Circe is an immortal coming of age story about Western literature’s first female witch. Similarly to her debut novel, The Songs of Achilles, Madeline Miller once again creatively explore the second major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. Miller beautifully responds to Homer’s Odyssey by retelling the encounter between the goddess of magic and wily Odysseus after the Trojan War.
The story opens with the birth of Circe. Though being the daughter of the mighty Helios, the sun god, and the beautiful Perse, an Oceanid nymph; Circe was regarded as a strange child with dark yellow eyes and seemingly without talent. However, after meeting her first mortal Glaucos, Circes discovered that she indeed possesses’ strong powers which cause a threatened Zeus to banish her to a deserted island. Alone in Aiaia, she devotes time to sharpen her occult craft, control wild beasts, and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in Greek mythology.
Madeline Miller has once again expanded the Homeric legend in this book about a lesser-known goddess, Circe. Artfully reimagined by weaving strands of Greek myth, Miller gave voice to Circe in order for her to tell her own story and the reasons behind the decisions she made.
Miller’s writing and descriptions flow like a stream across waterfall rocks, burbling and splashing and happy. Bejeweled writing. Bewitching writing.
Miller has found an unexplored niche in the famous Homeric poems that most of us have read. She finds those little “throwaway” places in the stories and asks, “but why? What else happened here?” Women, who usually get short shrift from Homer, are fully formed and fleshed in Miller’s addendums.
Song of Achilles was imaginative, filling in the backstories of Achilles and Patrocles to “round out” the tales where Homer left gaping voids.
In Circe, however, Miller takes a minor encounter between Circe and Odysseus (at least compared to the 7-year detour he had with Calypso) and, using her detailed knowledge of the stories and the Greek and Latin languages construct compelling and interesting backstories. In the end, she recasts all the characters in a new, more human light.
I highly recommend both Miller’s book and Weeks audio version as companion pieces. One without the other is cheating the reader of a truly memorable experience.