Orion mentioned his happy anticipation of the return of Artemis and how the three of them might now be friends. Apollo stiffened in anger at the mention of his sister's name, for he had forgotten his mis-informed but potent jealousy.

"What incurs thine anger, my lord?" asked Orion.

"I'm surprised you would question my apprehension at the arrival of another who enjoys your favors."

Orion laughed before he could think not to. "My favors?" he exclaimed. "But Artemis is a chaste goddess. She has not known me, nor any man. We are companions, but of the hunt and the forest, not any bed or bower. Besides, I am a lover of men'as thou art."

Apollo saw the truth in what Orion said. He did not relish realizing his mistake, and he lashed out at Orion.

"You insult me--mortal," Apollo said, standing up, his face a blaze of wrath. Orion cowered at his feet, an unlikely posture for such a noble man, but he thought it prudent in the face of this capricious god. Apollo picked up Orion's head by his hair and bellowed into his face, "I am not a lover of men--like you," and he spat out the last phrase in disgust. "I take women as my lovers, as nature intended. You are nothing but a boy, to sport with."

"My lord, I did not intend any insult--how could I after the joy we have known this same day?" But Apollo did not answer, turned, and strode away without a backward glance.

Hours after Apollo left him, Orion was found by Artemis in the dark, weeping quietly. She comforted him, and hearing his story, took him to his house, and left him alone, as was his wish. She returned to her house in the forest.

During the night, a terrible dream possessed Orion. He dreamed that a scorpion rose up from the forest floor and nearly killed him before he could defend himself. He did not know it, but it was Apollo who sent this scorpion. He dreamed he could not strike through the scorpion's armor, no matter how powerful or direct his thrust. He fought the scorpion in his dream the night through, and just before he awoke, the scorpion had almost stung him directly in his heart.

He woke at dawn, drenched with sweat, and relieved that the scorpion was only a dream, for he had never met a beast he could not kill. He went out, hoping to meet Artemis and tell her of his dream, but outside his door waited the giant scorpion from his dream, more terrible in reality than even in his mind. He fought it valiantly, with arrows and his sword, but as in the dream, he could not pierce its armor. The scorpion backed him to the sea, and Orion plunged in, hoping he could swim away from it.

Meanwhile, Apollo visited his sister. She angrily told him she disapproved of his treatment of her friend. He mildly begged her to hold her tongue, for something far worse was in need of her vengeance and loyalty. He said an evil man, Candaon, had the night previous attacked and raped Opos, one of her hyperborean priestesses, and was right now swimming to a distant island, hoping to escape the wrath of Artemis.

No one escapes the vengeance of Artemis when one of her own has been ravaged. Without even pausing to first comfort Opos, she grabbed her quiver and sped down to the sea. Apollo followed her, and pointed out the speck in the distance that was Orion's head, still putting distance between himself and the scorpion. "There he is," Apollo said, standing behind her so his face could not betray his treachery. Artemis loosed her arrow with unerring aim and slew her friend. When he saw his plan had succeeded, Apollo ran away. Artemis went back to the forest and found Opos who supposedly had been raped. Opos was unharmed, and knew nothing of an attack. When Artemis saw the girl was well, she soon deduced the truth. She retrieved Orion's body, but even Asclepius could not revive him, though he applied drops of the gorgon's blood to the lifeless lips of Artemis's true friend. Orion's spirit had already descended to Asphodel Fields.

Artemis placed Orion's body among the stars as a tribute to the friendship they once shared, a reminder to all mortals that men and women enjoy friendships of every variety and degree. The scorpion she killed, and set it also in the sky, behind Orion, as a warning to everyone under heaven of the treachery of those who are false to their lovers and false to themselves.

This story is descended from the tale as told by Robert Graves.