A Visual Odyssey

This page will lead the viewer through a visual journey that mirrors the one which Odysseus traveled.  A number of his significant encounters are reflected here in painted works that span a range of over 2000 years, a testament to the continued interest in Homer and his epics.  Attention to the construction of these works will provide an insight into how Homer's work and ideas have been represented in art over time.


After the sack of Troy, Odysseus and his men left Ilium and arrived on Ismarus, where he and his men sacked the city and were driven away by the Cicones.  They arrived at the land of the Lotus-eaters after days of rough sailing on the sea.  The men who ate the Lotus did not want to return home, but Odysseus hauled them back to the ships and lashed them down as they embarked.

Theodor van Thulden - The Lotus-Eaters, 17th century


The travelers next reached the land of the Cyclops, where they ended up in the cave of Polyphemus who ate a number of their comrades.  Odysseus and the survivors escaped his cave on the underside of his sheep and fled on ship as Polyphemus realized he had been tricked and hurled a massive boulder at them.

Annibale Carracci - Polyphemus, 1597-1601


The crew next reached the home of Aeolus, who bound the winds in a sack and gave it to Odysseus to ease his journey home.  But his shipmates loosed the sack and a squall drove them back to sea.

Alistair Malcolm - Aeolus


They reached the Laestrygonian land, where King Antiphates and the other Laestrygonians swarmed the troop, spearing them like fish for their meal.  The whole squadron sank except for the ship of Odysseus.

The Laestrygonians - Wall painting from a house on the Esquiline Hill, Rome, Late 1st century BC


The crew then traveled to Aeaea, the home of the magical nymph Circe.  She turned some of them into swine, but Odysseus got the spell reversed by sleeping with her.  They stayed on the island for a year, when his comrades convinced Odysseus to continue on their journey home.

Wright Barker - Circe, 1900


Odysseus then went down to the House of Death to consult Tiresias.  There he saw his mother and some of his old comrades, including Agamemnon, Achilles, and Ajax who shunned him.  Tiresias tells Odysseus of his future exploits and what to expect when he returns home.

William Blake - The House of Death, 1805


The troop strikes out again, with valuable information about the future from Circe.  With that information, the crew is able to successfully pass the island of the Sirens by stopping their ears with wax and lashing Odysseus to the mast of the ship.

Herbert James Draper - Ulysses and the Sirens, 1909


After they pass the Sirens the crew navigates past Scylla and Charybdis, but not before Scylla gulps down six of the men with her six fearsome heads.

Theodor van Thulden - Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, 17th century


Odysseus and his men next reached the island of the Sun where Helios kept his cattle.  The winds prevented them from leaving the island for a month, and the food and wine ran out.  Odysseus struck inland to pray to the gods, and despite his warnings not to kill and eat the cattle, his shipmates did just that.  When they embarked one week later, Zeus struck their ship with a bolt of lightning that splintered it.  The whole crew drowned, but Odysseus drifted on a makeshift raft until the tenth night when he was cast upon Calypso's island.

Romare Bearden - Cattle of the Sun God, 1979


Calypso held Odysseus by force on the island for years, offering him immortality.  But the gods decreed that Odysseus must return home, and he departed on a raft that was subsequently wrecked by Poseidon.

Arnold Bocklin - Ulysse et Calypso, 1882


Odysseus landed in Phaeacia, where they treated him like a god and sent him off in a ship to his homeland of Ithaca.

Peter Paul Rubens - Ulysses on the Island of the Phaeacians, 1630-35


Meanwhile, his wife Penelope had been patiently waiting for his return and fending off potential suitors that laid waste to Odysseus's estate while trying to win Penelope's heart.  She told them that she would marry when she had finished weaving a shroud for Laertes.  She wove during the day and pulled it apart at night until the suitors finally realized, making her situation more desperate.

John William Waterhouse - Penelope and Her Suitors, 1912


Finally Odysseus returns to Ithaca, borne on a Phaeacian ship.

Claude Lorrain - The Return of Odysseus, 1644


Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar, not even revealing himself to Penelope.  He tells his son Telemachus, with whom he plots the downfall of the suitors.  Penelope sets up a contest wherein whichever contestant can string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through twelve lined-up axes will be her husband.  The only one to successfully do so is Odysseus.

N.C. Wyeth - Odysseus with his Bow, 20th century


Odysseus then kills the primary suitor Antinous, reveals himself to the rest, and then slaughters the remaining suitors.  He reclaims his possessions and verifies his identity to Penelope by reciting the details of their bed that he had built.

Nicolas-Andre Monsiau - Odysseus ordering the women to remove the bodies of the suitors, 1791