Feb 032011
 

This is a diptich I’ve had in the works for a long time, but have just completed.  It’s a modern take on a story from Homer’s Odyssey, Book IX, where first Odysseus’ men, then Odysseus himself, become guests of an island enchantress.  Beginning with the words of Eurylochos, who reports to his captain, this is Richmond Lattimore’s translation of the adventure:

“We went, O glorious Odysseus, through the growth as you told us, and found a fine house in the glen.  It was in an open place, and put together from stones, well polished.  Someone, goddess or woman, was singing inside in a clear voice as she went up and down her loom, and they called her, and spoke to her, and at once she opened the shining doors, and came out and invited them in, and all in their innocence entered, only I waited for them outside, for I suspected treachery.  Then the whole lot of them vanished away together, nor did one single one come out, though I sat and watched for a long time….”

So he spoke, and I answered again in turn and said to him:  “Eurylochos, you may stay here eating and drinking, even where you are and beside the hollow black ship; only I shall go.  For there is a strong compulsion upon me.”

So I spoke and started up from the ship and the seahore.  But as I went up through the lonely glens, and was coming near to the great house of Circe, skilled in medicines, there as I came up to the house, Hermes, of the golden staff, met me on my way, in the likeness of a young man with beard new grown, which is the most graceful time of young manhood.  He took me by the hand and spoke to me and named me, saying: “Where are you going, unhappy man, all alone, through the hillotops, ignorant of the land-lay, and your friends are here in Circe’s place, in the shape of pigs and holed up…Do you come here meaning to set them free?  I do not think you will get back yourself, but must stay here with the others.  But see, I will find you a way out of your troubles, and save you.  Here, this is a good medicine, take it, and go into Circe’s house; it will give you power against the day of trouble.  And I will tell you all the malevolent guiles of Circe.  She will make you a potion, and put drugs in the food, but she will not even so be able to enchant you, for this good medicine which I give you now will prevent her.  I will tell you the details of what to do.  As soon as Circe with her long wand strikes you, then drawing from beside your thigh your sharp sword, rush forward against Circe, as if you were raging to kill her, and she will be afraid, and invite you to go to bed with her.  Do not then resist and refuse the bed of the goddess, for so she will set free your companions, and care for you also; but bid her swear the great oath of the blessed gods, that she has no other evil hurt that she is devising against you, so she will not make you weak and unmanned, once you are naked.”

Ah, it was a dangerous world out there for Greek men in the Bronze Age.

Odysseus, 12×24, Oil on Canvas

Circe, 12×24, Oil on Canvas