The Odyssey of Homer Engraved

The Odyssey of Homer Engraved Flaxman, J. 1805

"My men turned pale with fear: and now, while all eyes were fixed upon Charybdis and quarter from which we looked for disaster, Scylla snatched out of my boat the six ablest hands I had on board ... " (Homer 195). Thus is written the ferociousness of the sea creature Scylla who was an ancient being who tormented sea voyages. Homers work - The Odyssey is a journey through the ancient world of gods, goddesses and creatures made by Odysseus and Scylla is one of the beings he encountered.

The Odyssey of Homer Engraved 
Flaxman, J. 1805 
Presented by Thomas Phillips 1842 (HPHI 111)

The above engraving is that of Scylla demonstrating her power over sailors. She was known and feared for snatching sailors out of boats as they tried to sail past her lair. The engraving was completed by John Flaxman 0755-1826), who is probably most well known in this country for his sculpture, but his line engravings were considered as being some of his finest work on the continent. They were much studied and imitated and formed an important element of artistic training for many aspiring artists.

The mythological nature of the piece was in keeping with the importance placed upon classical beliefs at this time. Neo classicism was in fashion and as such Homer's works were an excellent source to interpret as they were an illustration of the various beliefs held in the classical world. These pieces were commissioned when Flaxman was in Rome in the 1790s and therefore would have been immersed with the classical culture surrounding him. It was a period of great interest in Rome and many people travelled to destinations such as Rome on Grand Tours. The interpretations of Homer are singled out as being supreme examples of his talents so can be considered as representative of his style and the engraving can be considered to have been produced by one of the most influential talents in art working at this time.

The place of the image in the exhibition relates to the place of myths and beliefsregarding journeys that were still popular in the time. The importance of which can be seen in the previous book of Naval Poems where the sailors recount these old tales. The glory of past naval heroism is recounted with glee as brave deeds and adventures, whether they are true or not. These ideas and notions would have accompanied the sailors on their sea voyages into the unknown; these well known established beliefs would have been considered as valid by a highly superstitious society and stories such as Scylla would have been taken as warnings to accompany sailors on their perilous journeys.

Amanda Geering


Bindman, D (1979) John Flaxman. London. Thames and Hudson.Homer (1975) The Odyssey. London. Penguin Classics.