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Circe (2018)

by Madeline Miller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,2092911,528 (4.28)438
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child -- not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power -- the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
(34) This often shows up on ‘recommended read’ lists for me so I gave it a try. It was really just OK for me. I’ve always found Greek mythology to be rather silly and retelling it from a different perspective doesn’t change that. Circe was a lesser goddess that was banished to an island for using witchcraft and is most famous for turning Odessyeus’ men to pigs when they landed there on their troubled homeward pilgrimage. We learn more of her backstory and an imagined future for her as well. Her wrestling with motherhood and immortality and solitude were the best parts of the book.

All the appearances by Athena and Hermès and Helios were melodramatic and in general one could not care for such caricatures as the author created. The writing was middle of the road and it seemed like it was only so highly acclaimed because it was billed as a feminist retelling of a Greek myth. (Much like Margaret Atwood’s similar lackluster endeavor.)

I would not read this author again and in general will plan to steer pretty clear from most mythology. It kept my interest while traveling but not much more than that. ( )
  jhowell | Jun 15, 2021 |

So good.

I don't know why I waited this long to read it.
( )
  blithelii_ | May 29, 2021 |
After seeing Circe as the Goodread readers choice for best fantasy book of 2018, I knew I would need to check it out. The story itself follows Circe, a Greek goddess, nymph, and daughter of Helios. The prose is also striking. Each scene feels epic in nature somehow – partially from prose, but also because they're populated with familiar characters - Charybdis, Odysseus, Daedalus and too many others to name.

If you have an interest in Greek Mythology you will enjoy Circe immensely. Madeline Miller knows here classics and weaves a tale of many different gods and men together into something completely new and original while staying true to the characters. It's a retelling of the same history, but from a new point of view – shedding light on areas often passed over. If you're interested in Greek Mythology, you will likely love this one as much as I did. ( )
  adamfortuna | May 28, 2021 |
My old love of the classics and my fascination with Greek myths found new enthusiasm thanks to this book which offers a new perspective on the figure of Circe, or rather gives a convincing background for the deeds she is most known for. Daughter of the sun god Helios and the naiad Perse, she was the object of disdain among the other gods and goddesses because of her plain looks and human-sounding voice: her parents themselves favored her other siblings over her, condemning Circe to a life on the margins of such exalted company.

At first we see Circe as the proverbial wallflower, trying to fit in among her peers but always being the loner, but little by little a form of defiance comes to the surface, first by offering comfort to a tortured Prometeus, guilty of having gifted humanity with fire, and then by discovering and wielding her magical skills, for which she is banished forever to the island of Aiaia to live in perpetual solitude. And yet this is the moment when Circe truly starts to thrive, turning loneliness into the exercise of utter freedom and the chance to learn the herb lore and incantations for which she will become known. And to be her own woman, one who will ultimately be able to stand up to the gods, like mighty Athena, because Circe’s power is something gained through willpower and application and not something unthinkingly given at birth and taken for granted.

Myths have taught us that the gods of the Greek pantheon were fickle and cruel creatures, whose favorite pastime was to drive mortal men toward conflict or to seduce mortal women, but the gods portrayed in Circe go way beyond the depiction of legends and show all their heartless cruelty and mockery for humankind - or for their own kind when perceived as weak. Distance offers Circe this kind of understanding, the ability to see beyond the projected aura of glory and to find these beings wanting and ultimately contemptible, as she does when considering her own father’s attitude:

So many years I had spent as a child sifting his bright features for his thoughts, trying to glimpse among them one that bore my name. But he was a harp with one string, and the note it played was himself.

