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Book Review: "Circe" by Madeline Miller - A Contemporary Retelling of a Greek Classic

Madeline Miller’s “Circe” takes the reader on a powerful journey into the world of Greek mythology, breathing new life into the character of Circe, an exiled witch from Homer’s “The Odyssey.” With a contemporary tone and a modern sensibility, Miller’s retelling offers a fresh perspective on a well-known tale. By giving voice to the women involved and infusing the story with contemporary relevance, “Circe” becomes a captivating and engaging novel that celebrates both the past and the present.


“Circe” begins in the court of Helios, the sun god and Circe’s father. Circe, considered inferior and dull, witnesses the punishment of Prometheus, which sparks her interest in humans. She meets Glaucos, a fisherman, and they become lovers. Using her sorcery, Circe tries to make Glaucos immortal but fails, leading to his infidelity with a sea-nymph named Scylla. Enraged, Circe uses her witchcraft to punish Scylla and is subsequently exiled to an unpeopled island called Aiaia. It is on this island that Circe encounters Odysseus during his journey, and their meeting sparks a tale of love, empowerment, and self-discovery.


Retelling Perspective

Miller’s great skill lies in her ability to give voice to muted perspectives in classical literature. Just as she recovered a buried love story in “The Song of Achilles,” she presents a feminist slant on “The Odyssey” through Circe’s eyes. By exploring the female experience and addressing the mistreatment of women in ancient stories, Miller adds depth and relevance to the narrative. The novel’s publication alongside Emily Wilson’s female translation of “The Odyssey” further enhances its significance.

Character Empowerment

Circe, who receives only a few lines in the original Greek text, takes center stage in Miller’s retelling. The author beautifully resurrects Circe, making her a complex and multidimensional character with her own desires, struggles, and agency. By empowering Circe, Miller challenges the notion of women as secondary figures in mythology and provides a powerful and affecting portrayal of her journey.

Collage of Source Materials

Miller skillfully weaves together various source materials, including works by Ovid and Homer, to create a collage that represents the classics from a fresh perspective. While historical accuracy may be questioned by some traditional critics, the intent here is to breathe new life into ancient stories and evoke new internal landscapes within them. Miller’s approach infuses the narrative with vibrancy and contemporary relevance, making “Circe” an enjoyable and immersive reading experience.

Writing Style

Miller’s prose is lyrical and evocative, capturing the essence of Greek mythology while maintaining a contemporary accessibility. Her descriptions transport the reader to the court of Helios and the enchanting island of Aiaia, creating vivid imagery and a sense of wonder. The pacing of the novel allows for a quick and engaging read, making it difficult to put down.

Through the eyes of Circe, Miller empowers female characters and invites readers to explore the complexities of their stories. With its skillful collage of source materials and evocative writing style, “Circe” is a delightful romp that celebrates the past while resonating with the present. This novel is a must-read for fans of Greek mythology and those seeking a fresh take on familiar tales.

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