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“Circe Invidiosa” by John William Waterhouse

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“Circe Invidiosa” by John William Waterhouse, 1892. Oil on canvas 180.7 × 87.4 cm (71.1 × 34.4 in). Public Domain. Photo by Art Gallery of South Australia via Wikimedia.
Current location: Art Gallery of South Australia.
Accession number: 0.106
Credit line: South Australian Government Grant 1892.

Image of Circe, a figure from Greek mythology, who appears in Homer’s Odyssey. This painting shows a scene not from the Odyssey, but from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. A jealous Circe throws a magic potion into the well, where her rival in love Scylla is going to bathe.

From Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book XVI, Fable I:

And now Glaucus, the Eubœan plougher of the swelling waves, had left behind Ætna, placed upon the jaws of the Giant, and the fields of the Cyclops, that had never experienced the harrow or the use of the plough, and that were never indebted to the yoked oxen; he had left Zancle, too, behind, and the opposite walls of Rhegium,1 and the sea, abundant cause of shipwreck, which, confined by the two shores, bounds the Ausonian and the Sicilian lands. Thence, swimming with his huge hands through the Etrurian seas, Glaucus arrived at the grass-clad hills, and the halls of Circe, the daughter of the Sun, filled with various wild beasts. Soon as he beheld her, after salutations were given and received, he said, “Do thou, a Goddess, have compassion on me a God; for thou alone (should I only seem deserving of it,) art able to relieve this passion of mine. Daughter of Titan, by none is it better known how great is the power of herbs, than by me, who have been transformed by their agency; and, that the cause of my passion may not be unknown to thee, Scylla has been beheld by me on the Italian shores, opposite the Messenian walls. I am ashamed to recount my promises, my entreaties, my caresses, and my rejected suit. But, do thou, if there is any power in incantations, utter the incantation with thy holy lips;

xiv. 21-50. or, if any herb is more efficacious, make use of the proved virtues of powerful herbs. But I do not request thee to cure me, and to heal these wounds; and there is no necessity for an end to them; but let her share in the flame.” But Circe, (for no one has a temper more susceptible of such a passion, whether it is that the cause of it originates in herself, or whether it is that Venus, offended by her father’s discovery, causes this,) utters such words as these:—

“Thou wilt more successfully court her who is willing, and who entertains similar desires, and who is captivated with an equal passion. Thou art worthy of it, and assuredly thou oughtst to be courted spontaneously; and, if thou givest any hopes, believe me, thou shalt be courted spontaneously. That thou mayst entertain no doubts, or lest confidence in thy own beauty may not exist, behold! I who am both a Goddess, and the daughter of the radiant Sun, and am so potent with my charms, and so potent with my herbs, wish to be thine. Despise her who despises thee; her, who is attached to thee, repay by like attachment, and, by one act, take vengeance on two individuals.”

Glaucus answered her, making such attempts as these,— “Sooner shall foliage grow in the ocean, and sooner shall sea-weed spring up on the tops of the mountains, than my affections shall change, while Scylla is alive.” The Goddess is indignant; and since she is not able to injure him, and as she loves him she does not wish to do so, she is enraged against her, who has been preferred to herself; and, offended with these crosses in love, she immediately bruises herbs, infamous for their horrid juices, and, when bruised, she mingles with them the incantations of Hecate. She puts on azure vestments too, and through the troop of fawning wild beasts she issues from the midst of her hall; and making for Rhegium, opposite to the rocks of Zancle, she enters the waves boiling with the tides; on these, as though on the firm shore, she impresses her footsteps, and with dry feet she skims along the surface of the waves.

xiv. 51-74. There was a little bay, curving in the shape of a bent bow, a favourite retreat of Scylla, whither she used to retire from the influence both of the sea and of the weather, when the sun was at its height in his mid career, and made the smallest shadow from the head downwards. This the Goddess infects beforehand, and pollutes it with monster-breeding drugs; on it she sprinkles the juices distilled from the noxious root, and thrice nine times, with her magic lips, she mutters over the mysterious charm, enwrapt in the dubious language of strange words. Scylla comes; and she has now gone in up to the middle of her stomach, when she beholds her loins grow hideous with barking monsters; and, at first believing that they are no part of her own body, she flies from them and drives them off, and is in dread of the annoying mouths of the dogs; but those that she flies from, she carries along with herself; and as she examines the substance of her thighs, her legs, and her feet, she meets with Cerberean jaws in place of those parts. The fury of the dogs still continues, and the backs of savage monsters lying beneath her groin, cut short, and her prominent stomach, still adhere to them.

