PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Publishing
PUBLICATION DATE: 6 May 2018
BOOK LENGTH: 352
GENRE: Mythology/ historical fiction
Why was Circe bitter?
Why did she turn men into pigs?
These are the questions that no one asks, who would? Who would want to see past the juicy mythological stories filled with valour and strength and power? Who would want to know who Circe was?
Circe, the widely discussed novel written by Madeline Miller attempts to answer some of these questions. She attempts to see the depth in the characters of the mythical Greeks who have been treated so factually over so many centuries and she does so brilliantly.
Circe, a name known and resonant with Greek Mythology enthusiasts, a vilified and antagonised witch known for turning Odysseus’s men into pigs, a cold and bitter witch exiled to the island of Aiaia by the king of gods, Zeus, himself. But history and mythology share one thing in common, turning assertive and strong women into witches and villains and Miller promises to give Circe her side of the story.
In her second novel following, The Song Of Achilles, Miller attempts at decoding Circe. Circe is the black sheep of her family, a daughter of the powerful titan Helios, the sun god. She is born with neither the looks, nor the voice. Her mother is vain and so are her siblings. However she has one thing that the god’s do not, affection to the mortals and kindness.
Miller throughout the course of her book shows incredible growth in Circe’s character. How as a young girl she would stand in her father’s shadows, how she was taunted by the nymphs and her family. Despite being surrounded by her own she was completely alone but she was never evil. She was simply curious and naïve and innocent.
Throughout the length of the novel, especially during the start, we can see Circe being upset and lonely, she has seen men, profound as well as pathetic, enter and leave her life. Prometheus is one of the few who leaves a profound effect on her, a courageous man who had the power to go against the King of God himself. Circe knows she is not perfect, a fact she had to understand when she met her first love, Glaucos, a mortal she turned into god through her first trysts with witchcraft. It is praise-worthy how Miller tackles this particular chapter in her life.
Many men follow from her brother Aeetes and Perse to Hermes, Daedalus, Odysseus, Telegonas and finally Telemachus. Some were her lovers, some her kin while some heroes of the golden age. Each taught her something new, someone taught her not to be a fool, someone taught her to be a friend and a few taught her to be the vengeful witch she is known today.
The story carries notes of poignancy; Circe lives a melancholic albeit self-sufficient life. She learns her witchcraft on her own, she makes sure to be the most powerful, and she never considered her exiled life as a bane, except on a few occasions. Miller’s writing is powerful and gripping, a novel that can be read in one night, if you want to forgo your sleep but trust when I write it is every page worth the sacrifice.
Madeline Miller’s book is redemption for Circe. Her writing powerful and poised yet so full of emotion that you feel with Circe as she goes on about her eternal life. Her lessons learnt are ones she promises to imbibe in her character for the rest of her being.
Madeline has given depth to every character that enters the book; she makes sure we know what kind of a person we are reading about. From Syclla to Aeetes, even those who don’t play significant parts make their presence felt and known. Prometheus is one of them, Jason another and Medea too.
As a witch she is known for her powers of transformations and yet one of her most powerful transformations is from becoming a dewy-eyed girl at her father’s house to a bold and confident witch, the Goddess of Aiaia.