I was instantaneously drawn to Circe by Madeline Miller because of the cover. As soon as I saw it being advertised on Instagram by the publisher, Little Brown and Company, I screenshot the ad so I wouldn’t forget to look up the synopsis later on. Of course, me being me, I forgot to look it up. If anyone were to look through my photos at this very moment, undoubtedly, they would find a lot of screenshots of bookstagramers, bookshelves, advertisements, and shelves from the book section at Target. They’re all books I’ve intended to read further about but I never remember too. In the case of Circe, while on my way to Chinatown a few weeks ago, my eyes immediately darted toward it when I passed a street vendor selling books. When I expressed interest in reading it my friend happily exclaimed that she also had a desire to read that book. At that moment I decided I would purchase Circe when I got home, this time I did not forget!
Before purchasing Circe, I didn’t know much about it besides the fact that it was about Greek mythology, specifically about the Goddess, Circe. That much I was aware of since the cover was reminiscent of Greek pottery and it didn’t hurt that I already knew Circe was an immortal witch. I spent many years reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and The Heroes of Olympus series. Rick Riordan is one of my all-time favorite writers so naturally, I read almost anything he writes. His writing is phenomenal but I did find that if you aren’t a complete wiz with Greek mythology, it could get quite confusing at times. To remedy that I spent a lot of time with a reference book, The Everything Classical Mythology Book. I don’t believe Circe was mentioned in either of these series but I do remember reading about her in this book. Her name is scattered throughout that book because she had an important role in Greek mythology. She was responsible for turning Scylla into a man-eating monster, she helped Odysseus on his journey home and she was the aunt of the famed Minotaur. There was definitely more to Circe than what was being given to us in the history books. She is a very mysterious Goddess that we knew almost nothing about until Miller decided to write her story.
Circe has always been portrayed as an evil sorceress. Evidence of that can be read in The Odyssey, Odysseus was helped by Hermes to overcome her evil power when she turned his men to pigs. Overcome is a strong word as is the action of overcoming a person. Overcoming, whether mentally or physically, is an act of asserting dominance. In an interview with Book Riot Madeline Miller explains how Homer’s portrait of Circe did not quite make sense,
“In Homer, it never says why Circe is turning men into pigs. Historically, the implication has been that she’s doing it as a power trip or because she’s evil, you know what I mean? And, first off, thats simply not borne out by the rest of her portrait by Homer, where she becomes very benevolent and helpful by the end. Second of all, it’s just not interesting and its not psychologically real. Even if a person’s reasons are bizarre, they still have them. In many ways, Circe is this very practical and grounded character, so I didn’t think her reasons would be outside the realm of understanding.”
Circe is Miller’s personal take on a rather unknown Goddess. Miller takes what was previously written by Homer and spins it to give Circe a worthy background that really does explain why she would turn those men to pigs. Circe was the daughter of the powerful Sun God, Helios and the beautiful sea nymph, Perse. Being the daughter of a God that was respected, feared and strong demanded Circe be all those things but she wasn’t. Though she was the oldest of four siblings she was quite the outcast of her family. Every day she was verbally abused by her entire family for having, what was later dubbed, a mortal voice. Despite the abuse, she persevered. When she did discover she had the power of pharmakeia or sorcery she announced it loud and matter of factly. Circe was thus handed the punishment of exile for her craft. Circe wasn’t just about telling a story, it was about a journey of a meek Goddess to an iron-strong one. She blossom’s before our eyes in each chapter before she finally uses that mortal voice to demand respect and fair treatment.
I found Circe to be a fast and easy read, like a Wikipedia page but with dialogue and hell of a lot more interesting. This isn’t just a novel but a historical novel and Miller knocked it out of the park. She literally made history fun. The main protagonist, Circe, was relatable. Circe was a quintessential underdog, which resonates deeply with all the people who feel they aren’t good enough. By the end of the novel, Circe shows us that the underdog is in fact good enough if you only take the time to believe in yourself.
Unbeknownst to her uncle, Prometheus, he helped shaped Circe into the woman we would see at the end of the novel. He was to be sentenced to live out his immortal life in agony for showing mortals fire. When Circe met him in her fathers home she offered the beaten and bloodied Titan nectar, which he happily drank. Circe boldly asked her uncle why he would show mortals fire then freely tell Zeus what he had done. He simply responded with,
“Not every god be the same.”
Like Circe, Prometheus was an underdog that believed in doing what was right for mortals. He did not believe himself a high and mighty God which is why he willingly sacrificed himself for mortals. It was an action that Circe held to her heart and kept coming back too for the rest of her days. Honestly, there was not even an inkling of a romance between these two but I so badly wanted them to be together because they seemed to be cut from the same cloth. And before I get eaten alive for that comment, I am aware that he is her uncle but as most of us know, that type of relationship was looked on favorably during this period. I believe they would have made a powerful couple because, like Circe, he too had empathy for mortals. Together, they could have done things that would change the mortal world for the better.
I could go on and on and on about why I love Circe and I can also go into the few things I didn’t care for in the story but to tell you would end up giving a lot away. You’ll just have to just take my word and read it. I highly recommend it because of the journey Circe takes. I very much love a story where a character goes on a journey to find themselves. Circe is about a journey of self-discovery and about the journey of a Goddess who defies her divinity. Circe teaches us all a lesson that just because someone is born with a “silver spoon” doesn’t mean they have to live up to that reputation. Life is what you make of it whether you are born poor, rich, mortal or divine.