Return to home pageImages of the Odyssey

Given that it's been around for nearly three thousand years, it's not surprising that a lot of artists have taken a shot at doing images from Homer's Odyssey. I've found quite a few images of scenes from it and its prequel, the Iliad. Here are a few. Some of my own favourites were sample covers by Branko Bistrovic, the artist who did the cover for Torn from Troy. Some of these are from later in the Odyssey. You'll recognize them once you read The Sea God's Curse.

Ulysses in the Cave of Polyphemus.
Painted around 1630 by Jordaens, this one is interesting because the Cyclops (Polyphemus) is so tiny! Sure, he's twice their size, but Odysseus has twelve men with him. Surely Odysseus (or Ulysses, as the Romans called him) could have taken down a Cyclops this small. Jordaens struggled with the same problem I did, which is that Homer isn't too consistent about the Cyclops's height. At least he got the sheep the right size.
Procession of the Trojan Horse
I think Tiepolo's gotten the Trojan Horse just about right. If don't know the story you'll get a dramatic retelling in The Sea God's Curse. I won't give it away now, except to remark that in order for it to be a gift, it would have had to look incredible. The standard shots you see of these clapped-together horse statues that look like they were made with shoe boxes and toilet paper rolls (okay, really big ones) wouldn't fool a moron, far less the Trojans. Tiepolo's horse has such perfect curves that you almost expect it to gallop away. Now that's a gift that might appease the gods.
Into the Eye of the Sleeping Beast
This is an image that Branko Bistrovic, who did the cover for Torn from Troy, provided as one of several possible covers. Even unfinished, it grabs your eye and holds on. Just as the actual cover does, this image manages to capture the last calm moment before utter violence breaks loose. Look closely at what's reflected in the eyeball.
Odysseus and the Sirens H.J. Draper painted this in 1909. It's a popular and romantic image of the Sirens (you'll meet them in The Sea God's Curse), but quite wrong. The Sirens don't swim out, nor do they fly (as portrayed in other pictures, including a famous painted Greek vase on which one looks like a diving German Stuka). They sit in their meadow and sing - surrounded by the rotting corpses of men who have succumbed to them. The Odyssey doesn't say anything about them being almost naked either, but we do know that their appeal comes entirely from their song, not their beauty. Draper undoubtedly knew all this; he just figured it made a better picture that way. And he's done a great job capturing the madness in Odysseus's face as he hears their song, along with the "sure, whatever" apathy of his rowers, who don't.
Now that I look at it again, the woman just coming out of the water appears to be fish from the waist down. I think Draper's suggesting that they can switch at will, like some mermaids.
Laocoon and his two sons
This has got to be the most poignant sculpture I've ever seen. It's in the Vatican museum, lumped into a corner of a courtyard overflowing with at least 30 other sculptures. Thought to have been carved around the 1st century BC by three Greek sculptors from Rhodes, It's a sculpture of a man and his two young sons being strangled by serpents. But even without knowing the story, the anguish in the man's face, the terror in the boys', the fluid, living motion of the snakes, has to make your breath catch. The man is Laocoon (lay-OCK-owe-on, four syllables, rhyming roughly with "may ROCK go on"). He was a Trojan priest, and one of very few who didn't trust the giant wooden horse the Greeks had left outside the city. "I trust not the Greeks, even when they come bearing gifts," he shouted, and threw a spear at the horse, where it stuck in its flank. The crowd began to listen, so Athene, who supported the Greeks, sent two giant serpents to strangle him, and just to drive the point home, his two sons. Thinking the gods had punished Laocoon for his impiety, the Trojans brought the statue in.