Center left portion of Arlington TemperaBy relating the themes in Blake's Arlington Tempera to myths from ancient Greece, Kathleen Raine, in Blake and Tradition, supplies a key to understanding the puzzling picture:
"The living spirits of light and water, reborn in their everlasting youth from Blake's imagination are age-old. They enact the perpetual cycle of the descent and return of souls between an eternal and a temporal world, and the journey through life, under the symbol of a crossing of the sea. Of this journey, the voyage of Odysseus, his dangers and his adventures, his departure and his home-coming to Ithaca, is the type and symbol. in Blake's painting the figure on the sea-verge is Odysseus, newly landed on his native shore, in the cove of the sea god Phorcys, close to the Cave of the Nymphs." (Page 75)
The picture is opened to Homer's archetypal myth by looking through Raine's eyes:
"Odysseus, for the Neoplatonists, symbolised man, whose progress from birth to death, through material existence, is likened to the hero's perilous journey." (Page 79)
The sea itself dominates this segment to the picture. Kathleen Raine identifies the kneeling man in the red robe as Odysseus. The Odyssey records an account of Odysseus' return to his home over the waters after the Battle of Troy. In his sea journey he encounters a series of adventures which expose him to various situations which have psychological import.
Instead of representing the trials of man as he gains experience, Blake suggests the whole of life's journey by portraying a single event from Odysseus' story upon the mighty sea. Probably the main clue to the identity of the man kneeling on the shore is the turning of the gaze away from the direction in which the man is tossing an object into the sea. The account of such an event is in Book V of the Odyssey where the goddess Leucothea (Ino) instructs Odysseus on how to return her girdle which has saved his life:
"Which you shall cast far distant from the shore
Into the Deep, Turning thy face away."
Leucothea had come to the rescue of Odysseus after he had lost all his men and his last ship and even the raft to which he was clinging. In his desperation, Odysseus is assisted by the sea itself in the form of the girdle of the goddess providing the means through which he may reach the islands of the Phaeacians.
On the horizon, the sea goddess accompanied by four horses, is reaching upward into a cloud. Raine tells us that Blake identified the girdle with the body, and that Blake often used the cloud to represent the body. So this portion of the image represents the end of the cycle of physical embodiment of the Soul. Odysseus has relinquished the physical body which was lent to him to traverse the sea (of time and space). Raine points out that Homer used a team of four stallions as a metaphor for the ship which took Odysseus on the final stage of his journey from Phaeacia where he relinquished the girdle. His ultimate destination was Ithaca, the home to which he was returning. The Cave of the Nymphs in the upper right portion of the Arlington Tempera where the descent into a material body began lies near the shore of his homeland.
In The Eternal Drama, Edward Edinger provides this insight into the conclusion of the journey of Odysseus: for the final stage of the return, the body was not required because the ships of the Phaeacians themselves understand the thoughts and minds of men. (Page 121)
Milton, Plate 25 , (E 121)
"And Los stood & cried to the Labourers of the Vintage in voice of awe.
Fellow Labourers! The Great Vintage & Harvest is now upon Earth
The whole extent of the Globe is explored: Every scatterd Atom
Of Human Intellect now is flocking to the sound of the Trumpet
All the Wisdom which was hidden in caves & dens, from ancient
Time; is now sought out from Animal & Vegetable & Mineral
The Awakener is come. outstretchd over Europe! the Vision of God is fulfilled
The Ancient Man upon the Rock of Albion Awakes,"