Marble head of a companion of Odysseus

Roman, probably a copy of a Hellenistic original of about 200 BC
From Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, Italy

This marble head with its very distinctive attitude and expression would have remained incomprehensible were it not for evidence that came to light in the late 1950s in the 'Grotto of Tiberius' at Sperlonga on the coast of Italy. Here, remains of a sculptural group showing an episode (the Blinding of Polyphemus) from the exploits of the hero Odysseus were revealed.

Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant, was shown sleeping, intoxicated by the wine provided by Odysseus and his men, who were captives in the monster's cave. Odysseus had instructed his crew to sharpen an olive pole and heat it in the fire. The sculptural group showed Odysseus' men just on the point of driving the pole into the Cyclops' single eye. The horror of what was about to happen, and the fear of the consequences, were shown on the face of one man: turning to flee, he glances in anguish towards the giant, the wine-skin which had provided the Cyclops' downfall still in his left hand.

This head shows the face of the unfortunate man in a version that may itself have formed part of a larger composition. Alternatively, the success with which the original sculptor had captured the moment of terror may have led to copies of this figure being made and circulated for their own sake. This head has suffered some damage: the nose, lips and bust are modern restorations.

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Gösta Säflund, The Polyphemus and Scylla grou (Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1972)


Height: 21.500 inches

Museum number

GR 1805.7-3.86 (Sculpture 1860)


Townley Collection


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