John William Waterhouse often got his inspiration from Greek Mythology, Shakespearean characters, and other Greek Literature. In this case, his inspiration stemmed from Greek Mythology. Circe is an ancient enchantress and minor goddess in Greek Mythology. She is believed to either be the daughter of the Greek god Helios and Oceanid nymph Oceanid or the goddesses Hecate and Aeetes. Circe was known for her extensive knowledge of portions and herbs, which she would use to transform her enemies and those who offended her into animals. John William Waterhouse made several paintings depicting this Greek enchantress or minor goddess. He was fascinated by the tales Circe and her Wrath.
Circe II by John William Waterhouse features the enchantress sitting with her elbows on a table. The table appears to have a globe, an object commonly used by enchantresses. She has her hands on her chin. This is used as a symbol for deep thought. Her facial expression also shows the enchantress to be in deep thought. Across the table is an animal. If you look closely, you will notice two animals whose eyes are the only features present in the painting. The animals (a leopard and a loom) are likely her enemies or people who offended her, as the enchantress is known to turn people into animals using portions and a magic wand. In this case, it is safe to say that she used a portion because there is a tipped-over glass on the table with some red content spilling from it. The content is believed to be the portion used by the enchantress to turn the people into animals. There are two large pots, a book with drawings, and several other items in the painting.
These are believed to be her tools for creating portions and herbs. In the painting, Circe is depicted as a redhead. John William Waterhouse painted two similar paintings with this character. The first painting was Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses, painted in 1891. This painting features a scene from the Odyssey. The second one is Circe Invidiosa, painted later that year. This was his second depiction of the classical mythological character. He also painted Circe in 1911, a more straightforward and more elaborate version of Circe II. This oil on canvas painting is believed to be part of his private collection. Therefore, its current location is unknown. Another artist who liked to produce female portraits was Alphonse Mucha, whose best work included Morning, Night and Reverie.