The main decorative element of the Richard Green gallery, London, is a relief in three separate yet related panels by Alexander Stoddart, depicting the last voyage and the sacrifice of Odysseus [fig.1] as foretold by the spirit of the blind seer Tiresias in Nekyia, Book 11 of the Odyssey.
This is where the ghost of the Theban prophet describes a scenario in the aftermath of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, after the great slaughter of the suitors – “then you must take up your well-shaped oar and go on a journey / until you come where there are men living who know nothing / of the sea, and who eat food that is not mixed with salt, who never / have known well-shaped oars, which act for ships as wings do. / And I will tell you a very clear proof, and you cannot miss it. / When, as you walk, some other wayfarer happens to meet you, / and says you carry a winnow-fan [sic] on your bright shoulder, / then you must plant your well-shaped oar in the ground, and render / ceremonies sacrifice to the lord Poseidon, / one ram and one bull, and a mounter of sows, a boar pig, / and make your way home again and render holy hecatombs / to the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven, all / of them in order” (Lattimore 1965:11.121-134). The best Byzantine commentator on Homer, Eustathius Archbishop of Thessalonica (1115-1195), explained the text above as follows:
And Teiresias’ advice wants Odysseus to take an oar on his shoulders and to travel until he comes to men who do not know of the sea or who have never taken a meal with salt or who do not know ships i.e. so that Poseidon the landlord may be honoured in places where his name is not spoken of. For [it is] a certain honour for some to be honoured amongst people who do not know them. On which account the person who speaks praises for some to those who know, might hear [in answer] the following: “you speak these things to those who know the Achaeans”. And who might be those who do not know Poseidon? Those who do not know what is mentioned above. And the ancients mention certain heavy-sounding names of place in foreign language, some referring to a certain Bounima or Kelkea, in which Odysseus honoured Poseidon. (Stallbaum 1826:402 / Translation by Dr Antony Makrinos).