These drawings illustrate Homer's Odyssey and Iliad respectively (Book XI, 779 and Book III, 383 ff.). In the first, Odysseus, after sacrificing sheep at the River of Ocean, the frontier of the world, entices the souls of the dead from Erebus; the three armed warriors are probably Agamemnon, Ajax and Achilles. The engraving gives the following text:
But swarms of spectres rose from deepest Hell,
With bloodless visage, and with hideous yell,
They scream, they shriek; sad groans and dismal sounds
Stun my scar'd ears, and pierce Hell's utmost bounds.
In the Iliad, Paris, after a duel with Meneleus whom he has cuckolded with Helen, is rescued from near-certain death by being concealed in a dense cloud by Aphrodite, who returns him to the safety of his own fragrantly perfumed bedroom. Aphrodite then leads Helen, who has been watching the duel from a high tower, to their bedroom and sits her down in a chair before the reclining Paris. Here the lines accompanying the engraving read:
Full in her Paris sight, the Queen of Love
Had placed the Beauteous Progeny of Jove.
These drawings were done in preparation for Flaxman's two great series of outline illustrations to Homer, publications that spread his fame and his own form of linear neo-classicism throughout Europe. On 12 September 1792 Flaxman wrote to George Romney from Rome that he was engaged, among other things, on 'a series of drawings from Homer & Dante which are engraving.' The first editions of each book, with engravings by Piroli, were published in Rome in 1793. Additional subjects for the Iliad were engraved by William Blake and James Parker for the first English edition of 1805, and the Odyssey had to be re-engraved by English engravers the same year, the original plates having been lost at sea. Further editions appeared in France in 1803, Germany in 1804 and frequently thereafter up to the complete edition of Flaxman's designs published in France in 1835. (For Flaxman's Homer designs see D. Bindman, ed., John Flaxman, R.A., exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, October - December 1979, pp. 86-93, 152-4, 184-5.)
There are complete sets of drawings for the two books in the Royal Academy and a number of other versions of several of the subjects. Our two drawings are more finished than those in the Royal Academy but differ from the final engravings in detail.