Circe by Madeline Miller

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I have been listening to this book in my car. Yesterday’s trip to Fort Worth (to see the Kimbell Museum’s exhibition of Monet’s late work) brought me to the end of Circe. As a student of Latin in junior and senior high school, and someone who took “Greek and Roman Mythology” as an elective in college, I was predisposed to eat it up…and I did. Now I must go back to read The Song of Achilles, which was written before Circe.

Miller fleshes out and reimagines Circe’s life from her birth to the Titan, Helios, and the water nymph, Perse, through to the birth of her mortal son, Telegonus, and the death of his father, Odysseus. One of the things this book is is a rip-roaring tale vividly told. There were times when I wanted so much to know what would happen next that I almost took a CD with me into the house when I arrived back home at a particularly suspenseful moment.

Circe’s tale has been told from the male point of view: she was bad, conniving, a witch…charges leveled so often against women. Miller considers what the stories might be if Circe were to tell them herself. What might the motivations for her actions have been? What would you have done in similar circumstances? A Greek and Roman mythology course gives us the outlines of the many stories of gods, demigods, and mortals: who did what to whom and the consequences thereof, with little nuance. He or she was jealous, for instance. I’d say these stories are not only from the male perspective but are also from the perspective of the gods, whose time stretches endlessly. There’s just too much of it to worry about all of the details. Miller tells a more human story about the immortal Circe.

This tension between immortal and mortal is an interesting theme running through the book. Really, what is the purpose of an immortal’s existence–is it a “life” at all? What is there to do but feast, cavort, plot against other immortals, and tinker with mortals so that they remember to worship you? As the end of the book nears, Circe comes to think that there’s nothing so “dead” as an immortal.

And it is death that shapes life, isn’t it?

3 comments on “Circe by Madeline Miller”

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