Glaucus, still in love, bewailed her, and fled from an alliance with Circe, who had thus too hostilely employed the potency of herbs. Scylla remained on that spot; and, at the first moment that an opportunity was given, in her hatred of Circe, she deprived Ulysses of his companions. Soon after, the same Scylla would have overwhelmed the Trojan ships, had she not been first transformed into a rock, which even now is prominent with its crags; this rock the sailor, too, avoids.

  • [PDF] Ovid, The Metamorphoses of Ovid Literally Translated into English Prose, with Copious Notes and Explanations. Books VIII – XV, Project Gutenberg, 1893.
    [Bibtex]
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      author    = {Ovid},
      title     = {The Metamorphoses of Ovid Literally Translated into English Prose, with Copious Notes and Explanations. Books VIII - XV},
      year      = {1893},
      note      = {This e-text covers the second half, Books VIII-XV, of Henry T. Riley’s 1851 translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The first half, Books I-VII, is already available from Project Gutenberg as e-text 21765. Note that this text, unlike the earlier one, is based solely on the 1893 George Bell reprint. The text includes characters that will only display in UTF-8 (Unicode) file encoding, including Greek words in the Notes: œ, Œ (oe ligature) κείρω, ἀκονιτὶ If any of these characters do not display properly, or if the apostrophes and quotation marks in this paragraph appear as garbage, you may have an incompatible browser or unavailable fonts. First, make sure that the browser’s “character set” or “file encoding” is set to Unicode (UTF-8). You may also need to change your browser’s default font. All Greek words have mouse-hover transliterations: Δηοῦς κόρη.},
      publisher = {Project Gutenberg},
      url       = {http://archive.org/details/themetamorphoses26073gut},
      file      = {themetamorphoses26073gut.epub:media/trismegisto/Vitamin/Documents/Bibliography/themetamorphoses26073gut.epub:ePUB},
      timestamp = {2016-07-28},
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  • [PDF] Ovid, The Metamorphoses of Ovid Literally Translated into English Prose, with Copious Notes and Explanations. Books I – VII, Project Gutenberg, 1893.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{themetamorphoses21765gut,
      author    = {Ovid},
      title     = {The Metamorphoses of Ovid Literally Translated into English Prose, with Copious Notes and Explanations. Books I - VII},
      year      = {1893},
      note      = {This e-text covers the first half, Books I-VII, of Henry T. Riley’s 1851 translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The second half, Books VIII-XV, is already available from Project Gutenberg as e-text 26073. The text includes characters that will only display in UTF-8 (Unicode) file encoding, including Greek words in the Notes: œ, Œ (oe ligature) κείρω, ἀκονιτὶ If any of these characters do not display properly, or if the apostrophes and quotation marks in this paragraph appear as garbage, you may have an incompatible browser or unavailable fonts. First, make sure that the browser’s “character set” or “file encoding” is set to Unicode (UTF-8). You may also need to change your browser’s default font. All Greek words have mouse-hover transliterations: Δηοῦς κόρη.},
      publisher = {Project Gutenberg},
      url       = {http://archive.org/details/themetamorphoses26073gut},
      file      = {themetamorphoses26073gut.epub:media/trismegisto/Vitamin/Documents/Bibliography/themetamorphoses26073gut.epub:ePUB},
      timestamp = {2016-07-28},
    }
  • [PDF] Ovid, Metamorphoses, Illustrated, Georgium Coruinum, Sigismundum Feyerabent & haeredes Vvigandi Galli, 1563.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{ovidmetamorphoses1563,
      title =     {Metamorphoses, Illustrated},
      publisher = {Georgium Coruinum, Sigismundum Feyerabent \& haeredes Vvigandi Galli},
      year =      {1563},
      author =    {Ovid},
      comment =   {Published 1563 Usage Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Topics Ovid, Metamorphoses, German, Edition, 1563, Woodcuts, Virgil Solis, Publisher Feyerabent Identifier OvidMetamorphoses1563 Mediatype texts Licenseurl http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ Scanner Internet Archive HTML5 Uploader 1.5.2 Identifier-access http://archive.org/details/OvidMetamorphoses1563 Identifier-ark ark:/13960/t75t67t8b Ppi 150 Ocr ABBYY FineReader 9.0 1563 Illustrated Edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses Author: Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) Title: Metamorphoses Publisher: Georg Corvin, Sigismund Feyerabent & Wigandi Galli (Georgium Coruinum, Sigismundum Feyerabent & haeredes Vvigandi Galli) Poet: Johannes Posthius von Germersheim (old spelling Germersheim) Illustrations: Virgil Solis (Woodcuts) Printed in Frankfurt, Germany 1563. (Impressum Francofurti, MDLXIII) Collection: The Norris Museum, St Ives, Cambridgeshire, UK. Catalogue Numbers 90 and 200. Digitization: By Dr Chris Thomas, on behalf of the Norris Museum Nikon DS5200 Camera with Flash RAW (Nikon NEF) Format 6000pixels x 4000pixels (originals with Norris Museum) Cropped and edited in Corel AfterShot Pro 1.2.0.7 Exported as 1600pixel x 1200pixel images and converted to PDF book Year 1563 Language Latin Collection opensource},
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      keywords =  {Ovid, Metamorphoses, German, Edition, 1563, Woodcuts, Virgil Solis, Publisher Feyerabent},
      timestamp = {2016-03-14},
      url =       {https://archive.org/details/OvidMetamorphoses1563}
    }

