Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ Reveals The Captivating Story Behind the Famous Goddess

This book offers a fresh look at the goddess from Homer's 'Odyssey.'

Circe Madeline Miller Book Review
Circe Book Cover Circe
Madeline Miller
Little, Brown and Company
April 10th 2018

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Circe by Madeline Miller is one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year.  Many know Circe as the goddess famously featured in Homer’s iconic Odyssey, where she uses her sorcery to transform Odysseus’s men into pigs. But there is much, much more to Circe’s story, and Miller spins an endlessly fascinating tale of her life and creates one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in a while.

With the egotistic Helios, the Titan sun god, as a father, and Perse, a vain nymph, as a mother, Circe is seen as a disappointment with her strange looks, voice, and demeanor. Forced to live in the shadows of her cruel, power-hungry yet beautiful siblings,  Aeëtes, Pasiphaë, and Perses, Circe’s life is filled with neglect and isolation, but she still manages to nurse a naive sense of hope.

However, everything changes when it is discovered that Circe, along with her siblings, all possess unique abilities. This revelation changes Circe’s life forever: Zeus chooses to make an example out of her and sentences her to exile. However, she quickly discovers that her exile is not a punishment, but the liberation she has been waiting for her whole existence. On her lush, beautiful island, residing in an opulent mansion, Circe is able to be herself without the threat of ridicule for the first time. Here, she dedicates herself to her sorcery, working hard to become the powerful sorceress we remember from the Odyssey.

Though she’s in exile, Circe still finds her way into some of the most famous myths of all time. I appreciated how Miller weaved in other myths and mythical figures — to name a few: the Minotaur, Icarus, Jason, Medea,  and, of course, Odysseus – while still maintaining the fact that this story belongs, wholeheartedly, to Circe. Being able to view these established myths from Circe’s perspective was, simply put, an incredible reading experience. These myths were made fresh and challenge the reader to change their previously held notions.

My favorite aspect of this book has to be the character of Circe, and how strongly developed her character is. Throughout the novel, the reader gets to intimately know Circe — her weaknesses, her strengths, her desires, her demons. While I mostly felt sympathy towards her character because of the way she is treated by the other gods, she does do some cruel and cold things. And despite her flaws, I still continued to root for her because the reader learns why she’s this way. This is what a truly complex character looks like.

I can find no real flaws with this book — it was that good. The writing was brimming with gorgeous imagery, the characters were complex and memorable, and the story touched on many important themes while delivering an engrossing tale. If you’re interested in Greek mythology (and, honestly even if you aren’t that into Greek mythology)  and want to read about a strong female character, look no further — Circe should be the next book you pick up.
Alicia LeBoeuf
the authorAlicia LeBoeuf
Contributing Writer
I'm a college student pursuing an English major and Communication minor. I love everything book-related and I'm a passionate writer.