Orion is both a figure in Greek mythology as well as an easily seen constellation in the winter sky. As a constellation, Orion is a hunter, with his club, shield, and sword at the ready.
There are a number of variant myths that reference Orion, and they cannot all be smoothly connected. Following one trail, he is the son of the god Poseidon and the Gorgon Euryale, with the power to walk on the surface of the sea. He was engaged to Merope, but blinded by her father for consummating their union prior to the marriage ceremony. Eventually healed by Helios, the sun god, Orion journeyed to Crete, where he met the goddess of the hunt, Artemis.
Because Orion gave Artemis her due, they hunted happily together for a time. From this point the story diverges. Either Orion threatened to kill every creature and Mother Earth, not being happy with that outcome, sent a Scorpion to kill him or Apollo became jealous of his sister’s pleasure in this mortal’s company and tricked her into shooting him.
How he got to be a constellation is a bit more certain. Orion’s placement in the sky is partly explained by a myth concerning his death. It seems that Orion was killed by a Scorpion, and Aesculapius, a doctor who had never lost a patient, tried to revive him. Hades, worried that if people were continually revived he would have no one to rule over, got Zeus to intervene, rather heavy-handedly, with a thunderbolt, killing the doctor. Because of his merits, however, Aesculapius was made into a constellation, along with the Scorpion. But to prevent trouble in the heavens, they were placed as far away from Orion as possible so that Orion and the Scorpion would never meet again.
Another Orion myth from Hesiod’s Works and Days tells it differently. It says that Orion is immortalized in the sky chasing the Pleiades, seven sisters who appear as stars in the shoulder of Taurus, and that Canis Major and Canis Minor are his hunting dogs.
The constellation of Orion has several very bright stars that are among the best recognized in the sky. Rigel, a blue-white supergiant 40,000–50,000 times brighter than the sun, forms Orion’s right foot, and Rigel, in fact, means “foot” in Arabic. Betelgeuse, a name derived by a series of scholarly errors, is the red supergiant that makes up one of Orion’s shoulders. It is about 13,000 times brighter than the sun, and its diameter is about 500 times larger as well. Bellatrix, a name perhaps better known from the Harry Potter books than from astronomical study, is the star that forms Orion’s other shoulder. It is a bluish-white giant, and also one of the most prominent stars in the night sky.