One of the characteristics of oral tradition is that one single account cannot be taken literally in all its details. The general picture emerges when one compares different versions of the same story. De Santillana and von Dechend’s Hamlet’s Mill illustrates this perfectly.

  • H. de Santillana Giorgio; von Dechen, Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time, Nonpareil Books, 1977.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{deSantillanaVonDechendHamletsMill1977,
      title =     {Hamlet's Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time},
      publisher = {Nonpareil Books},
      year =      {1977},
      author =    {de Santillana, Giorgio; von Dechen, Hertha},
      comment =   {isbn:9780879232153, amazon:0879232153, google:ql7ATHGee50C},
      file =      {deSantillanaVonDechendHamletsMill1977.pdf:media/trismegisto/Vitamin/Documents/Bibliography/deSantillanaVonDechendHamletsMill1977.pdf:PDF},
      keywords =  {Phylosophy, Mythology},
      review =    {Ever since the Greeks coined the language we commonly use for scientific description, mythology and science have developed separately. But what came before the Greeks? What if we could prove that all myths have one common origin in a celestial cosmology? What if the gods, the places they lived, and what they did are but ciphers for celestial activity, a language for the perpetuation of complex astronomical data? Drawing on scientific data, historical and literary sources, the authors argue that our myths are the remains of a preliterate astronomy, an exacting science whose power and accuracy were suppressed and then forgotten by an emergent Greco-Roman world view. This fascinating book throws into doubt the self-congratulatory assumptions of Western science about the unfolding development and transmission of knowledge. This is a truly seminal and original thesis, a book that should be read by anyone interested in science, myth, and the interactions between the two.},
      timestamp = {2016-05-28}
    }

How much written tradition, how much oral tradition, how much creative license there is in this Ovid’s tale of Circe, I don’t know. I suspect however, that in the end, one could approach it in a similar way as in De Grazia’s The Disastrous Love Affair Of Moon And Mars.

  • A. de Grazia, The Disastrous Love Affair Of Moon And Mars, Metron Publications, 2014.
    [Bibtex]
    @Book{Grazia2014c,
      title =        {The Disastrous Love Affair Of Moon And Mars},
      publisher =    {Metron Publications},
      year =         {2014},
      author =       {Alfred de Grazia},
      month =        {jul},
      note =         {Celestial Sex, Earthly Destruction, And Dramatic Sublimation In Homer's Odyssey },
      author_sort =  {Grazia, Alfred De},
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      formats =      {pdf},
      library_name = {Calibre Library},
      size =         {556526 octets},
      timestamp =    {2016-01-22},
      title_sort =   {Disastrous Love Affair Of Moon And Mars, The},
      url =          {http://quantavolution.net/},
      uuid =         {2b9fcdcd-539f-4b9f-a9ac-5d7895e2fe15}
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From De Grazia’s foreword:

In this book, I extract a dreamy bedroom comedy from Homer’s Odyssey, analyze it as a dramatic form of myth, detect that it might have a real astronomical origin, seek this origin in world-wide disasters, and assert that an unconscious parallel occurs between astronomical events and artistic production.

So be it.

Source: Wikimedia

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