‘Circe’ Brings a Modern Twist to a Classic Character

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Natalie Green

Kate Kueter ’21 holds the book Circe by Madeline Miller.

Kate Kueter, Video Editor

“Witches are not so delicate,” Madeline Miller wrote. Circe, the witch of Aiaia and the daughter of the Titan Helios, is a special kind of complex. She exudes beauty and grace, yet still instills fear and respect from her visitors. If you have read The Odyssey you have briefly met the character of Circe as the cunning seductive witch who turns men into pigs. In Circe, the reader experiences Circe’s story outside of The Odyssey and her path from a powerless nymph to a feared witch. She crosses paths with creatures like the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus, and the witch Medea. Madeline Miller weaves together multiple popular Greek myths into a fun and fast-paced story that shows the strength of personal will and the importance of self-discovery. Watching Circe turn friends into monsters and men into the pigs they act like should have made her seem like a villain. Instead, all her actions make her even more relatable and personable. Not once did I see her as a villain or her deeds evil. Circe always seemed justified and in the right. The story made me think about how society sees things in black and white. From one perspective Circe’s actions are horrible and unjustified, but from this book’s angle, I saw Circe as reasonable in her choices. Miller was able to take a character that had been established in Homer’s Odyssey and create a background story and a journey past the Odyssey story. It’s truly a page-turner that makes you feel like you are on the island with Circe watching centuries go by. 

We see a young, naïve nymph Circe suffer through a childhood full of bullying and neglect transform into a powerful witch, who uses her powers to inflect her version of justice upon men that she deems guilty. On Aiaia, Circe is judge, jury, and executioner. The book expands the voice given to women in Greek mythology. In typical Greek mythology, women are sexualized and fall under two categories: submissive and small or seductive and evil. In the original myths, Circe is painted as a tricky, conniving, seductive witch that has no stated reason for turning men into pigs besides her own enjoyment. But in Circe, you get to see her thought process and decision making. The story led me to consider her actions against the voyagers as justified. I found myself rooting for Circe to punish the men for their crimes against her. Even though Circe’s story is unlike anything I could experience myself, like the magic she wields and the punishment of banishment to an island, I found the range of her emotions accessible in my experience. 

Circe not only grows in her powers, but she also changes her sense of what is right and her relationship with others. One of the most powerful relationships in the book was with her son Telegonus. Circe’s determination to keep her son safe from Athena was one of the most interesting parts of the book. We saw a side of Circe, of grit and vulnerability, that she did not have before. Her bond of friendship with Penelope had some of my favorite interactions. The relationship starts very stiff and threatening and gradually shifts to a tag team of motherly love and respect for the other’s past. Both understand that their choices must be made carefully and without regret.

This book was a perfect blend of the myth and its own story. It kept me on my toes and never stopped its level of excitement. I could have easily read through this book on a weekend. If you enjoyed books like The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, or the many myths of the Greeks, Circe will be right up your alley.