Book recs: Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ casts spotlight on underappreciated character from Greek mythology


Circe shines a light on one of Greek Mythology’s overlooked characters.

Gianna Cocovinis, Staff Writer

They say there are no new stories, just retellings of the same story with a different lens. For “Circe” by Madeline Miller, a retelling of the legendary figure that permeates so much of Greek literature and mythology, that saying could not have been more accurate. This story follows the life of Circe, the daughter of Helios, the mightiest of the Titans before they were overthrown by their godly children. Compared to her powerful father, beautiful mother and abundance of magical siblings, Circe has never been particularly eye-catching among the members of her household. Being largely rejected by her family and fellow gods and goddesses, Circe turns to the world of humans for comfort, finding herself more at home with mortals than she ever felt with her own people.  


In the early stages of her life, Circe quickly realizes she isn’t special in the same way the rest of her family is in terms of godly power and beauty. Instead, she taps into a supply of magic she didn’t know she ever had before. After a spell goes wrong, Circe is banished by her father and the king of the gods, Zeus, to a remote island where she will spend the rest of her days living in isolation with nothing but livestock and her own witchcraft to keep her company. However,from what she has had to endure from her family and the rest of the gods, this might be a blessing in disguise. Away from her family, Circe is able to hone her craft and become a powerful enchantress. It is on this island that she crosses paths with many of history’s famous heroes and travelers.  


Not only does she open her island to the famous hero, man of many wiles, Odysseus, but she encounters many other legendary figures of lore, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, her murderous niece Medea, the Athenian hero Theseus and various Olympians. As much freedom and liberty as this banishment may give her, there is also a great danger that befalls a woman that stands alone against the rest of the world. As she draws unwanted attention from one of the most dangerous and powerful of the Olympians, Circe must summon all her strength and magical prowess to protect that which she loves most, and finally choose once and for all if she belongs to the world of the Olympians she has been with all her immortal life, or the mortal world she has come to love. 


As an avid reader of Greek mythology, this book swept me away and took me on a journey throughout all the stories and legends I have grown up learning and have come to love. Circe is a character that has always existed with an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding her, having always been a supporting character within a bigger story. This book brought a new depth to Circe’s character and rooted her as a central, powerful beacon that legendary characters seem to gravitate to and look to for guidance on their own journeys. Beyond that, she may be a witch in her prime, but she also has a depth and a humanistic demeanor that makes her out to be a relatable, humble character worth rooting for. Her quiet strength and confidence in the face of the harsh, unforgiving world is an inspiring story that gave me a new appreciation for a character that deserves infinitely more credit than she often gets. If you’re interested in reading this book, Sigma Tau Delta (the International English Honor Society) is hosting a book club featuring “Circe” this coming semester. Be on the lookout for more information on that in the next few weeks.