This painting, by the Italian artist Giuseppe Bottani (1717–1784), re-creates a scene from the final stretch of Odysseus’ much-troubled journey home in the years following the Trojan War. After surviving encounters with sea monsters, witnessing the deaths of his entire crew of shipmates to various disasters, and being constantly caught up in an ongoing scrum between two camps of deities that contrastingly want him dead or alive, Odysseus—as depicted in this painting—finally made it back to his home island of Ithaca. As told by the great poet, Homer (flourished c. 700 BCE), Odysseus was ferried to Ithaca by a mythological people called the Phaeacians, and as the worn-out adventurer fell asleep during the journey, the Phaeacians decided not to wake him. Instead, they gingerly placed their passenger and his cargo on the shore, then promptly set sail, leaving Odysseus slumbering.
As seen from the painting, Odysseus soon had a guest join him at the shoreline; the new arrival was his most supportive guardian goddess, Athena. In order to slowly and carefully acclimate the long-delayed Odysseus to his homeland, Athena decided to cloak the entire region with mist and fog, so that she could have a talk with the weary hero before she sent him on his way. First using a disguise, then eventually revealing her full divine nature, Athena let Odysseus know that he had returned to Ithaca, but also briefed him on the troubles of his faithful wife, Penelope, who was at that time being besieged by suitors who thought that Odysseus was dead. During this conversation, Athena dramatically began to let the mist and fog subside, allowing the scenery of Odysseus’ homeland finally come into full view. Homer described the scene, writing, “As she spoke the goddess dispersed the mist, and the countryside stood plain to view. Joy came at last to the noble, long-suffering Odysseus. Overjoyed at the sight of his own land he kissed the fertile soil…” (The Odyssey, book 13, approximately lines 350-360). This grand unveiling of Ithaca, dramatically set up by Athena for Odysseus, is what Giuseppe Bottani re-created in the painting featured above.
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.