Travelling back to Ancient Greek and delving into myths and legends of heroes of old proves an immersive experience for Circe, by Madeline Miller. Be aware that spoilers may lie ahead.
The book is based on the life of the goddess, Olympian, nymph and witch, Circe. The daughter of Helios and Perse who was seen as an outcast, to her a kind, as her beauty and voice were that of a mortals; while sailors and travellers alike saw her as a goddess among them. As she faces her exile on the island of Aaia, she begins to uncover more of her magical abilities. Her new found power leads her to cross paths with Hermes, witness the birth of the Minotaur, create and defeat Scylla, lose her first love of Glaucus and her second, Odysseus and even bring her son Telegonus to her.
Miller is masterful in weaving Greek mythology into such an immersive tale. She places you firmly from Circe’s perspective, allowing you to feel connected to her. It was an interesting take, one I haven’t seen done with mythology before. It works beautifully as I felt that I could personally relate to her. Circe is portrayed as this outsider, a late bloomer, one rich with past mistakes and one with struggles. It’s hard not to find it relatable, yet it’s intriguing that anyone could relate themselves to a god or goddess.
“In a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”
It’s not just that I see a small part of myself in this goddess, but the trials she has been through. We witness types of love: rejection, familial love, unrequited love, friends with benefits, courting and finding what people would describe as ‘the one’ and the love that comes after loss. When you think of a god, you tend to think of their greatest accomplishments or shortcomings; from Achilles and his heel to Hercules and his 12 heroic labours. To see a god struggle with such a human feeling as love. It seems humbling that even a god is not immune to having feelings. I wonder if Miller is trying to present us with a more human, and therefore a more palatable, version of ancient deities; or could is she trying to worship humanity in a way?
I’d like to think that it’s more that in every god or goddess, that we may idealise, there is that mortal element, that vulnerability we carry with us. I suppose that’s why I find Circe and her story so fascinating and one I can empathise with. We may be thrust into Ancient Greek, into a world so different from our own, yet it’s a mirror for our own world. Our hearts break with hers, we feel the same sense of betrayal and rejection that she does. Had Miller not immersed us and given us rich imagery, I don’t think there would have been the same connection and reaction.
“It is common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”
I feel as though I’ve had a completely different experience when it comes to Greek mythology than I’ve ever had. What Miller has taught us is that the tales of gods and goddesses offer a rich tapestry and one that at times we can relate to, so why shouldn’t we as a reader dive into that? Become part of the story, instead of an outsider. This book is a fantastic example of using such brilliant characters and imagery to give a real sense of vulnerability, as well as the strength to grow and to change to find your own power. It’s a throughly enjoyable read and one I definitely recommend.
Finding a glimmer of the gods in my own mortality.