Warning! This post may contain spoilers
Miller writes the story of Circe, and takes us through her journey of transformation from an immortal witch Goddess to a human soul who feels love and compassion. Circe shows what we humans take for granted and what even gods would desire if they were real.
The story starts off with Circe living under Helios’ heel. Circe has no sense of purpose and lives with the role given to her by the Gods. She believes this is what is meant for her, and she shouldn’t question her destiny.
Her first act of rebellion is when she meets Prometheus. Inspired by his pain and suffering, she defies her Father by feeding Prometheus. For once, she does something that hasn’t been pre determined by the Gods. Her desire to be more human is sparked by this act. This is also perhaps the moment where she realizes that Gods aren’t as powerful as they believe themselves to be. Prometheus stole fire from them and gave it to humans. She in turn fed Prometheus.
Her next act of ‘blasphemy’ is she falls in love with a human and turns him into a God. She first experiences jealousy when the one she loves takes another as his lover. In anger she turns her into Scylla, a monstrous representation of her Jealousy. Circe shows us that we make our own demons. Banished to the island of her own, her prison becomes her freedom. She learns to live based on her own ideals rather those of the gods. In this sense, Circe becomes more human.
Overall, the book feels more like a biography than an actual storyline. Her desire to be Human is met with her actions, from opposing the gods to wanting to protect her child by putting herself on the line. She has a longing for love and companionship that can only be met with mortality. In the end Circe realizes that life can only have a meaning if it has an end.
Circe’s personal journey from imperfection to imperfection is something that humans fail to take. We sometimes forget that there is more to life than satisfying people around us. In loneliness, Circe finds her freedom. Being alone is what makes her realize that there might be many people around her, but there are not many she can call her friends. In her millennia’s of life, there are only a few individuals she can trust. She learns not to live her life to satisfy people around her. She learns to develop her own talent and skill. Her prison becomes her home.
Circe’s time as a goddess makes her believe that people, humans, are not so bad. She lived in a fantasy world where she trusted that no one would ever hurt her. She is met with a rude awakening when a captain of a stray ship forces himself upon her. And even though she had many chances to take him down before he assaults her, she didn’t. Part of the reason could be that she still believed in good. Unlike the Gods, she still believed that humans are greater than their perception by the Gods. This is a point in Circe’s Journey where her character transforms from being a fantasy goddess to truly being a witch of Aeae. She would attack first and ask questions later.
Ship captains and their crew came, only to be turn into pigs. Time and time again. Perhaps they never heard the legend, for the only ones who knew the true nature of the witch were transformed into pigs. The only exception turns out to be Odysseus.
Odysseus is a different lover than the ones she previously took. Prometheus whom she pitied was bound by chains, a noble God who tried to help humans. Glaucos, was a poor fisherman whom she fell in love with and turned into a God. Daedalus again was bound by the gods, to a fate that he did not choose. They were all victims, all playthings of the Gods. However Odysseus was different. He was not noble, or kind but cunning and brave. He would do anything to gain victory, even cut the throats of his own soldiers. And even when Circe knew of Odysseus’ schemes and plots, she still loved him. She was still a goddess and death of a few humans by the hands of her lover didn’t matter to her. Odysseus was not lying to her. He was what he was. An army general who would do anything to gain victory over his enemies. There was nothing hidden about him. She knew of his wife and son. And she longed for him to not return.
Her true realization of mortality came when her son was born. Suddenly everything around her became dangerous. Everything around her could hurt her mortal son. She had to be around him all the time, even cast a spell on the island, powerful enough to keep Athena away. She knew her son, Odysseus son was just another tool for the Gods. She worried frantically, casting spells, creating potions, scheming plots. But one day her son would grow and desire to be beyond the island, to be his own man.
When Telemachus enters Circe’s life, she realizes that life is not about living forever. Loss is a part of life. End is a part of the journey. She realizes that in order to truly live, she must be ready to die. I believe this is when she realizes how she can finally beat Scylla. She must risk not just her life, but of the one she loved to face off against the monstrosity she created. Scylla would be beat and she would be free. And finally when she is free, she chooses of her own free will to be a mortal. The witch of Aeae chooses to live with her loved one and die, rather than live alone forever.
The writing style of Madeline is very modern. She doesn’t try too hard to retain the fantasy element of the Greek mythology and portrays it in a clear fictional fashion. She also leaves the reader wanting more of the story lines that originate from characters entering and exiting Circe’s life. This is done in intention to keep the focus on Circe. The lives of Greek gods and mythological characters are just passerby’s in her life.
It does feel like the author tries too hard to convince the reader of Circe’s prowess. Circe’s rivalry against Athena feels lacking and unreal. Athena is possibly the most powerful goddess of the Greek mythos, but she simply couldn’t defeat Circe, a mere witch nymph. Or maybe in Madeline’s version, the Greek gods are not all that powerful. Personally, her description of Greek Gods feels more like humans with powers, rather than godly figures. Also, Circe’s arc with her father Helios felt incomplete. Helios clearly saves Circe only to protect his pride. Circe realizes this soon enough. At that point, it is unclear why Circe continues her punishment. Perhaps she still feels bound by the chains of Gods. Or maybe she decides to move on from her need to be win the approval of her father. The book club of which I am a part of mentioned Helios as the only all powerful Titan who can match Zeus in terms of prowess. Helios is a deterrent and thus a threatening force towards Zeus. Personally, I have to disagree. I believe Zeus let Helios live because he betrayed the titans, and Zeus was not worried about Helios scheming behind his back. Because Helios would never take action. The fact that Zeus was not too concerned about Circe is maybe due to the fact that he just didn’t care. Because if Helios really wanted to protect his pride, he would have prevented Circe’s rape, or at least punished the humans who did it. Helios possibly realizes that Zeus is playing with him, thus he no longer concerns himself with Circe. And Circe, in realizing that Helios is not all that powerful, moves on.
Circe is a good casual read. It covers many different facets of Greek mythology in a very few pages. For hardcore Greek Mythos fans however, this book may leave them with wanting a lot more and they may not agree with Madeline’s portrayal of the witch of Aeae. The book is more about a lonely Goddess’ journey and her treatment by the Greek Gods. I would say read it at your own pace and don’t expect too much out of it. You are sure to enjoy it.
*Circe is a part of the series selected by OMG book club, follow them on insta @omgbookclub *