Between Skylla and Penelope: Female Characters of the Odyssey in Archaic and Classical Greek Art
Diana Buitron-Oliver Beth Cohen
The Odyssey is the only surviving epic poem that describes the Return of a Greek hero after the Trojan war. Thus it portrays neither the heroism and tragedy of war nor the normal order of daily life in peace, and in Classical antiquity it must have presented a particular challenge for visual artists. It is memorably rich in unusual physical adventure and suspenseful psychological drama, and ancient artists tapped both of these aspects as they struggled with the compositional difficulties of representing fantastic creatures from Odysseus'exploits as well as with representing the poem's subtler nuances of human characterization, particularly from its account of the hero's homecoming.
When faced with films based on literary sources, movie critics often ask, "Is the picture faithful to the book?" As art historians, we are dealing with specific works of visual art adapted from famous stories in a work of ancient literature. The representations preserved in Greek art from the Archaic and Classical periods were not text illustrations, 1 and thus the way in which a story or a character was shown originally must have reflected a variety of influences, which now may no longer be fully reconstructed. In pre-Classical Greece, soon after the poem's composition, probably in the late eighth century