I stare at Circe and Circe stares at me. According the various visitors who have seen her over the years, her expression is sulky, sad, angry, disappointed, weary or cynical. Their opinion however, tells me more about their frame of mine than hers.
Possibly, the model standing swathed in her gorgeous green and blue robe was thinking nothing more than how she wished John W. Waterhouse would turn the bloody heating on, but to me anyway, she looks resigned; like a woman who always suspected the truth but has now had it confirmed irrevocably.
Ever wondered where the ‘All Men Are Pigs’ saying originated? She’s the gal who started it. In the painting she is tipping a crystal clear bowl of liquid into water which will be consumed by Odysseus’s men. The liquid will reveal, so the story goes, their true natures which is why, presumably, they all became pigs: swine. The real irony is, of course, that Odysseus – the man who actually wronged her – is the only one who doesn’t drink the water. He gets off scot free to nip home to the missus who has been patiently waiting for the better part of a decade for his return, and fighting off suitors into the bargain.
To the Greeks he was a hero. To Circe and I would imagine to his wife Penelope if she ever found out, he was a much more mundane legend; the married man who has his cake, scoffs a few more slices and then decides he likes home cooking after all. If a goddess can be taken in so completely then what chance do we mere mortals stand?
Going back to the Greeks for a moment; they believed for some curious reason that all heroes were fundamentally flawed. Why would that be? Surely the whole point of a god or a hero (heroine) would be a figure who could be held up above the usual failings of mankind? If they were all as fallible as us normal folks what was the point of their existence?
Behind me hangs a second Pre-Raphaelite print. This one is by Fredrick William Burns and has the intriguing title ‘Meeting on the Tower Stairs’ which sums it up quite nicely really. A forlorn maiden in a stunning blue gown appears to be gently pulling away from a knight in a beautiful contrasting tunic of embroidered orange cloth. Her face is turned away from him; her head dipped and at her feet is a crushed white rose which, to me, hints that their passion has perhaps gone beyond the chaste. I think it is obvious that he is leaving with little likelihood of return. He is going either to battle or another place and there he will probably die or marry another woman. But again, the selection of opinions others give is a fascinating glimpse into their psyche.
One dear friend who had been to hell and back with her partner and had relinquished all pride to make the relationship work again joked that the knight was wiping his nose on the young woman’s sleeve! Yes, it was funny and we laughed but later when I was alone, I found it incredibly sad. Every opinion we make tells a tale on who we really are and what we really think. I am not a professional in any sense of the word I hasten to add but over the years I have been in situations where people, sometimes complete strangers, felt compelled to open up their most private fears and sorrows to me.
Even my preference for Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau decoration reveals a lot about me. Like Circe I am a disappointed idealist. I have a frightening tendency to believe what I am told and sometimes not enough courage to stand up for what I actually do believe. Like Circe I have been betrayed, lied to and cheated and given the chance, yes, I would also spike the water so that the people concerned were revealed in their true colours. But reality doesn’t allow for such luxuries. All too often culprits escape untouched by their misdeeds and it seems even more frequently, they profit from them.
Different people react to this realisation in different ways: Some become bitter, angry and vengeful; others become meek, accepting and philosophical. Me? I chose to withdraw. I live my life mostly alone and, oddly, find content in the peace it brings. I have a few close friends and of course my children and grandchild but for me, bright lights and crowds are a living hell. I am far happier retreating to the safety of a wonderful book or DVD, a painting or the written word. Within those confines I suppose I am a goddess: If a story bores me I can snap shut the pages and embark on another journey with different companions. Films can be chosen and sampled according to the emotion I most want to indulge in. Art releases all the passion and love for which I have no physical outlet and writing, of course, allows the freedom of expression conversation might normally bring.
Music, you may notice, is not included. Music is the oddest of all the arts, to me. It has brought misery and oppression into my life and the lives of others around me over the years; it has also brought pleasure and in some cases inspiration but it is flighty: A double edged sword which can sometimes swing back and wound too deeply for comfort. Perhaps it is because it is not usually pinned down like the other arts. Yes, it can be imprisoned by sheet music but most musicians (real musicians) seem to find their music inside themselves. They do not follow the notes slavishly; they gather up the bare bones of the piece and juggle them to fit their own inspiration.
I don’t trust musicians and that is nothing to do with them, it is to do with me and my own history. So: I stare at Circe and she stares back at me. Here’s power to you sweetheart and here’s to the conclusion: Not all men are pigs, not all women are bitches. But sadly, too many of them are.