The Greekish Life
Books and Music
"Circe" by Madeline Miller
A Subversive Retelling of a Story You Thought You Knew
"Circe" art by Barbara
Sorceress. Witch. Seductress. She welcomed Odysseus to her island, then cruelly turned his men into pigs.
Most of us are familiar with her story. But not like this.
Madeline Miller's utterly absorbing New York Times Bestseller "Circe" instantly became one of my favorite reads of 2018. It tells the familiar tale from the Odyssey in the first person, from Circe herself.
Not surprisingly, her version has a rather different perspective.
The daughter of the sun god Helios and the beguiling nymph Perse, Circe is a neglected child, deemed powerless and strange by her family and the countless simpering, mean-girl nymphs that populate her world. Scorned and ignored both by her glorious and terrifying father and her beautiful and casually cruel mother, the odd golden-eyed child finds comfort in speaking to the tormented and chained Titan Prometheus, and learns from him an empathy for humanity that the other gods lack.
Circe develops a talent for herbal magic, and discovers that while she is a middling nymph, she is a powerful witch. The gods, threatened by her new-found potential, banish her to a lonely island.
She has more power than she ought to, and the gods (or modern society, for that matter) can't abide that in a female. To be beautiful, enchanting, and used in service to The Powers That Be is permitted, but once that power is too strong and unpredictable, it becomes dangerous...unacceptable...witchy.
And she does indeed turn Odysseus' men into pigs, but let's just say they had it coming.
This book could have just remained at the level a perfectly fun fantasy read, but what elevates it - aside from the brilliant and quietly insurgent feminist slant - is the remarkable poetry of the language. It's opulent, vivid, and immediately draws the reader into a gorgeously-crafted ancient Otherworld of gods and monsters.
Delicious language, lyrically-drawn characters and a daring take on a familiar story make "Circe" a can't-put-down telling of a deep and powerful woman who is both divine and utterly, vulnerably, fascinatingly human.