The Odyssey was one of my favourite stories as a child, even before I understood just how old it was. The adventure of this hero as he struggles to make it home, getting caught up in many a pickle, was full of cliffhangers and possibilities. How would Odysseus possibly get out of that scrape? What would he do next to stuff up and bring about another challenge? What weird and wonderful things would they encounter next? Would he ever make it home? It’s brilliant stuff. Even now, as I sit typing this, I am dumbstruck by the fact that, as far as I am aware, no production company has made a movie or television series of the Odyssey. There was a storytelling TV show version when I was young, with Tony Robinson narrating, which I loved but I mean a version with actors and special effects. They are surely missing a trick.
Anyway, despite the fact of the Odyssey being my favourite classical text, I had been somewhat dreading Odysseus (or Ulysses as the Romans called him) turning up in my drawing challenge. His is such an overwhelming narrative and his character so complex that trying to pare it down to a single small drawing was bound to be really difficult. However, the fact I suspected this one was going to crop up meant I had been mulling it over in advance.
There was no way I could even begin to suggest all the components of Odysseus’ epic journey home with so little time and space so I needed to settle on just one. That was the solution. However, deciding upon which one to depict was hard. The front-runner for quite a while was the idea of showing Odysseus dressed up as a beggar in his own palace, ready to prove his identity in a show of archery, probably because it was the end-point to his story rather than being a part of his relentless journey. But the disguise element troubled me so I ditched that plan.
What I, therefore, decided to do was show Odysseus trapped on Circe’s island. I always liked that episode because of what it conveys about Odysseus’ character. He is motivated to depart the island and crack on with getting back to Ithaca and his beloved wife and son and, therefore, convinces the witch Circe to release his men, who she has turned into pigs. But the way he convinces her is by being unfaithful to the very wife he is desperate to get back to. And not only is this hero disloyal for what could be argued to be pragmatic reasons but he then decides to malinger on the island for a year, enjoying the wine, women and song as if he is on a laddish beach holiday. But that is the thing about Odysseus: he is a hero who is deeply flawed and that complexity in his character is what makes him one of the more interesting ones in Greek Mythology. For all of his determination and endurance, he is also tempted by laziness and the easy life; for all that he is quick-witted and wily, he also lacks wisdom and judgment and often ends up complicating the already difficult circumstances he is in.
My drawing, therefore, shows Odysseus sitting in the lotus position with his porcine crewmen nuzzling up against him. I tried to convey a sense that he was thoroughly fed up, caught in stasis yet again, frustrated and thwarted by his own daft decisions. In reference to my initial idea for the drawing – the archery contest that restores Odysseus to his throne – I decorated his tunic with a fringe of little arrows.
Odysseus and piggy pals
Which Greek myth is your favourite?
PS Time constraints mean I am, alas, still taking photos of my drawings using my phone. The colours, therefore, are not being properly captured in the photographs. It’s annoying. Maybe when I conclude the whole challenge, I will create a gallery of all 40 drawings in photos taken on my DSLR. Meanwhile I apologise for the patchy quality of the photography.