Herakles and Telephos

In my ever expanding collection of books , I possess a well worn volume that I treasure dearly. It is The Odyssey of Homer,  translated by Alexander Pope and illustrated with lovely line drawings in the manner of Flaxman. As I mentioned, it is in sorry shape, but I picked up this gem for a quarter at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh  many years ago. I confess I haven’t read this translation, the pages are brittle, the text so teeny I can barely focus on the page. I merely enjoy the book ; its fussy attention to detail, each page framed by an elegant red line, its many musty charms. I particularly love the ornamental spot illustration, micro plates , somewhat Greek (sometimes not) in nature,that intersperse the text; they are often enigmatic and always delightful .

One such micro plate inspired this painting/drawing, Herakles and Telephos.


Herakles and Telephos


graphite and watercolor on YUPO paper

9 by 12″

Initially when I stumbled upon the plate (set neatly between Book  XIV and Book XV) I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was looking at. The image seemed  vaguely surreal in its composition and in its elements: a big headed man, a putto, a doe (with antlers), a strangely phallic cloud and a menacing raptor. But as I began working on my own interpretation I began to realize I was looking at an image of Hercules and his infant son Telephos. In  a nutshell, Telephos born of one of Hercules’ many dalliances, was ill fated, and like the babe Oedipus, sentenced to death, in this case by his fearful maternal grandfather. Our Hero-daddy rescues the boy, entrusting his care to a lactating doe. For a better explanation, this link might help, HERE.

The following is the initial image, blown up quite a bit, the original is the size of a postage stamp; I have no clue as to who the artist was.


If the original was enigmatic, my interpretation might be more so. I of course retained the phallic cloud, and the doe’s perplexing antlers, but Telephos is no mere babe and the raptor/Zeus ( the boy’s grandad) is no mere bird. I’m not going to analyze the drawing to deeply but let’s just say the notion of a protective father figure resonated for me. Session ended.

In this drawing/painting I experimented with a new material, the synthetic paper YUPO ( link HERE). I was introduced to this paper by another artist who extolled its virtues, namely its ability to take a lot of medium and still remain flat and unwrinkled. It also allows for errors in watercolor to be easily removed. Alas it also allows for details you value to be easily removed. It takes a bit of time for paint to set up, and I must figure out how to work with it. YUPO may not be my go-to paper just now but it does have possibilities I would like to explore. It is marketed as a watercolor paper yet it takes graphite beautifully, the pencil glides upon the smooth surface. The following is the drawing before I added watercolor.



Today I will be back into the thick of oils and perhaps venture into a hand puppet ( one idea will not leave my head so I better let it out).

Be well,


Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

4 thoughts on “Herakles and Telephos”

  1. I water-strech Strathmore plate over plate glass, taping on back. It will take many applications of water media, even lead enamel. It always dries drumhead flat. When finished I score it with a razor blade, and Voila!–it can be put directly on a scanner or matted and framed.

    1. Thanks, that makes a great deal of sense. YUPO concerned me in its ability to secure medium to its surface. I will give your method a shot, you clearly know what you are doing from the work I saw on your site. Be well, Lg

  2. My field is not art, but cameos & engraved gems, particularly ones with mythological themes. I love what you did with this, working from your own interpretation. Another would be that the scene alludes to 2 of the famous Labors, in this case the man-eating Stymphalian birds (it is phallic looking; could also be the lower end of a human femur) & the Ceryneian Hind, which was said to have antlers like a stag, except, being a classy lady, hers were gold.

    The figure that could be Telephos could also be the Genius of Hercules, sort of helping out.

    John Flaxman did illustrate an edition of the Pope Iliad & Odyssey. Sometimes he drew things that are not specifically mentioned in the text, such as the Hours unharnessing the horses from Juno’s car after Jupiter orders her to return to Olympus & stop meddling in Troy. However, the original that inspired you looks very much like an etching of an engraved gem of this type:

    My favorite thing about the Pope Odyssey is the long introduction explaining why he believes it was written by a woman, who introduced herself into the narrative as Nausicaa.

    1. Dear Judith,
      Thank you for taking the time to offer this information. I do not know much about cameos myself, my grandmother who was an antiques dealer, was passionate about them and my mother inherited quite a few of them . Next time I visit I will certainly consult your site.
      That said I can assure you the aren’t as interesting as the link you provided, my what a perverse looking stag!
      You have also encouraged me to actually read Pope’s translation (thus far I have read Fagles).
      So thank you!

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