‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller

Have you finished Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey yet? Good, because one of the key players in it, the sorceress Circe, has a tale of her own to tell.

Madeline Miller’s Circe is something of a followup to her 2012 Illiad-based epic, The Song of Achilles. In this book, she retells the story of the eponymous witch goddess, reshaping the entire narrative of a former side character that people have reading for thousands of years:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

You won’t ever see Circe the same way again. She’s more than just a witch and “lesser” goddess who turns guys into pigs and entices heroes to her bed; she’s a clever hero in her own right, not to mention an icon of feminine empowerment. In fact, Odysseus only appears as a minor cameo in her story, just as she originally did in his. Her arc goes far beyond the brief time the two of them spent together.

What a great surprise this book was to read. I know you’ll enjoy it too.

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