By Madeline Miller
Circe is immortal and the very first witch. Her name is old and her story has been told before. But Madeline Miller puts a new perspective on this ancient tale by telling it from the viewpoint of the woman herself – not the perfunctory nod to a goddess spun into the heroic exploits of Odysseus by Homer. And her book is wonderful because of it. Circe bears the soul of an ancient Greek goddess in a human way, painfully detailing how even deities can be stuck between worlds; too powerful for the pantheon, too godly for mortals, and too lonely to fade into nothingness.
Like most ancient Greek stories, Circe begins in the hall of a mighty god. Helios is a Titan, not one of the well known Olympians commanded by Zeus, and married to Perse, another lesser god. Circe is the first of their four children. Ages go by, as time works differently for gods, and Circe falls in love with a fisherman. She strives to make him immortal so she can be with him and he will make her his wife. She begs and pleads with her grandmother time and again but always gets the same answer: only the fates can change what is.
She is determined and does not give up, though. Instead, she wills her unique powers through the ancient roots of flowers birthed from Kronos’ blood, spilled after his battle with Zeus, and soon her dreams are answered. He becomes a God – an incomprehensible task that no one else has ever been capable of.
Understandably, the ability to turn a man into an immortal scares the other gods. It comes as no surprise that they are terrified when Circe turns her powers against another goddess, revealing the monster inside, and transforming her into a hideous beast. For this Circe is exiled to Aiaia – an island where gods tread rarely and carefully. But humans have no knowledge of her past and they do not value or respect a lonely exiled woman. They stumble into the hall where she plies her craft, treat her crudely, and are rewarded by being transformed into pigs. Ages go by in solitude and her sty begins to overflow when Homer’s hero shows up.
For fans of the classics, the rest of the story will be familiar but from a new perspective. If you are not such a fan, then I will not spoil it. Either way, Circe is an enjoyable read with complex themes that is simultaneously rewarding, nostalgic, and satisfying. I highly recommend it to anyone with an appreciation for story telling and a few free hours.
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