Tag Archives: Ulysses

Mythology on Canvas (Part 13)

Herbert James Draper is perhaps the most realistic of the Pre-Raphaelites in his technique and composition. I will start off with a painting which I used in my very first post.

Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, c. 1909
Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, c. 1909

Ulysses and the Sirens is taken out of The Odyssey by Homer. As his ship passes the island on which the sirens live, Ulysses (Roman variation of the Greek Odysseus) commands his men to stop their ears with wax so that they would not be bewitched by the song of the sirens. These dangerous spirits are known to lure sailors to death on the rocks by their song. Ulysses himself wants to hear their singing, so he has his men lash him to the mast of the ship. Thus bound, he will be unable to endanger his crew while in an irrational state. Since his men cannot hear the dangerous melody, they do not steer the ship on a catastrophic course.

 In the interesting composition shown above, the sirens are seen climbing aboard the boat rather than singing from shore. These figures are interestingly posed. The intensity of the drama, however, is on the faces of the men. Those who cannot hear look visibly alarmed and even angry while their captain has a crazed expression on his face. Notice the vacancy in his eyes. To complete the effect, the water adds an almost subliminal element of vividness and motion.

More next week.