‘Circe’: The necessity of female leads in literature


Source: Amazon

Abby Edwards, Scoop Writer

Everyone knows the story of The Odyssey. The epic follows Odysseus’s ten year journey home after fighting in the Trojan War. He longs to come back to Ithaca and see his wife and son but has to overcome a great deal of obstacles to see them again. Odysseus is a beloved character in the world of literature, He’s a hero, an idol and a man capable of immeasurable courage and strength. If readers know Odysseus, they know Circe. A goddess who poisons his men and turns them into pigs whom Odysseus outwits easily, resulting in him taking her to bed. This all, of course, is utter nonsense. Circe is a goddess, banished to the island of Aiaia by her father Helios. Why? Because she was too powerful. Too smart, too strong, too much. So how then, I ask you, was Odysseus able to outsmart Circe? Long story short: he doesn’t. But to explain fully, you must be taken back to the very beginning. Introducing, Circe by Madeline Miller.

Circe is born to the mighty titan Helios. She is weak  and despised by her siblings for said weakness. After turning one of her romantic rivals into a seven headed monster by willpower alone, however, Circe becomes hated for a very different reason: she is too strong. Banished by her father to the island of Aiaia, Circe begins to grow her power as she becomes the most powerful witch the gods have known. 

Because of this, Circe is challenged by several gods. All of whom come bearing terrifyingly immense power, far more than Circe. They bear their teeth at her, feet kicking up dust ready to pounce, trained to kill.  And to all of them Circe stares them head on and says, “try”. Odysseus is a mere chapter in Circe’s life, and throughout the novel Circe makes the reader well aware that she hates men, believing them to be swines dressed in human clothing. So in reality, she doesn’t transform anyone, she simply turns men back into their original bodies. (To clarify, these are men who have hurt and/or traumatized her beyond comprehension, so they are getting what they deserve). Circe follows the goddess’s journey through healing, self discovery, and what it means to not care at all. 

Circe offers a fresh view on her life not just as one of Odysseus’s lovers but as an ex-goddess who finds enjoyment in making her relatives angry. Circe is such a great character not despite but because of how unhinged she is. One minute she’s poisoning men and the next she’s risking her life for a loved one who is in potential, but improbable danger. Her range of emotions and dynamics with other characters is truly something else. Madeline Miller’s Circe felt timeless, and even though the book spans centuries of time on the island of Aiaia, it never felt slow paced: she’s not allowed to leave the island, and you won’t want to. Circe is beautiful, and there’s always room on your shelf for a story about a goddess capable of making Zeus tremble.