One of the great heroic figures of the Trojan war, Odysseus is depicted here in Ithica after his ten year voyage to return home. His wife, Penelope, is on the reverse side (whose images may not be seen simultaneously) is shown holding the bow that she had used as a futile test for her suitors during her husband’s absence. It was her remarkable fidelity to Odysseus to which her name is attached to history. Standing with her is Argos, Odysseus’ dog. Traditionally used in allegory as a symbol of loyalty, the master’s dog waited the long years for his return only long enough to see Odysseus once again before dying.
The initial draw to this story came from reading Ulysses, (as Odysseus is known in roman mythology) Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem of 1833. The subject is written as man in great contemplation after his return home. He weighs the rest of his days and what they may offer, deciding that his route must always to be “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” in regards to his exploration of the world. He is treated as the consummate seeker of knowledge. Perhaps he is still haunted by the memory of some of his men lost on the voyage home whose lives were destroyed by apathy after eating lotus leaves. (Tennyson addresses this story in his 1832 poem, The Lotos Eaters and the rim of this vase is decorated with the same plant.) Odysseus considers leaving his wife and home again in order to once again enrich himself, perhaps staving off his advancing age. It is with deeper exploration in his character at this point where the real interest lies. While it is undoubtedly noble to strive for self-education, at what point does personal enrichment overshadow the responsibilities and commitments to others? Is Odysseus to leave his people leaderless again and his loyal wife alone due to his selfish desire for worldly understanding and adventure?
This piece also has personal significance for it was during its creation that i had decided to uproot my life, leaving my private and public relationships, in order to move to New York City to further my own arts education.