Scenes in Art Based on the Odyssey

Odysseus recognises Achilles (disguised as a woman) amongst the daughters of Lycomedes, 1620, by Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642), oil on canvas. Getty Images

 Stories from the Odyssey have inspired many works of art through the ages. Here are a few. 

01
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Telemachus and Mentor in the Odyssey

Illustration for a book, Aventures de Télémaque, by Fénelon.
Telemachus and Mentor. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In Book I of the Odyssey, Athena dresses as Odysseus' trusted old friend, Mentor, so she can give Telemachus advice. She wants him to start hunting for his missing father, Odysseus.

François Fénelon (1651-1715), archbishop of Cambrai, wrote the didactic Les aventures de Télémaque in 1699. Based on Homer's Odyssey, it tells of the adventures of Telemachus in search of his father. An extremely popular book in France, this picture is an illustration from one of its many editions.

02
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Odysseus and Nausicaa in the Odyssey

Christoph Amberger, Odysseus and Nausicaa, 1619. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Christoph Amberger, Odysseus and Nausicaa, 1619. Alte Pinakothek, Munich. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Nausicaa, princess of Phaeacia, comes upon Odysseus in Odyssey Book VI. She and her attendants are making an event of doing the laundry. Odysseus is lying on the beach where he landed a shipwreck without clothes. He grabs some available greenery in the interest of modesty.

Christoph Amberger (c.1505–1561/2) was a German portrait painter.

03
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Odysseus at the Palace of Alcinous

Odysseus at the Palace of Alcinous, by Francesco Hayez. 1813-1815.
Odysseus at the Palace of Alcinous, by Francesco Hayez. 1813-1815. Shows Odysseus overcome by the song of Demodocus. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In Book VIII, Odysseus, who has been staying at the palace of Nausicaa's father, King Alcinous of the Phaeacians, has not yet revealed his identity. The kingly entertainment includes listening to the bard Demodokos singing of Odysseus' own experiences. This brings tears to Odysseus' eyes.

Francesco Hayez (1791–1882) was a Venetian involved in the transition between Neoclassicism and Romanticism in Italian painting.

04
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Odysseus, His Men, and Polyphemus in the Odyssey

Odysseus and His Men Blinding Polyphemus, Laconian black-figure cup, 565-560 B.C.
Odysseus and His Men Blinding Polyphemus, Laconian black-figure cup, 565-560 B.C. PD Bibi Saint-Pol. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

in Odyssey Book IX Odysseus tells about his encounter with the son of Poseidon, the Cyclops Polyphemus. In order to escape the giant's "hospitality," Odysseus gets him drunk and then Odysseus and his men put out the Cyclop's single eye. That'll teach him to eat Odysseus' men!

05
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Circe

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus, by John William Waterhouse
Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus. Oldham Art Gallery, Oxford, U.K. 1891, by John William Waterhouse. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While Odysseus is at the Phaeacian court, where he has been since Book VII of the Odyssey, he tells the story of his adventures. These include his stay with that great sorceress Circe, who turns Odysseus' men into swine.

In Book X, Odysseus tells the Phaeacians about what happened when he and his men land on Circe's island. In the painting Circe is offering Odysseus an enchanted cup that would transform him into a beast, had Odysseus not received magical help (and advice to be violent) from Hermes.

John William Waterhouse was an English Neoclassicist painter who was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites.

06
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Odysseus and the Sirens in the Odyssey

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), 'Ulysses and the Sirens' (1891).
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), ''Ulysses and the Sirens'' (1891). Public Domain. By John William Waterhouse (1891). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A siren call means something that is alluring. It is dangerous and potentially deadly. Even if you know better, the siren call is hard to resist. In Greek mythology, the sirens who allured were sea nymphs beguiling enough to begin with, but with even more enticing voices.

In Odyssey Book XII Circe warns Odysseus about the dangers he will face at sea. One of these is the Sirens. In the adventure of the Argonauts, Jason and his men faced the danger of the Sirens with the help of the singing of Orpheus. Odysseus has no Orpheus to drown out the lovely voices, so he orders his men to stuff their ears with wax and tie him to a mast so he can't escape, but can still hear them singing. This painting shows the sirens as beautiful women-birds who fly to their prey instead of luring them from afar.

John William Waterhouse was an English Neoclassicist painter who was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites.

07
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Odysseus and Tiresias

Odysseus on the Right Consults the Shade of Tiresias. Eurylochos on the Left.
Odysseus, Right, Consults the Shade of Tiresias, Center. Eurylochos on the Left. Side A from a Lucanian Red-figured calyx-krater, c. 380 B.C. Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Odysseus consults with the spirit of Tiresias during Odysseus' Nekuia. This scene is based on Book XI of the Odyssey. The capped man on the left is Odysseus' companion Eurylochus.

The painting, by the Dolon Painter, is on a Lucanian Red-figure calyx-krater. A calyx-krater is used for mixing wine and water

08
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Odysseus and Calypso

Odysseus und Kalypso, by Arnold Böcklin. 1883.
Odysseus und Kalypso, by Arnold Böcklin. 1883. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In Book V, Athena complains that Calypso is keeping Odysseus against his will, so Zeus sends off Hermes to tell Calypso to let him go. Here's the passage from a public domain translation that shows what the Swiss artist, Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), captured in this painting:

"Calypso knew [Hermes] at once -- for the gods all know each other, no matter how far they live from one another -- but Ulysses was not within; he was on the sea-shore as usual, looking out upon the barren ocean with tears in his eyes, groaning and breaking his heart for sorrow."
09
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Odysseus and His Dog Argos

Odysseus and Argos, a copy of a plate by Jean-Auguste Barre (French Artist, 1811 - 1896). Louvre.
Odysseus and Argos, a copy of a plate by Jean-Auguste Barre (French Artist, 1811 - 1896). Louvre. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Odysseus arrived back in Ithaca in disguise. His old maid recognized him by a scar and his dog recognized him in a canine way, but most of the people in Ithaca thought he was an old beggar. The faithful dog was old and soon died. Here he is lying at Odysseus' feet.

Jean-Auguste Barre was a 19th-century French sculptor.

10
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The Slaughter of the Suitors at the End of the Odyssey

Slaughter of the Suitors, from a Campanian red-figure bell-krater, c. 330 B.C. PD Bibi Saint-Pol
Slaughter of the Suitors, From a Campanian Red-Figure Bell-Krater, c. 330 B.C. Public Domain. Bibi Saint-Pol

Book XXII of the Odyssey describes the slaughter of the suitors. Odysseus and his three men stand against all the suitors who have been despoiling Odysseus' estate. It's not a fair fight, but that's because Odysseus has managed to trick the suitors out of their weapons, so only Odysseus and crew are armed.

Scientists have dated this mythological event. See Eclipse Used to Date Odysseus' Massacre of the Suitors.

This painting is on a bell-krater, which describes the shape of a pottery vessel with glazed interior, used for mixing wine and water.