BY SELENA MENG
Internal Driving Force
In The Odyssey, Odysseus, being driven by his desire to return home and reunite with his family, is able to surmount fear, desire, and dependence on others in his ten-year journey. This painting portrays Odysseus’ internal driving force—his desire to return to his homeland. The beautiful woman in the painting is Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, and the ship surrounded by butterflies on the right side of the painting is Odysseus’ ship. Penelope’s waiting and longing for Odysseus’ return is depicted through the butterflies flying out of the horn, which is calling Odysseus home and strengthening him to surmount any difficulties.
Odysseus’ journey is similar to our lives. Throughout our lives, we constantly encounter both internal and external obstacles and must work to overcome them. In order to do this, we need an internal driving force to give us purpose.
Fear is one of the weaknesses Odysseus has to overcome when he and his crew are imprisoned by the one-eyed giant Polyphemus in Polyphemus’s cave. Although the giant who eats men is frightful, Odysseus suppresses his fear, and tactfully devises and executes a plan to help his crew to escape. He gets the giant drunk on wine that he brought along from the ship and drives the red-hot stick into Polyphemus’ eye. When morning comes, Odysseus and his men escape from the cave, unseen by the blind Polyphemus.
In this painting, I integrated characteristics of the giant into the cave where Odysseus and his crew are imprisoned. The eye stuck by a wooden stick on the top of the cave is Polyphemus’ eye. Polyphemus’ large mouth with sharp teeth also represents the opening of the cave. The ship escaping from the mouth demonstrates Odysseus’s success of overcoming his fear.
As Odysseus and his crew approach the island of the Sirens whose sweet-voiced melodies captivate men’s hearts, Odysseus plugs his men’s ears with beeswax and asks them to bind him to the mast of the ship. He alone hears their song flowing forth from the island, promising to reveal the future. The Sirens’ song is so seductive that Odysseus begs to be released from his fetters, but his faithful men only bind him tighter and sail the ship away from the island.
In this painting, I used translucent hands approaching Odysseus’s ship to represent the Sirens’ seductive songs, which are temptations to Odysseus. The ship which is sailing away from the temptation marks that Odysseus is able to overcome it and his desire to hear the Sirens’ songs.
Overcoming Dependence on Others
Athena, goddess of wisdom and courage, helps Odysseus during his journey home. She only provides Odysseus with guidance instead of directly sending Odysseus home.
In the painting, the eye staring at the seastorm and Odysseus’ ship stands for Athena who pays close attention to Odysseus’ journey and offers help as needed. She uses the bridge of her nose to block some waves but refuses to completely remove the challenge for Odysseus. As a result, Odysseus still has to rely on himself to overcome the difficulty. Similarly, we should become more independent when we are solving problems in lives, since there is always part of the journey we have to walk alone.