Ever since the premiere of Game of Thrones, and (with this being the last season) the name Cersei has floated on tounges by the masses. The gorgeous lioness has commanded the screen with her proweress as she clawed her way to the seat of the iron throne. However, long before this character hit screens worldwide there was another one as powerful as she – if not more so.
Author Madeline Miller (Song of Achilles) has weaved an incredible story about the goddess of magic Circe, and her triumph over the pitfalls of her life, rise and fall from grace, and her power to defy all gods – even Zeus.
In this story Circe daughter of Helios the Sun God (not the mighty Tywin) is born of the nymph Perse. But when she comes to be her appearance is not the illustrious shine of her father or the stunning figure of her mother. Instead Circe is described as hair streaked like a lynx, with yellow eyes and a screech like a Hawk – hence her being named Circe. As she grows quickly, Circe is ever perceptive and unfortunately shunned.
Quickly she finds herself at the mercy of men, her father, her uncle, brother and the lists goes on. When she discovers the power of her magic for the first time it is at the expense of her heartbreak. Circe falls in love with a mortal sailor – Glaucos and after wanting to rid him of his mortality, she transforms him into a God overnight. The Godly Glaucos quickly works his way into the halls of Helios and spurns Circe’s advances in favor of another nymph Scylla.
In her envy Circe turns the nymph into the six headed snake-like beasts cursed to eat sailors forever. As one can imagine this does not go over well with Zeus the God (a God that hated to be threatened) and in retaliation Circe was banished to the island of Aiaia. Circe gets the bigger picture. She realizes that she possess a power to strike fear in both Gods and men – what type of woman doesn’t want that!
As Circe continues to hone her craft males can’t seem to keep off her island. She has several sexual tryst with the messenger God Hermes using him for information to further her knowledge (ancient friends with benefits style). She then goes onto to develop a form of relationship with Daedalus, her first encounter with love, but it is not to last as Daedalus is the father of Icarus and we know how that tragic story ends.
As Circe navigates these complex relationships Madeline Miller continues to build Circe with a deeper sense of understanding how to navigate her new power in a world of males. After her disappointing encounter with an endless list of males, Circe realizes what she allots with her heart and what she allots with her body are two separate things. She also learns this by the few women that are mirrored in her life.
For instance, her mother the nymph who entrapped her father teaches Circe to use her feminine wiles to gain her a place at a powerful man’s side. But, after a horrific encounter with her sister Pasiphaë in which she helps her give birth to the Minotaur (half man-half bull), Circe learns being at a powerful mans side means nothing once that man is done with you and therefore you secure your position by any means necessary.
All of these are life lessons the modern day women learns. Where do you stand in a place of man? Do you embrace your sexuality because you want to, have to? Do you resign yourself to being an independent woman sacrificing love, or do you choose to be gullible to look the other way for it? Or, do you forego it all and hone your craft to live the life as a woman you want to lead. The most important thing about Madeline Millers’ Circe, is that she focuses solely on the magic and power she possesses to chart her own path and destiny exactly the way she wants too.
Most Greek goddesses are completely centered around their male counterparts. Circe is never at the mercy of a male, even Zeus, and she wields her power unapologetically. The only time Circe is possessed by men is after a visit to her island by ungodly sailors, but what followed after them would change the course of her life forever. After long hardships at sea Circe allows a band of sailors to rest their weary bones of her island complete with lions and wolves. After the men learn that Circe is alone on the island no husband or male presence anywhere, they forcibly take advantage of her. Little did they know Circe spiked a bout of poison while they were feasting at her dinner table, and after these men finished their ungodly act Circe turns them all into pigs.
Shortly after, the infamous Greek sea-captain (the one and only) Odysseus comes upon her shores. Odysseus and Circe have a one year relationship in which after he leaves she gives birth to their son Telegonus. Armed with an overwhelming sense of love and protection for her son Circe crafts a spell over him so powerful that no God can harm him, one that when she was acquiring it could have killed her.
When Telegonus decides to venture off the island of Aiaia to go find his father Odysseus and sail the world Circe is reluctant but she lets him go. However, after he returns with Odyessues wife and oldest son (Penelope and Telemachus) the rest of Circe’s days and nights are her developing a relationship with the two, learning of Odyessues tragic end, that fosters her new beginning.It doesn’t take long for Athena (the goddess obsessed with Odysseus) to collect Telemachus to further her plan she had for her father. Telemachus refuses, Telegonus (Circe’s son) accepts so that he can finally live out his dream of being a great King.
As we near the end of her tale Circe sets out to complete two final acts of greatness. After securing her freedom from her father, Circe sets out to turn Scylla to stone finally riding her of her guilt. And, after having a love affair with Telemachus (Penelope’s son, remember this is Greek folks) she crafts a potion to turn her mortal so she can live out the rest of her days with Telemachus and their daughter.
So at the end of this beautiful and awe-inspiring Greek saga Madeline Miller has spun an incredible tale of a woman and her voyage to self-discovery, grand power, the danger of love, and ultimate triumph of commanding one destiny. Circe is graceful balancing act of how a woman can command and be truthful in all her essence and glory, and still experience a true love worthy of her.
If I’ve ever been a fan of Cersei Lannister now, I am in awe of her Greek predecessor. After you read this story you’ll be ready to call upon your inner goddess and that’s the gospel truth.
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Hi! Asia Minor here - I enjoy anything history, fantasy, and sci fi...its even better when its all combined. I am working on acquiring beautiful huskies for my pets, constantly watching movies (and plan on making them), and reading/writing. My musical choices limit to Disney, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Lamar - enough said.