Circe by Madeline Miller is a pensive and entertaining book. It is Miller’s second novel after debut The Song of Achilles. Vividly lush in description of Greek gods and goddesses, this unique book has a tendency to take us to a world we had never allowed ourselves to imagine.
Circe by Madeline Miller: Introduction
- Released on: April 10, 2018
- Suitable for Age group: 14 and above.
- My Rating of Circe: 4.7/5
- Circe Book Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, Circe by Madeline Miller narrates the alienation, power, and hankering of the Greek goddess, Circe, caught between gods and mortals. Besides being a novel based on ancient Greek mythology, Circe is an amazing story of self-discovery. You can still enjoy the book if you don’t know much about Greek mythology.
1. Circe by Madeline Miller: Book Summary
Madeline Miller’s compelling and engaging book, Circe, reimagines the myth of the sorceress Circe, who doesn’t take up much space in Homer’s Odyssey. Miller has drawn on a wide range of ancient Greek and Latin sources to tell this amazing story. She has beautifully and brilliantly reshaped ancient stories, themes, and characters in a uniquely modern light. The book is enormously readable and evocative.
Let’s probe into the story of Circe by Madeline Miller…
1.1 A Misfit in the House of Gods
Circe is a daughter of the god of sun, Helios, and the Oceanid nymph, Perse. Neither mighty like her father nor viciously bewitching like her mother, she is an extremely odd child with a human voice grating to the ears of the gods. She is absolutely unlike other gods and, with her hawkish nose and yellow eyes, looks strange among them. Her father is extremely disappointed by her physical appearance.
To keep her out of the sight of people, Circe’s father banishes her to the underground halls of his palace. Still, many see her and invariably make fun of her. Besides, Circe’s has an impotent and whimpering temperament which further makes her an embarrassment to her family. Since her birth, she is unable to capture the attention of her parents and siblings. She is despised by her divine family and, in fact, a misfit in the house of the gods.
1.2 Circe’s Alienated Childhood
Circe spends most of her childhood in loneliness. Her siblings always mock her and never allow her to get intimate with them. She suffers the pangs of isolation until Aeetes, her youngest brother, is born. As Aeetes grows up, he becomes Circe’s best companion. We see both of them spending every moment together. But Aeetes has to go away to be the king of his own land and Circe is, unfortunately, alone once again. After that she spends most of her time in despair.
1.3 Circe’s Solace in Mortal World
Circe’s loneliness and despair compel her to turn to the world of mortals for companionship. This is the turning point in her life. She finds solace in love with a mortal, Glaucos, who, unlike Circe, is destined to die and leave her alone . To save him from death, she desperately starts experimenting with different herbs and potions.
1.4 The Discovery of Her Hidden Talent
At that time, experimenting with different herbs and potions, Circe discovers her hidden power – the power of witchcraft. The power that has the ability to bend the world to her will. Moreover, she discovers that her powerful black magic can transform humans into monsters or animals and even endanger the gods. A misfit among the gods before, now has become a threat for them.
1.5 Circe’s Exile to a Deserted Island
Circe uses her powers to turn her beloved, Glaucos, into an immortal sea-god. After becoming a sea-god, Glaucos unfortunately falls in love with a nymph, Scylla. Triggered by jealousy, Circe turns beautiful yet malicious Scylla into a six-headed sea monster. For her practice of witchcraft, Zeus, the god of the sky, banishes her from the halls of Helios to the deserted island of Aeaea. Here, she becomes an eternal captive.
But instead of being afraid of isolation at a deserted island, she begins to hone her witchcraft by drawing strength from the plants and flowers. With the passage of time she becomes more and more powerful. The island of Aeaea becomes her permanent abode where the lions and wolves are her companions.
1.6 Circe’s Encounter with Odysseus & Other Mythological Figures
At the island of Aeaea, Circe meets some unexpected visitors who are also the famous figures of Greek mythology. These visitors include the craftsman Daedalus, his doomed son Icarus, the monster Minotaur, the murderous Medea and her beloved Jason, and the legendary king of Ithaca, Odysseus. Odysseus becomes her lover and, in hope of ending her loneliness, leaves her with a child.
1.7 Dramatic Tensions in Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is a lonely woman and there is always a danger for a woman who stands alone. During her journey, she also suffers a lot. Unintentionally, she becomes the cause of anger for both gods and men and sets herself in opposition with one of the most formidable and vengeful Olympians. For her survival, she has to make a choice between the worlds of immortality, which she is born from, and mortality, which she has come to love. She bravely fights for her place in a world between the mortals and the gods.
