In Circe, Madeline Miller tells the story of the famous villain in the Odyssey, the sorceress Circe who keeps Odysseus captive and turns his men into pigs. In many iterations of the Odyssey, Circe is cast as an unreasonable and unrelenting witch, who keeps Odysseus for herself, away from his loving wife at home in Ithaca. Western study of the classics and philosophy exemplifies Circe as the archetype of a sexually free women, who is evil and keeps men for her own purposes. Miller, while staying true to the events of the Odyssey, challenges this archetype and tells Circe’s story in a much more sympathetic light. She follows Circe from her birth to the events shortly following the conclusion of the Odyssey, drawing from various Greek myths and philosophy, including Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Miller has an incredible writing style and does an amazing job humanizing Circe. Circe stood out to me as a retelling of a story of a woman who has been often cast as the villain because Miller doesn’t shy away from the atrocities that Circe has done. While Circe hurts and kills others for reasons justified at times, she also does so out of pettiness or simply because she enjoys wielding her power. Miller never attempts to cast Circe as the victim in these parts, and instead recognizes her as worthy of compassion in all her complexity even without repentance for her actions. Along the way, Miller also manages to explore the theme of immortality and what life means when no matter what you do, you can not be harmed or killed - and when faced with eternity, what is the value of change?
Fans of Percy Jackson & the Olympians will enjoy Circe, and similarly no background knowledge of Greek mythology is needed. Circe is an incredible book and I highly recommend it as a summer read.