Night Sky Gaze
Ophiuchus

Stories Behind Famous Constellations

If you’re an avid stargazer, you’re certainly interested in the mythology that surrounds the stars above. After all, for ancient civilizations, stargazing was as much a fun pastime as a way to remember myths and legends. Let’s look at some of the interesting stories surrounding famous constellations!

Orion

Orion was a giant and a huntsman, though accounts of his deeds and his death vary each time they’re told in antiquity. Odysseus sees the shade of Orion in the Underworld in The Odyssey, and some stories tell of Orion’s death at the hands of Scorpio (yes, like the constellation).

What is known about Orion, however, is that he was respected as a hero (in the classical Greek sense) in parts of Boeotia. In mythology, it is stated that he is somehow responsible for the current shape of the Strait of Sicily as well.

Scorpio

Speaking of the monstrous constellation Scorpio, or Scorpius, it has some fascinating myths surrounding it. In one legend, the monster was sent by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, to slay Orion for his pride. The beast was so mighty that it caught the attention of Zeus, who raised the creature to the heavens and laid him to rest in the stars.

Another tale involving the scorpion is that of Phaeton, son of Helios, who asks his father to drive the celestial chariot carrying the sun across the sky. Phaeton loses control of the horse that drags the chariot, going too high and cooling the earth. He encounters Scorpio in the heavens, who raises his stinger before Phaeton drops back to earth in a panic.

Ophiuchus

The massive constellation Ophiuchus straddles the Celestial equator between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Ironically, given the precession of the equinoxes, Ophiuchus now encompasses most of the portion of sky that corresponds to the season of Sagittarius.

Mythologically, the figure seen tangling with a snake in some interpretations of the constellation was considered by the ancient Greeks to be Apollo. In a famous tale, the god Apollo wrestles a giant snake on his way to speak with the oracle at Delphi.

Cameron Norris