Orion mythology connects with the Orion fountain of Messina, a magnificent monument, with several superimposed orders, finely carved in white marble. The fountain is placed in the Cathedral Square of Messina near the beautiful bell tower with the biggest astronomical clock in the world. But the Orion mythology is also linked to the mythological foundation of the city of Messina: if you want to know how the Orion myth intertwines with Messina, then keep on reading!
Orion mythology: a haughty and skilful hunter
The Orion mythology consists of different versions. One of them tells that Zeus, to compensate a poor childless farmer for his hospitality, suggested him bury a heifer skin in the garden in front of the house. After a few months, the farmer noticed that the earth, at that point, appeared swollen and loose. He pulled out the skin and he found a child inside to whom he gave the name of Orion. Becoming large and gigantic, Orion became a formidable hunter (and it is from here that derives the alternative name of the Orion constellation: the Hunter constellation).
One day, while he was hunting with his dog Sirius, he met the beautiful Artemis, goddess of the hunt, surrounded by her nymphs on his own path. However, being proud and proud, Orion did not step aside from her or greet her. His action aroused disappointment in the virgin hunters and Artemis herself resented so much that she immediately thought of her revenge.
The Orion mythology also tells us about how much Orion loved women: he fell in love not only with Merope, but also with a sweet and solitary goddess, the beautiful pink-coloured Eos, the Aurora, who had a dwelling on the edge of the horizon, where the sea and the sky they embrace and merge. Every morning at dawn, Orion used to plunge into the sea and swam vigorously to reach his Eos who was not insensitive to his amorous offers. Artemis, informed by the gods, felt something lacerating her heart. One day, according to Orion mythology, while she was walking on the beach with her brother Apollo, she saw a black dot far away in the sea.
Apollo, almost joking about her, stung her into her pride, and challenged her to prove her infallible aim, inviting her to hit with an arrow that little dot that floated alone on the horizon. The goddess drew her bow and shot a dart. The javelin made its way quickly and reached its target. Shortly afterwards the waves of the sea pushed the examining body of Orion on the shore, pierced by the arrow of Artemis. According to this version of the Orion myth, the dog Sirius howled desperately next to his dead owner and Zeus, merciful, turned them into two constellations: the Canis Major and Orion constellation.
Orion myth: a second version
A second version of the Orion mythology, however, wants him to be the giant son of Neptune and Brilla of Minos, educated by Atlas who made him an expert hunter and an excellent navigator. In his prolonged hunts he was accompanied by a lively barking dog named Sirius and with him, skilfully chased deer and roe deer without ever stopping.
One day, however, he set out to chase the daughters of Atlas himself, the seven beautiful but timid Pleiads. The seven sisters invoked Zeus to steal them from Orion’s senseless darts, so the god turned them into stars. The wrath of Atlas was terrible, but in vain he asked the father of the gods for the head of Orion. To escape his ire of him, Orion went around the world and, after visiting some lands of the Mediterranean, he went to Libya and Greece, where he learned the knowledge of celestial movements and building construction techniques, thus becoming a great architect.
Then, Diana wanted him as the keeper of her hunting temple (it stood in Messina, near the current church of S. Maria della Grotta) and, perhaps, also as her closest friend. According to Orion mythology, the understanding between the two did not last long. Bumping into the goddess, perhaps for having challenged and won her at the discus game or for having betrayed her at the game of love, he was killed by the bite of a scorpion.
Orion constellation: the brightest of the sky
After his death, the gods took pity on him and interceded with Zeus who changed him into a celestial constellation, the famous Orion constellation (or the Hunter constellation). Next to the Orion constellation, we find the Canis Major constellation (his dog Sirius), and the constellation of the Lepus. We see Orion towards dawn, chasing the seven shy Pleiades in the sky, that are part of the Taurus constellation -just near Orion- the first cause of his adventures, forcing them with his bright light to immerse themselves in the sea.
Orion is in turn chased by the Scorpius constellation, which however can’t reach Orion because he sets in the West when the Scorpius rises in the East. Thanks to its position, close to the celestial equator, the Orion constellation is noticeable from all over the world, and it is one of the brightest of the sky, with its two biggest and brightest stars, Rigel and Betelgeuse.
According to the oral tradition and mythology, the protagonist of the Orion myth was also the architect who built Messina, the ancient Zancle. He came to the shores of the Strait at the invitation of King Zanclo (or his successor) and built a large palace for him, a beautiful temple dedicated to his own father Neptune, several fortresses, the port and also the extreme north-eastern point of Sicily, Cape Peloro.
The connection between the city of Messina and its mythological founder is so deep and mysterious that is strengthened by the fact that on 22nd December, the traditional date of the foundation of the city, just during the winter solstice, the Lepus and the Orion constellation perfectly combines with the coordinates of Messina, aligning with Cape Peloro, the Peloritani Mounts and the port.
The Orion fountain, a monument to a starry architect
The Orion fountain of Messina was built to celebrate the inauguration of the first aqueduct in the city. The sculpture was one of Michelangelo’s best disciples, the great Giovanni Angelo da Montorsoli, who also built the magnificent Neptune fountain of Messina – the originals are kept in the Regional Museum of Messina-, and whose intent was now to represent in the new fountain the mythological founder of Zancle.
The work was completed in just four years and was inaugurated in 1553. In addition, there was the collaboration of the literary genius Francesco Maurolico and of the hydraulic engineer Francesco La Cameola, who built the water pipe. All the allegorical figures represent a part of Orion mythology.
Orion fountain can be considered one of the most perfect artistic monuments ever made, and it was judged as the most beautiful fountain of the Renaissance in Italy. It is articulated on a twelve-sided polygonal base on which four basins dominate into which, from four amphorae, four reclining statues depicting the Nile, Tiber, Ebro and Camaro rivers pour water. Then there is a bas-relief figure that symbolizes Messina as it invites the Camaro stream to enter the city no longer as a devastating force, but as a beneficial dispenser of drinking water.
On the lower ring, next to each tank, there are eight sea monsters carved out of black stone. Various allegorical motifs are carved almost everywhere and, wisely distributed, give the Orion fountain a stylistic harmony of the highest artistic value. From the centre of the basin, a group of four Tritons-Caryatids forms the basis of the first cup, decorated with Renaissance motifs and hydrophor Jellyfish. The second cup is held by four graceful Naiads.
Higher up, four stupendous points astride dolphins support a hemisphere above which, in triumphal exultation, Orion stands, holding with his left hand a shield in which stands the emblem of Messina. His right arm is raised in mid-air and with his hand closed he seems to be holding a spear in the act of hitting or hurling it towards an imaginary prey. At his feet the dog, Sirius sniffs the air.
In 1908 the sculpture was damaged but was later recovered. Today the Orion fountain is admired by many visitors during walking tours of Messina, in its strategic location, scenically placed at the end of the historic Via I Settembre, in the cathedral square, close to the bell tower.