Poetry is a bottomless mine for finding subjects to turn into art. Recently I have been rereading Homer’s Odyssey for subject matter to use for my wood block prints and wood engravings. What I am most drawn to are not the major episodes like Odysseus’ passage between Scylla and Charybdis which is full of drama, movement, and danger with the threat of immanent death where Odysseus must choose between the certain death of some of his crew or the possible death of everyone on the ship.
Instead I am more interested in Odysseus’ homecoming. He had been gone for twenty years, ten years fighting on the plains of Troy and then ten more years on the wide ocean fighting to get home. And when he finally arrives in Ithaca he sees his old dog lying on a dung hill. It’s been twenty years that Odysseus has been gone but still the dog recognizes his master.
This is a scene I can most identify with. This is the dog who comes running to the door to greet me when I come home. This is all our dogs: warm, caring, and loving.
Of course not all my Odyssey prints are of such small, intimate scenes. One of my favorites is my print of Polyphemus, the cyclops who is the son of Poseidon. But the print does not illustrate Polyphemus bashing out the brains of Odysseus’ men or Odysseus putting out his eye. The print is an image of Polyphemus who seems to be looking in a mirror and wondering who will blind him, wondering who it will be since it could be anyone.
And of course I love the story of Proteus, the old man of the sea that Menelaus met on his way home from Troy. Proteus was another son of Poseidon and an oracle who would tell you anything you wanted to know if you could capture him and hold on to him because he could also change his shape into anything. And when Menelaus, on his home from Troy, tried to capture him Proteus turned himself into a lion and then a snake. When that didn’t work he turned himself into a tree and then into water. Still Menelaus held on and eventually Proteus was forced to tell him what Menelaus wanted to know.
The next print in the series will be a print of holy moly the plant found only half way down a steep cliff that Odysseus needed to prevent Circe from turning him into a beast like she had done to all his men.
I could spend years carving blocks and making prints based on The Odyssey, but I think after I’m finished with holy-moly I might turn to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for my next set of prints or perhaps I’ll just walk out my back door and look for plants and animals living in my yard.