With Circe, Madeline Miller has given us a gorgeous retelling of an ancient story. Do not be tempted to believe this is your average English 101 reading of The Odyssey. And although we have known the ending of this story for thousands of years, there is real suspense. An enchanting mix of mythology, family drama, love, lust, betrayal and feminism, Circe is a terrific book group selection. To a woman we loved this book!
Circe is the child of Helios, god of the sun, and a naiad. While immortal she does not possess the powers of her Titan father. She has been forbidden to consort with mortals, but in human rebellious teenage form, she begins to do so and discovers she possesses the very dangerous power of witchcraft. Zeus feels threatened and banishes Circe to a deserted island. Here begins the real tale of her skills with the occult, becoming a single mother and encountering many of the most famous figures in mythology. We are re-introduced to The Minotaur, Jason and the Golden Fleece, Hermès, Medea. All of these myths are brought back to us with dazzling magic and fantasy.
Time and again, men have sailed to Aiaia, Circe’s island. Often they are rude, violent, and intent on rape and destruction. Circe has been forced to defend herself and her home with spells and potions, any means available. She has honed her occult skills to include turning these horrible guests into pigs. “The truth is,” she says, “men make terrible pigs.” Enter Odysseus and his men. And so begins their complicated, passionate and very human love affair.
Telegonus is the son born of this affair. After his birth, Circe’s humanity is clearly revealed to us again with a whopping case of postpartum depression. She is driven nearly mad by his crying, but when she watches his face as he sleeps, she is gripped by maternal devotion so strong she begins to list all the things she would and will do for him. Circe is tested over and over as a human and as a witch.
The real strength of Madeline Miller’s retelling of this story is her understanding and expression of the psychology of a woman who must rely on herself to protect her home, her son, and her own life. The beauty of the book is the exquisite and poetic language. The fun is in the suspense, the humor, and the marvelous storytelling. The joy of a wonderful story!