The planets in our solar system are named after Greek and Roman gods, but they are not the only mythologies hidden away in the cosmos. Hanging, twinkling in the sky are also the stories of three great Greek Heroes – Orion, Perseus and Jason.
Orion was a fabled hunter among the Greeks. He boasted that he could rid the Earth of all its wild animals, such was his skill. His claims angered the Goddess of the Earth, Gaia. In retaliation, she sent a scorpion to fight and kill Orion. He tried with all his might to battle the scorpion but his weapons would not pierce its thick armour.
To escape the scorpion, Orion jumped into the sea. However, the Gods were not satisfied. Apollo the sun god, dared Artemis that she would be unable to shoot the small black object floating in the sea. Because her twin brother had told her it was a dangerous villain, she agreed to shoot it. When she swam out to retrieve the target, she saw that it was in fact her friend, Orion.
Artemis begged the gods to bring him back to life but they refused and so she hung his picture in the night sky so that she could always see him.
His image can now be seen in the winter sky, accompanied by his trusty bow and hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor trailing behind him.
Perseus was the son of Jupiter and Danae. He is best known as the slayer of the gorgon Medusa. A hideous creature with snakes for hair and eyes that could turn a man to stone.
In order to slay the beast, Perseus asked for the help of Pluto, Minerva and Mercury. Pluto lent him his helmet of invisibility, Minerva her shield and Mercury his winged sandals. With the use of these mythical tools, Perseus was able to get close enough to the Gorgon to kill her without being detected. He used the shield to guide him without directly looking at her, and guide his killing blow.
The story goes that as he hovered above the Libyan desert the drops of blood falling from Medusa’s head turned to snakes as they hit the sand.
He was very tired on his return and wanted to rest in the land of Atlas at the ends of the Earth. Atlas however, tried to turn Perseus away with his great might. Infuriated by this Perseus showed the giant the head of Medusa, turning Atlas into a mountain so big that the sky rested upon his shoulders.
Perseus flew on and far below saw the beautiful maiden Andromeda, who was being sacrificed on the rocky shore to a sea monster. He promptly fell in love with her, used the head to kill the monster and married the princess.
When he died, he was immortalised in the stars next to his love Andromeda, with a sword in one hand and Medusa’s head in the other. The gorgon’s eye is shown by the sat Algol, which means Demon Star in Arabic.
Though there is technically no constellation for the Greek Hero Jason, the one for his ship is one of the largest in the night sky. The Argo Navis constellation was split into three for modern-day constellations – Carina, Puppis and Vela – when Ptolemy coined it as the Argo in the 2nd Century it was of a magnificent scale.
Jason was the captain of the great ship Argo and its crew, the Argonauts, with whom he went on the quest to find the golden fleece. He was married to the sorceress Medea and the great-grandson of Hermes on his mother’s side.
The quest for the Golden Fleece led Jason and his crew through many treacherous obstacles. The first was the Isle of Lemnos, which was inhabited by a race of women who had killed all the men of their Island.
Next came the giants of the Bear Mountain and Phineus and the Harpies. Phineus was a king who was being punished by Zeus, who sent harpies to steal his food. Jason fought off these bird-women and in return was told how to pass through the Symplegades. The Symplegades were huge clashing rocks that were sure to sink any ship that neared them. The king Phineas told Jason to release a dove when he got to the rocks and if it made it through so would the Argo. The dove made it through and so the rocks fused and the ship could pass peacefully through and the rocks would never wreck another ship.
They finally arrive in Colchis and claim the Golden Fleece by completing three tasks: plow a field with a fire-breathing Ox, defeat a skeleton army and slay a dragon.
But their return journey was also fraught with peril; storms, sirens and the bronze statue Talos all stood in the way of Jason and his return.
When Jason got back to Corinth he became engaged to the King’s daughter. Medea angered by this sent a dress to the bride-to-be which burned her and her father to death when he tried to help her get it off. Medea fled to Athens in a chariot of Dragons which had been sent by her grandfather, the sun god Helios.
Because he had broken his vow to Medea, Jason lost favour with Hera and died unhappy and alone. He was sleeping under the stern of the Argo when the rotten wood collapsed and killed him. But his legacy lives on in the night sky.