OU blog

Personal Blogs

Keith Currie

Circe by Madeline Miller

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Keith Currie, Sunday, 23 May 2021, 19:34

Pearls and swine

How do you write a convincing novel based on events from Classical Greek mythology? How do you treat gods and magic? Do you play up the comic aspects and ignore any sense of realism? Or do you omit them completely and strive for the real story behind the myth? Both methods have been employed by other authors, the second more generally successful than the first.

Madeline Miller has chosen to centre her novel on a goddess, Circe, a goddess who is also a witch. There is no attempt to divorce the story from its magical or Classically divine content. This is the Circe who is the isolated temptress of the Odyssey, who transforms Odysseus’ men into swine and who subsequently has a love affair with the cunning Greek.

In the author’s hands Circe and the many other gods and titans of the story are portrayed with the frightening power and personal selfishness of Homer or Hesiod or in the plays of Euripides. The story is perforce episodic, as gods are immortal and the lives of mankind are finite. Thus we are treated to a parade of figures from myth, Daedalus, the Minotaur, Medea (Circe’s niece), Jason and then, at last, Odysseus. With the advent of Odysseus, the tale moves towards the familial tragedies of Greek drama; Circe’s curse is that she is immortal and those she loves are not.

The best narratives of Greek myth are those which respect the origins, the contexts and the dramatic power of the original stories, but which also give us something new and fresh – exactly what Madeline Miller has done in this remarkable novel.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post