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iScot Book Review

Back to the Beginning

Alex J. Craig reviews Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus, John Waterhouse,
Madeline Miller

I LEARNED about Greek myths in primary school. A lot later I read the Iliad and the Odyssey and discovered the great Greek dramatists. These are stories of enormous power, underlining the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition. But the ancient Greeks, so important in the cultural formation of Europe, and their literature, seem now to be conined to an educational footnote. So we must be grateful to American author Madeline Miller who takes us back to that time when gods and mortals shared our planet. Her irst novel, The Song of Achilles (2011), took Homer’s account of the friendship of Achilles and Patroclus, and rewrote it as a powerful and tragic love story.

Ms Miller’s second novel, published last year, turns the focus on Circe. Homer’s Odyssey tells of Odysseus arriving at the island of Aiaia, where Circe, a beautiful sorceress, lives in her palace. Some of the crew go up to the palace, where Circe wines and dines them before turning them into pigs. One of the crew gets away to warn Odysseus, who, seting of to rescue his men, is waylaid by the god Hermes, who gives him a potion to resist Circe’s magic. He forces her to turn his crew back into men, and promise not to cause them any more trouble. Then the Greeks spend a year on the island, having a good time, before seting of again for Ithaca (although further distractions await them). A few further details are added to the story by other classical authors, such as the son Telegonus, born to Circe ater Odysseus has departed.

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