In this painting, the British artist Briton Rivière (c. 1840-1920) shows a scene of a goddess that the Greek hero, Odysseus, encountered during his legendary odyssey. The goddess, displayed here dressed in pink, was the deity and sorceress Circe, who lived on an island called Aeaea. She was a goddess who collected a wide variety of animals on her island—yet these were not ordinary creatures. Odysseus and his crew would find out just how Circe obtained her animals when she served the sailors a feast in her home. The famous Greek storyteller, Homer, described the myth:
“Circe ushered the rest into her hall, gave them seats and chairs to sit on, and then prepared them a mixture of cheese, barley-meal, and yellow honey flavored with Pramnian wine. But into this dish she introduced a noxious drug, to make them lose all memory of their native land. And when they had emptied the bowls which she handed them, she drove them with blows of a stick into the pigsties. Now they had pig heads and bristles, and they grunted like pigs; but their minds were as human as they had been before” (Homer, The Odyssey, book 10, approximately lines 230-240).
Odysseus was fortunate enough to be given immunity from Circe’s transformation magic after a helpful visit from the god, Hermes. Spared from her spells and potions, Odysseus was able to negotiate with and befriend Circe, eventually leading to the pig-men being returned to their original shapes.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Odyssey by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by D. C. H. Rieu. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.