Circe – Madeline Miller

Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: April 10th, 2018 (Little, Brown and Company)

Synopsis: 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.


“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist. They called me nymph, assuming I would be like my mother and aunts and thousand cousins. Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. We spoke to fish and nurtured flowers, coaxed drops from the clouds or salt from the waves. That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures. In our language, it means not just goddess, but bride.”

The daughter of the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse, Circe has inherited neither her mother’s beauty nor her father’s power and she grows up being taunted and ridiculed, yet hoping and longing for acceptance and love. Still she is happy in her father’s halls, caring for her younger brother Aetes, until she witnesses Prometheus’s punishment for giving fire to the mortals. This encounter changes her, and she gains a new perspective on mortals.

Alone after Aetes leaves to rule his own kingdom, Circe dares to dabble in the one thing immortals are forbidden, pharmaka, to change the mortal she loves into his truest form. However, when he forgets his debt to her and betrays her, Circe, in a jealous rage, uses her budding powers once more and this time, creates a monster, the news of which the gods receive with glee rather than horror. However, Circe is appalled by what her powers have wrought and she confesses her deed to her father. Though Helios refuses to believe her at first, her younger brother Aetes returns and informs him that not only is pharmakeia real, but that all four of Perse’s children possess the power. Threatened by this revelation, Zeus exiles Circe to a deserted island – Aiaia.

Completely removed from the world, Circe hones her power further through the use of herbs and flowers, settling into this new life and even learning to enjoy it. As the years go by however, she gets her share of visitors – some good intentioned, others decidedly not. And it is here that she slowly transforms into the Circe spoken of in myth. Over the centuries, Circe crosses paths with not a few great Greek heroes and through her, we witness of some of the most well-known tales in mythology: the fate of Prometheus, the making of Scylla, the birth of the Minotaur, Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece, the fall of Icarus, and perhaps the most important of them all, atleast for Circe herself, the arrival of Odysseus, which is a major turning point in her story.

Circe is a character little spoken of. I knew of her from The Odyssey as  the witch who turned Odysseus’ men, as yet another who delayed his return to Ithaca. But through this book, Circe has a voice of her own. Though an immortal, her emotions, her dreams, fears, guilt, hope are all very much human – genuine and relatable. Madeline Miller’s Circe is the underdog you will want to sympathize with, to root for. This is a fresh perspective on an ancient tale and it made for a riveting read.

Circe was not without its faults. The final set of chapters were definitely not as strong as the rest and the story was slowly starting to drag – not to say I didn’t like the ending – it was beautiful, but I was expecting something more. Overall, I did enjoy the story, but I didn’t feel as much of an attachment to the characters as I did with Achilles and Patroclus. While Circe may not have been as emotional a tale as The Song of Achilles, it was a beautifully written and thought-provoking narrative that fans of Greek mythology will surely appreciate. This has been an excellent year for mythology based books and I am eager to see what Madeline Miller will come up with next!

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