1.8 Circe’s Self Discovery
Circe learns so many lessons from her life. Every incident that happens either at the halls of Helios or the deserted island of Aeaea has left her with a valuable lesson. Her long term suffering leads to the discovery of her rightful place in the world. She subsequently stands up to those who had mistreated her in the past. The tough times she faces since her childhood have left her with ultimate strength and boldness.
Despite being the daughter of a god, she loves mortality. She learns from her life that immortality is not a blessing indeed. Instead, it’s a never-ending curse of committing the same mistakes again and again.
1.9 Circe Book Ending
The novel ends with Circe’s vision of herself as a mortal. She is resolute in transforming herself with the same spell that began her adventure with witchcraft. Towards the end of the book, Circe enlightens us with the blessing of being mortal in such words:
“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands….I have a mortal’s voice, let me have the rest.”
2. Circe by Madeline Miller: Book Review
Circe book by Madeline Miller is a feminist retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. The novel beautifully reveals the Greek goddess’s quest for self-identity and her constant fight between mortality and divinity. Circe, the sorceress, is a dynamic hero of her own epic. Throughout the story, we see different shades of her character. She is initially submissive, then compassionate and later on, becomes complex and imperfect. Hereafter, she eventually grows into an assertive woman who refuses to be walked all over. Circe learns to trust in herself, her skills and abilities to withstand it all. She also learns the significance of balancing trust and self-protection. She loves mortality and eventually finds her true place in the mortal world.
Circe’s character is depicted by Madeline Miller in a way that grounds her in reality despite her divine origins. Miller’s prose possesses dreamlike simplicity. Her depiction of what it feels like to work magic is extraordinarily brilliant and convincing. Besides its beautiful story, the novel is rich in language and dynamic in characterization. Miller makes brilliant and powerful use of imagery and emotion in depicting the story of a fierce goddess who only occupied a few dozen lines in Homer’s The Odyssey. This book is a triumph of storytelling and must be an immense gift to all who read to seek their own bravery and quest.
Circe is also an extremely significant and highly recommended piece of feminist literature. It deals with powerful themes such as gender dynamics, power politics, personal growth, mortality vs immortality, fate, self-determination, freedom, and maturity. The book inspires women to be bold and aspire to be more than what society perceives them.
2.1 Is Circe only a Good Book for Greek Mythology Lovers?
Circe is especially a gift for people who like Greek mythology, dense intricate plots, and more formal writing. But you can still enjoy the book if you’re not a big fan of Greek mythology. Thanks to Madeline Miller! She has given a glossary of characters at the back of the book that explains everyone’s role in depth. You can have a look at it to get some understanding of Greek gods and goddesses.
3. About Circe Book Author: Madeline Miller
Madeline Millar is an American novelist. She was born in Boston and grew up in New York and Philadelphia. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classics (Latin and Ancient Greek) from Brown University. For over fifteen years, she has been teaching Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students.
Miller has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and at the Yale School of Drama, specializing in adaptation of classical tales to modern forms. She currently lives in Narberth, PA, where she writes and tutors. She has won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction for her first novel, The Song of Achilles.
You can follow Madeline Miller on social media:
4. Circe Vs The Songs of Achilles
Madeline Miller’s debut novel The Song of Achilles takes us on a tour of ancient Greece, and retells the siege of Troy from the point of view of Patroclus, an awkward young prince. The story of this book is profoundly moving, breathtaking and also contemplates the importance of myths in today’s modern world.
Like its predecessor, The Song of Achilles, Miller’s second hit novel, Circe, also takes the same stimulating approach to ancient Greek literature. Miller brings a classic story of female empowerment by weaving together Homer’s tale with other ancient sources.
Both these books of Madeline Miller narrates a familiar ancient tale from the perspective of previously muted voices of people in Greek mythology. For instance, in her first book, Miller gives voice to Achilles’s lover Patroclus who was a minor character in the Iliad. In her second book, she has given voice to Circe, the witch who turned men into pigs in Homer’s Odyssey. These people were formerly seen only from the outside in the originals.
5. Circe: Awards and Honors
After its publication, Circe by Madeline Miller became a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. It has won the Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award as well as the Indies Choice Best Audiobook of the Year Award. Miller’s Circe has also been shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and won an American Library Association Alex Award as well. Moreover, the book has also won the Goodreads Choice Awards 2018 for Fantasy Fiction.
Circe by Madeline Miller, is a highly recommended book and, indeed, deserves a good place on your bookshelf! I hope you all enjoyed this review!
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