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Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses

John William Waterhouse
1891

This painting illustrates an episode from the classical story of Circe, as told by the poet Homer. Circe was a sorceress who could transform people into animals. This is the moment when the ancient Greek hero Ulysses (who you can see in the mirror) approaches Circe to free his comrades. They have been turned into pigs and you can see one of them at her feet, and another snuffling around her throne.

This was the first painting that Waterhouse made based on Homer and marked a new departure for him as he continued to use more literary subjects in his paintings. It is one of the most popular paintings in Gallery Oldham’s collections and is regularly requested by other galleries for exhibitions.