This painting, by the French artist Nicolas Poussin (c. 1594–1665), illustrates a tale about the Greek mythological figure, Orion. In the prelude to this particular story, Oenopion of Chios had blinded giant Orion after he uninvitedly courted Oenopion’s daughter, Merope. Seeking a way to restore his sight, Orion went to the workshop of Hephaestus, where he found a figure named Cedalion, who knew of a way to heal Orion’s eyes. As the myth goes, if Orion faced the sunrise in just the right way, and at just the right spot, his eyesight would be returned to him. This particular myth was recorded by writers such as Lucian (c. 120-180) and Apollodorus of Kition (aka Pseudo-Apollodorus, c. 1st-2nd century). Apollodorus described the story in this passage from his Library:
“[Orion] went to Chios and wooed Merope, daughter of Oenopion. But Oenopion made him drunk, put out his eyes as he slept, and cast him on the beach. But he went to the smithy of Hephaestus, and snatching up a lad [named Cedalion] set him on his shoulders and bade him lead him to the sunrise. Being come thither he was healed by the sun’s rays, and having recovered his sight he hastened with all speed against Oenopion” (Apollodorus, Library, 1.4).
It is this scene of Cedalion leading Orion toward the sunrise that Nicolas Poussin re-creates in his painting. Following the myth, the character of Cedalion is shown riding atop Orion’s shoulders, steering the blind man safely toward the sunlight. In Poussin’s painting, the spectacle had drawn an audience, for figures on land and in the sky observe Orion’s progress.
Written by C. Keith Hansley