Lecture 3 Clements 1
School of Arts and Letters, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies
AK/HUMA 1780 6.0A Stories in Diverse Media
Reminder: please check the Announcements folder regularly.
Update on the Discussion Groups:
The Discussion Groups will begin running after June 19, as noted in the first
lecture. Check the Announcements folder next week. You do not need to do
anything to get into a group. You will be put into one according to your last
name and the folder will appear in your Table of Contents when you login
once OCTES has completed the technical component. I will also post
instructions and protocol for the Discussion Rooms at that time. So sit tight, you
don't need to do anything about the Discussion Rooms for another week. It will
take a few days for things to get up and running so please be patient after the 19
Re: the Academic Integrity Tutorial:
In the meantime, however, please complete the Academic Integrity Tutorial at
Once you have completed the Academic Integrity Tutorial Quiz, do print out the
Score Results page as your proof that the work has been completed. Hold onto it
just in case you need to verify that you have finished it, but I will be checking
the statistics for the results of the Quiz and giving you the component of the
participation grade through other means. I can check to see who has
completed it myself, so printing out your receipt is just a recommended
precaution. Lecture 3 Clements 2
Lecture 3: Visual Representations of The Odyssey.
In the following lecture we'll examine four main figures that Odysseus meets on
his journey: Circe, the Sirens, Penelope, and Polyphemos (the Cyclops). These four
mythical characters are also portrayed (in some way or another) in Joel and Ethan Coen's
O Brother, Where Art Thou? which we will discuss next day. These characters have also
been adapted into thousands of different versions over the last two millennia. Below, we
will compare the visual representations of these figures to the text that you've been
reading. Then, after viewing the film for the next lecture, think about how these
characters have been transformed, yet again, in the present day. The following discussion
explores then-contemporary depictions, as well as some seventeenth and nineteenth
century versions created when the mythological nature of The Odyssey captured the
imagination of many painters in those centuries.
Let's start with Circe because she's one of the ancient Greek goddesses in which
visual artists have been especially interested. First, let's recap what we know of her.
Who is Circe?
She's the goddess who turns Odysseus's men into swine as recounted by the hero
in Book 10.
She gives the men a potion to make them "forgetful of their own country" (158),
we are told, and when they are in this state she then uses her wand to turn them
How does Odysseus get out of the situation with Circe?
Hermes gives him medicine, moly, a mythical herb with black roots and milky
flowers, which prevents him from being influenced by her potion. Lecture 3 Clements 3
Here is the play-by-play of the story's events (note: I won't usually go over plot
summary, but I do understand the epic is long and full of details; the following should
help to refresh your memory):
After he takes the herb, Odysseus tells us, (160) "Circe made a potion for me to
drink and gave it in a golden cup, and with evil thoughts in her heart added the
drug to it. Then when she had given it and I drank it off, without being enchanted,
she struck me with her wand and spoke and named me" (160)
When the potion and the wand don't work on Odysseus he then threatens to kill
Circe at which point she realizes that he must be "resourceful Odysseus" because
she had been warned that he would come to her island on his way back from Troy
and would not fall prey to her charms.
So then she suggests they should sleep together, for the "practical" reason that
they will then have "faith and trust in each other."
He makes her swear an oath that she won't do anything else to him, after which
time he "mounted the surpassingly beautiful bed of Circe" (161). (Keep in mind,
Penelope is waiting at home being ever-faithful. This is just one example of the
double standard applied to women in the epic.)
Importantly, after they sleep together, Circe and her servants become helpers to
Odysseus and his men. Once he effectively passes his test by outsmarting Circe,
he and his men are rewarded. Not only does she turn the pigs back into men, but
they are taller, younger, and stronger than before (162). And, she rejuvenates their
minds and their bodies with feasting on unlimited meat and sweet wine for a year.
Hmmm, she doesn't seem so bad after all. The moral of the story: stay loyal to Lecture 3 Clements 4
your own homeland (oddly by sleeping with various women on different islands)
and you will convert malignant goddesses into benevolent helpers.
The anthropomorphized gods, such as Circe, and their seeming disregard for
human suffering demonstrate the element of chance involved in life, the feeling
sometimes that there may not be a compassionate source watching over one. Yet, the
episode with Circe reaffirms that through good behaviour, or what is deemed good
behaviour by the ancient Greeks, a person will be rewarded by the gods. Once again, one
of the behaviours that is shown to be the most important is loyalty, particularly to one's
Circe then becomes instrumental to Odysseus's journey. Not only does she
rejuvenate Odysseus and his men but she also gives him important instructions and
warnings about the journey ahead. She tells him that he must go into the underworld to
consult with Tiresias (the blind Theban prophet) in order to reach home. She also tells
him how to prepare for this journey, the ritual of the dead he must perform to go down
into Hades. Lastly, we see her again after Odysseus and his men return from Hades, at
which time she gives him more invaluable advice about how to deal with the Sirens,
Skylla and Charybdis (two more female monsters), and the Oxen in the Sun. Again, with
each test, he must keep his mind focused on getting home in order to pass the trial.
When we first encounter Circe we aren't really told that much about her. She has
two important characteristics: she is the "goddess with the glorious hair" and she has a
"sweet voice." We also learn that she is weaving, like Penelope, "delicate and lovely and
glorious" work on her loom (158). Not really a lot to go on though in terms of how she
looks or how to create a visual representation of this goddess who talks with men. See