Circe’s banishment will not keep her isolated forever, though, and the story shows her meeting many of the figures of legend that have become household names, like Daedalus or Medea or Odysseus, whose sojourn on the island will mark a huge turning point for her growth as an individual. But before that happens, Circe will go through some harrowing experiences that will shape her into the figure passed on by myth: her infamous ability of transforming men into pigs has its roots into her gift of altering people by bringing their true nature to the surface - just as she did in the past by turning the cruel naiad Scylla into the monster of legend. The group of shipwrecked sailors Circe welcomes into her home first thank her for the help, but then they start to ask about “the man of the house”, so to speak, demanding to know where her husband, or father or brothers might be: learning she is alone they proceed to have their way with her, because the lack of male authority or protection just robbed her of any consideration or respect. When she retaliates by transforming them into pigs, she is just bringing their true nature to the surface.

By observing Circe’s myth from this angle - which some might define feminist - the author wants to offer a new point of view on these female figures from mythology, understanding that their portrayal has been constantly filtered through a male perspective, where women’s agency was seen as something dangerous: painting them as witches, monsters, or simply femmes fatales who instigated wars and ruin, must have been a way of giving a “safe” context to such exercises of freedom. Again Circe’s considerations come into play when she says that “humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets”, in a clear reference to the way Homer described her and others like her, by showing them as a danger to be overcome, an enemy to be brought down.

Here Circe’s dealings with Odysseus, during his long stay on Aiaia, stand on an equal footing - not the total submission sung by Homer - and although she comes to love him, she is never blind to his shortcomings or to the fact that love does not entail ownership - something she will learn the hard, painful way with their son, Telegonus. Motherhood is indeed the ultimate growth factor in Circe’s emotional and personal journey, because she finds herself dealing with a totally new experience without outside help or previous knowledge: her strength is put to the test through sleepless nights and fears for the child’s safety, concerns that any mother will certainly be able to relate to, as they will with the selfless dedication that brings her to create a magical shield over the island to keep him safe, one that exhausts her and yet is never acknowledged as such:

For sixteen years I had been holding up the sky, and he had not noticed.

In the end, Circe’s exile does not only separate her physically from her godlike peers and the toxic influence of the realm where she grew up, it distances her from their inability to grow through experience, or even suffering: such is the destiny of mortals, however, and in the end it’s through mortality that she achieves a sense of her own worth and of her place in the world. Madeline Miller’s novel did create a magnificent character out of the myth, and one that feels not only relatable but also real, the protagonist of a poignantly emotional journey. ( )
  SpaceandSorcery | May 28, 2021 |
A bit too meandering, wandering.
But that’s Greek mythology for you.
Not a book I’d read again, though story idea is good.

( )
1 vote Hokie | May 23, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
“Circe” will surely delight readers new to the witch’s stories as it will many who remember her role in the Greek myths of their childhood: Like a good children’s book, it engrosses and races along at a clip, eliciting excitement and emotion along the way.
 
Miller has taken the familiar materials of character, and wrought some satisfying turns of her own.
 
[W]hat elevates Circe is Miller’s luminous prose, which is both enormously readable and evocative, and the way in which she depicts the gulf between gods and mortals.
 
Written in prose that ripples with a gleaming hyperbole befitting the epic nature of the source material, there is nothing inaccessible or antiquated about either Circe or her adventures.
 
The character of Circe only occupies a few dozen lines of [the Odyssey], but Miller extracts worlds of meaning from Homer's short phrases.
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Madeline Millerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ciani, Maria GraziaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magrì, MarinellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staehle, WillCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weeks, PerditaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Dedication
For Nathaniel
νόστος
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When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
Quotations
“A happy man is too occupied with his life. He thinks he is beholden to no one. But make him shiver, kill his wife, cripple his child, then you will hear from him. He will starve his family for a month to buy you a pure-white yearling calf. If he can afford it, he will buy you a hundred.” “But surely,” I said, “you have to reward him eventually. Otherwise, he will stop offering.” “Oh, you would be surprised how long he will go on. But yes, in the end, it’s best to give him something. Then he will be happy again. And you can start over.”
This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practice and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun. But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.
Timidity creates nothing.
But 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.
As it turned out, I did kill pigs that night after all.
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In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child -- not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power -- the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

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In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power--the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. Amazon
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