Ancient History, No. 40: The Despair of Calypso
Honoré Daumier ( French, 1808 - 1879 )
In the vain hope to forget,
The ingrate for whom her heart sobs.
This nymph remains in her cave,
Made a tender lovely letter.
In Greek mythology, Calypso was a sea nymph believed to be the daughter of Atlas. In Homer’s Odyssey, she kept Odysseus captive on her island for seven years to make him her immortal husband. He successfully pleaded for his release to return to his beloved wife, Penelope. Here, Daumier depicts a dejected Calypso watching Odysseus’s ship as it sails away in the distance. His caricature of Calypso wearing a tattered, oversized dress and rolled-down socks pokes fun at her role as Odysseus’s seductress.
Published in Le Charivari, it is one of fifty lithographs from the Ancient Stories series that appeared in the newspaper between December 1841 and January 1843. The series’ amusing interpretations of ancient legends was applauded for its comic qualities, bringing Greek and Roman mythology into the homes of 19th-century Parisians.
Martha MacLeod, DMA label copy, 2016.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Read a biography of Daumier from the NGA.