1891 . Oil on canvas
Andrew Llyod Weber Collection
Actual Size (W x H): 92cm x 149cm [ 36.25" x 58.71" ]
John William Waterhouse: Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses - 1891
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Kirke (Circe) is the daughter of Helios (the Sun) and Perseis, which would make her the grand-daughter of Okeanos (Ocean).
On her island... in her palace... Kirke waits for lost sailors to come wandering to her door as supplicants. Normally, a traveler is treated as a special guest but with Kirke, travelers are drugged and then served as dinner.
Odysseus and his desperate crew went ashore on the island of Aiaia hoping to find food and water. Odysseus sent twenty-three men to explore the island but only one returned. As the men walked from the beach they could hear sweet singing from Kirke’s home in a forest glen. Wild lions and wolves (drugged by Kirke) came, wagging their tails, to greet the strangers. They were charmed by her beauty and drank the potions she offered as refreshment. As Kirke’s vile drugs took effect, the once valiant men began to change shape and were soon fully transformed into swine. Kirke herded them into pens and threw pig food on the ground before them.
The sole survivor, Eurylochos, ran back to Odysseus and urged that they set sail immediately. He told the story of the evil goddess and how they would all be turned into swine if they dared to stay on that dangerous island (his warnings unfortunately took on the air of cowardice... Odysseus almost killed him for it). Odysseus was not afraid. He would not leave his men as swine and he would not risk any of the other men in a fight with Kirke. Odysseus went to Kirke’s palace alone.
Along the trail, Odysseus met Hermes (the messenger of the Immortals) in the guise of a young man. Hermes told Odysseus that he could entrap Kirke and free his companions if he obeyed the gods orders. Hermes reached down and pulled a plant called ‘moly’ from the ground and explained that mere mortals found it difficult to dig-up but he, as a god, could do all things. Odysseus took the ‘good medicine’ and went boldly into Kirke’s house. She welcomed him as another victim and gave him her vile potions but the ‘good medicine’ gave Odysseus protection. When Kirke thought the drugs had taken effect, she struck Odysseus with her wand. The wand was supposed to complete the transformation process but Odysseus drew his sword and sprang upon her. The astonished Kirke surrendered instantly. She released the twenty-two pig-men and ceremoniously anointed them with another one of her potions. The men were restored to their original forms but they were taller and more handsome than before they had been enswined.
To show her good faith, Kirke opened her doors to the dispirited sailors and gave them every comfort she could offer. After the entire crew had been rested and nourished, Kirke told Odysseus that his journey would now take him to the House of Hades (lord of the Underworld). He must consult with the soul of the seer, Teiresias the Theban, to find out how he may finally appease Poseidon (lord of the Sea) and return to his home.
After seeing the soul of Teiresias the Theban, Odysseus returned to Aiaia. Kirke bid him a final goodbye and told him how to safely sail past the island of the Sirens, the six headed Skylla and the monster Kharybdis (Charybdis).
Kirke and Odysseus had two children, Agrios and Latinos.
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