An Odyssean Quest of Sorts

Tip o’ the pileus to Bret Mulligan for alerting us to this one … the incipit of a piece in Newsworks:

“When he had the bow in his hands, the godlike Odysseus,
Easily did stretch the string, and shoot through the axe-heads:
Then he sprang up on the platform, and poured out the arrows before him…”

Thus did the ancient Greek hero Odysseus arrived in Ithaca to reclaim his home and wife. Having revealed himself as the true Odysseus, he laid waste the layabout suitors vying for his Penelope.

“…as heads were stricken, a dreadful
Groaning arose: and the floor ran deep with the blood of the slaughtered.”

That last image was perhaps too gory for N.C. Wyeth, who, in 1929, was commissioned to paint 16 scenes from “The Odyssey” for publication. He instead chose the first part, “The Trial of the Bow,” to illustrate the scene.

“He worked in so much color — it’s quite iridescent,” said Kathleen Foster, curator American art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “While he was telling a great story — and “The Odyssey” is a great story — he’s employing all the skills of the artist. He’s a great painter.”

Over the years, that set of 16 “Odyssey” paintings dispersed into the the market; most landed in unknown private collections. Only five could be accounted for, including one at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa. This one, which has just been donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, makes six.

“We’re still looking for the other 10,” said Foster.

Painting missing longer than Odysseus in epic tale

“The Trial of the Bow” was thought missing for 30 years until it was recently discovered in the Philadelphia headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, just a few blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Since the late 1980s, it had been in a hallway just outside an executive office. Few employees had any idea it was something special.

“We knew we had a Wyeth,” said Ray Milora of GlaxoSmithKline. “I think the importance of it was less known.”

Milora does not know how or why the company acquired an original Wyeth canvas. The company became aware that the painting was part of a set of missing Wyeths when GSK prepared to move to new headquarters in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. […]

… the original article has a bit of a slideshow of the one piece mentioned above, of course, and I’m sure some folks will recall seeing one or more of this series. Palmer’s translation of the Odyssey (whence comes the painting) is available at and various other places, but I can’t find an edition with the paintings in them.

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