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La Fileuse shows Fate spinning the destiny of man on her distaff. She holds the distaff in her hand, which is a spindle used to hold flax or wool for hand spinning the thread.
Gauzy blue drapery. On the pavement at her feet violets are strewn. Behind her Ulysses advances, and his galleys are seen between the pillars.
On his return from the Trojan War, Ulysses sailed to the fantastic island of Aeaea inhabited by Circe, a beautiful but powerful sorceress. The land was crawling with swine, the metamorphosed forms of men seduced by her potent herbal brews.
Ulysses lost his entire crew to her charms, but armed with moly, a herb given to him by Hermes, he was able to withstand her spells and force her to release his men from their bestial shape.
When the ship of the Argonauts reached the island of Cios, Hylas, the young and handsome companion of Hercules, was sent ashore in search of water. He discovered a fountain, but the nymphs of the place were so enchanted by his beauty that they pulled him to the depths of their watery abode, and in spite of the cries of Hercules which made the shores reverberate with the name Hylas, the young man was never seen again.
Waterhouse paints a Siren gazing regretfully at the drowning sailor she has drawn to his doom through her beautiful music.
"The sea-nymphs chant their accents shrill;
And the Sirens, taught to kill
With their sweet voice,
Make every echoing rock reply,
Unto their gentle murmuring noise".
Thomas Campion (1567-1620), In Praise of Neptune
The fifty daughters of Danaüs, King of Argos, were commanded in obedience to a prophecy to murder their husbands on their wedding night; all but one obeyed, and were punished by having to draw water in sieves from a deep well, or by pouring it endlessly into a vessel from which it continually escaped.