Envy in Art: Circe, Cain, Time and Fame

Yesterday I wrote a post on envy.

Today, even though it’s the day for ‘love and longing’, I found myself gravitating back to the same theme. In the video I shared in my last post, Parul Mathur spoke about how fiction is the best place to find envy.

I figured art wouldn’t be too far behind either.


First I read about Circe the Enchantress, who would lure Odysseus and his men to become pigs in her pen. Before this, though, she falls in love with a sea God called Glaucus, but when he approaches her to help him declare his love for Scylla, she first tries to seduce him, and on failing, she pours a vial of poison into the pool in which Scylla daily bathed. This turns her into a monster terrified of her own appearance.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

In vain she offers from herself to run
And drags about her what she strives to shun.


And then there is the story of Cain and Abel, perhaps the most-often repeated tale of envy. The popular version of story says that Cain became jealous of Abel because the younger brother’s offering was accepted by God whereas his was rejected. There are other storytellers that claim this envy had deeper roots: apparently the girl that was promised to Abel as wife was more beautiful than the girl promised to Abel. The story goes that both brothers were born with twin sisters, and to minimize the effects of incest, Adam decided to give Cain’s twin to Abel and Abel’s to Cain. And Cain wanted to keep his twin to himself.


I couldn’t find the story behind this piece of work, titled Envy Plucking the Wings of Fame. So I decided to attempt a little bit of interpretation myself. Is the painter trying to say that envy feeds on somebody else’s fame? Or is he saying that as long as we don’t conquer our envy, we cannot achieve the fame that we want, that we cannot ‘fly’?

It’s also interesting how fame is clad in white and is bright, whereas envy is crouching, and is sheathed in darkness. Also, there is a trumpet (or a crude version of it) in Fame’s hand.


Another allegorical painting, titled Time Saving Truth From Envy and Falsehood. Once again envy is pushed into the darkness behind Time’s looming figure. The person that Time is pounding to the ground has a mask in his left hand, so most likely he’s meant to be falsehood. Envy, on the other hand, is barely visible.

As for the meaning of this, again, my interpretation is that time brings perspective. It cools down our flames of envy, and brings truth to the fore, allowing it to triumph over falsehood.

The first two paintings are self-explanatory, but do you have any alternate interpretations of the last two?

Images Courtesy: 1, 2, 3, 4

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