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“Circe” by Madeline Miller

A Bold and Subversive Retelling of the Goddess’s Story

By Kristiyan ParzulovPublished 5 months ago 7 min read

“Circe” by Madeline Miller is a contemporary retelling of the Circe tale from classical Greece, the enchantress infamous for turning men into animals with a single touch. Miller brings this well-known story to life with vibrant characters, complex storytelling, and a feminism that gives Circe a voice and agency in her own narrative. We will discuss the major themes, figures, and incidents that make “Circe” a gripping and thought-provoking book in this overview.

Part 1: The Birth of Circe

The birth of Circe, a daughter of the Titan Helios and the nymph Perse, marks the beginning of the book. Circe is born with a mortal look, making her distinct from her supernatural siblings. She is an outcast among the Titans due to her peculiar appearance and the absence of the godlike abilities possessed by her family. She wishes her parents and siblings would pay attention to her because her voice is small and unheard.

The early years of Circe are characterized by isolation and rejection. She finds comfort in her younger brother Aetes’ company because he too is an outsider among the Titans. The circumstances that led to Circe’s metamorphosis and self-discovery were her inability to live up to the expectations of her divine family and her growing sense of isolation.

Part 2: The Discovery of Witchcraft

Circe’s lack of divine abilities becomes increasingly obvious as she gets older. She is frustrated by her inability to use the family’s influence, and she is eager to find a means to establish her value. She learns at this time how to control the power of plants and herbs, a skill that will later land her the title of witch.

Circe can change Glaucos, a mortal fisherman, into a god thanks to her newly discovered abilities. But when Scylla, another nymph, wins Glaucos’ favor instead of her, Circe casts an angry spell to turn Scylla into a monster with twelve legs and six heads. This act of retaliation starts a series of occasions that will determine Circe’s future.

Part 3: Exile to Aiaia

Circe is exiled to the distant island of Aiaia in order to avoid the gods’ anger and punishment for her deeds. She starts her life of solitude from this point on and learns the full scope of her witchcraft abilities. She develops self-control over her magical gifts and uses them to domesticate the island’s wild animals and support herself.

Circe’s seclusion on Aiaia has advantages and disadvantages. She is liberated from the standards and demands of the supernatural realm, but she still yearns for company and connection. She runs into a number of well-known Greek mythological characters during this time, including the hero Odysseus and the witch Medea. Her interactions with people alter how she views the mortal realm and further distance her from her celestial ancestry.

Part 4: The Arrival of Odysseus

Circe’s rendezvous with Odysseus, the fabled hero of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” is one of the novel’s key moments. Following their shipwreck, Odysseus and his crew land on Aiaia in search of a place to stay and food. Circe transforms the guys into pigs out of caution since she is cautious of outsiders. Odysseus, on the other hand, approaches her respectfully and diplomatically while managing to withstand her spell thanks to his cleverness and knowledge.

Odysseus fascinates and intrigues Circe, and their interactions show that they have a close bond. In the end, she turns the crewmen back into people, and Odysseus and his men are now visitors on Aiaia. Circe and Odysseus fall in love while they are there, and she falls pregnant with his kid.

Part 5: Motherhood and Redemption

The pregnancy of Circe represents a turning point in her life. Motherhood causes her heart to soften after she gives birth to a son named Telegonus. She starts to understand the extent of her love for her son, and she vows to defend him against the perils of both the mortal and divine worlds. Because of her maternal instincts, she makes decisions that put her seclusion to the test and bring her into contact with the lives of heroes and the gods.

The main topic of the book is Circe’s metamorphosis from a lonesome, resentful witch to a loving mother and guardian of her kid. Her mothering experiences help her overcome her drive for vengeance and power and give her a sense of purpose.

Part 6: Confrontation with the Gods

The gods are aware of Circe’s interactions with humans and her expanding power inside Greek mythology. She is involved in disputes with a variety of deities, including her own family. She shows her new power and independence by challenging the gods and refusing to bend to their will.

One of the novel’s most important conflicts arises when Circe opposes Helios, the sun god and father of the protagonist. She rejects his demands and challenges his authority. This act of defiance propels her toward the holy realm and paves the way for the novel’s pivotal events.

Part 7: The Fate of Telegonus

Tragic and self-sacrificing events characterize the novel’s finale. The adored son of Circe, Telegonus, grows up on the island of Aiaia and yearns to travel farther afield. Circe authorizes him to leave despite her worries for his security despite the dangers that lie ahead of him.

On the island of Ithaca, Telegonus runs into his half-brother Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and tragedy ensues. A fatal conflict results from a miscommunication, and Telegonus unintentionally ends Telemachus’ life. Circe is devastated by this incident, which also starts a series of occasions that have far-reaching effects on both mortals and gods.

Part 8: A New Beginning

Following the catastrophe, Circe is overcome with grief and regret. She sets out on a mission to revive Telemachus and asks the goddess Athena for help. Her quest forces her to face her own past and make tough decisions that will affect the lives of the people she cares about.

As Circe accepts her own mortality and embraces her role as a mother, a witch, and a woman who has chosen her own way in a world dominated by gods and heroes, the novel’s climax is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

Themes and Analysis

“Circe” delves into a number of subjects that strike readers emotionally and deeply:

Identity and self-discovery: Circe’s journey is one of understanding and accepting who she is. Even in the face of solitude and rejection, she learns to appreciate her unique identity and skills.

Feminism and Agency: Circe is given a voice and agency in Madeline Miller’s book. She rejects Greek mythology’s patriarchal conventions and declares her freedom as a sorceress and a woman.

The novel examines the transforming potential and associated sacrifices of parenthood. Many of Circe’s deeds and choices are motivated by her love for her son Telegonus.

Redemption: A moving treatment of the concept of redemption is provided by Circe’s transformation from a spiteful sorceress to a sympathetic and loving mother. Through her experiences, she discovers morality and a sense of purpose.

Isolation and loneliness: Circe’s loneliness on Aiaia is a reflection of the loneliness many people experience when they don’t fit in with social norms. Her struggle with loneliness is a common and understandable issue.

Power and defiance: Circe’s rejection of the gods’ rule and her refusal to bow to their power serve as a metaphor for people’s desire for independence and their willingness to stand up to tyrannical authorities.

Relationships and Love: The book examines a number of different kinds of love, including the romantic love between Circe and Odysseus and the love a mother has for her child. The characters and their choices are influenced by these relationships.


In “Circe,” Madeline Miller gives a classic and frequently-overlooked figure from Greek mythology a voice and agency that appeal to readers today. The work addresses the journey of self-discovery, the power of transformation, and the significance of embracing one’s own identity via rich storytelling, colorful characters, and compelling ideas.

Circe’s evolution from an outcast to a strong witch, a devoted mother, and a person who defies the gods is evidence of the resilience of the human spirit and its capacity for development. “Circe” is a gripping and thought-provoking book that challenges readers to think critically about social conventions, cherish individualism, and persevere in the face of adversity.

Not only does Madeline Miller’s retelling of Circe’s narrative uphold the tradition of Greek mythology, but it also gives an antiquated story a new, feminized perspective. It serves as a reminder that women may still take control of their own fates and narratives, even in a world ruled by gods and heroes.

If you enjoyed my summary then you should definitely check out the full book here.


About the Creator

Kristiyan Parzulov

I Give my Personal Book Reviews 👏👏 of the Most Popular Bestsellers!

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  • Test5 months ago

    Well done!

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