An episodic novel, Circe is a dramatic retelling of the life of the sorceress who features in Homer’s Odyssey.
Opening in the house of Helios, a child is born to Helios, God of the Sun, and the eminently beautiful Perse. The child’s name, Circe. Despite expectations, Circe doesn’t seem destined for greatness. She isn’t blessed with her father’s power or graced with the same good looks as her mother and so becomes an outcast in her family, treated as inferior. It isn’t until Circe starts to explore the world of humans that she discovers her true talents. She falls in love with a human sailor but fears for his mortality. As a means of prolonging his life, Circe provides him with a moly root, an herb with magical properties. However, the sailor becomes a God upon consuming it, thus revealing Circe’s abilities in witchcraft. Circe performs more acts of witchcraft as a means of acquiring love but her exploits risk angering the Gods. What fate will befall her?
Madeline Miller creates a female-centric narrative which adds a new perspective to the centuries-old myth. Circe is thoroughly entertaining for its use of magic and legendary beings while championing a feminist standpoint. Miller’s writing beautifully connotes Circe’s self-conscious beginnings and her growth as she discovers more of herself and the world around her. It is through this personality that Miller is able to draw a link between Circe and modern women, making a supernatural female seem remarkably familiar. Reading Circe will not only offer you a glimpse into Greek mythology but also provides a riveting plot which will leave you wondering what is on the next page.
How do the other characters’ perceptions of Circe change when she discovers her powers?
When Circe is recognised as being gifted she is suppressed by male gods, specifically, Zeus and her father. In what way does this reflect sexist attitudes in the modern day?
Circe begins to sympathise with humans after viewing Prometheus’ suffering. What is it about witnessing this act that resonates with Circe?
How does Glaucos’ attitude toward Circe change upon acquiring a godly status?
Despite many of the characters being Gods, they possess very human traits. Discuss these.
Do you think Circe succeeded in becoming mortal? Circe-Discussion-Questions.pdf
Circe visits her father Helios and requests her freedom. Helios agrees to grant her this wish on the condition that she complete tasks. Circe travels with Telemachus to seek out Scylla, the beautiful nymph whom she turned into a monster. Upon finding her, Circe produces an ointment which turns Scylla to stone. This gives Circe a sense of redemption for the act she performed centuries ago. Circe and Telemachus then travel to where she first picked moly root and she picks all she can find. Together the two travel back to Aiaia to talk with Telemachus’ mother, Penelope. Circe plans to live with Telemachus for all her life and so wishes to make herself mortal as to not outlive her lover. She brews a potion out of the moly root with the intention of stripping herself of her immortality.
Madeline Miller won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2011 (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction) for her debut novel The Song of Achilles.
Circe is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019.