Books / Culture

“Circe” by Madeline Miller- A Subversive Retelling of an Ancient Tale

My Dear Readers!

[Spoilers for Madeline Miller's "Circe" ahead.]

When you think about Circe the first things that comes to mind is “witch” or “sorceress”. In Greek mythology, Circe is the daughter of the titan Helios and the nymph Perse. Circe has traditionally been portrayed as malevolent; a wicked witch who turns men into pigs. In Homer’s “Odyssey” she turns Odysseus’s crew into pigs until Odysseus tricks her and forces her to turn them back. In Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series, Circe is portrayed as a misandrist with a vendetta against all men. However, Madeline Miller’s “Circe” brings a fresh new perspective to one of the world’s oldest witches.

While there have been other retellings of mythological tales which shift the focus from a male perspective to a female one, the most interesting aspect if Miller’s “Circe” is that unlike most other retellings, Miller’s novel shifts the focus not only from the male perspective to the female perspective but also  shifts the focus from the Olympians to the Titans. Miller’s novel begins with Circe’s birth in Helios‘s underground palace and explores the events leading up to her exile on Aiaia and her encounter with Odysseus. This change in perspective brings a new angle to Circe’s story.

Miller’s narrative spends a considerable amount of time exploring Circe’s perspective on well-known events such as the transforming of Odysseus’s men into pigs. While in The Odyssey the reason for her doing so is unexplored, Miller’s narrative frames Circe’s actions as self defence, a way of protecting herself from the men who land her island with ill intentions. Overall, Miller’s’s narrative humanises Circe and turns her from a formidable witch to a character readers can sympathise with. Miller’s Circe has feelings and fears, ambitions and broken dreams which carry her through her days on Aiaia. Above all Miller’s Circe is lonely. And it is this loneliness which drives her to seek company with Odysseus and then eventually with Telemachus.

However, it is not simply Circe’s perspective as a woman that Miller explores but also her status as a lesser Titan. The novel spends a large amount of time exploring the lives of the Titans under the rule of the Olympians. A considerable part of Circe’s story revolves around a crippling fear of both the Titans and the Olympians, especially of Zeus and Athena. While she fears the former’s punishment, the latter she fears for the sake of her son Telegonus whom Athena wishes to kill. Even Hermes, whom Circe strikes a friendship with in the beginning of her exile, takes on a more formidable character as the story progresses. It is only when Circe gets over her fear of her father, the titan Helios, and of the Olympians that she is finally able to free herself from her exile.

In “Circe”, Miller weaves together myth and imagination in a way that is entirely seamless. Her novel traces Circe’s story through multiple myths and encounters with multiple mythological characters from Prometheus to Daedalus and the Minotaur, from Odysseus to Penelope. Titans, Olympians, Monsters and Heroes pop in and out of her narrative effortlessly without seeming out of place. It helps that Miller’s central character, Circe herself is a titan and as such her story spans centuries. It is Circe who holds the whole narrative together and acts as constant through all the different myths that Miller interweaves within her novel.

Multiple mythological references aside, the text itself is an easy read. Circe’s narrative voice is intimate, similar to a friend exchanging gossip. She has something to say about every character she comes into contact with. This makes the reader feel as if they are in immediate vicinity of the characters and adds to the charm of the story.

For lovers of mythology, Miller’s “Circe” is an absolute treasure. I hope the rest of you enjoy it as well. Happy Reading!



  • Muhammad Saad Ahmad
    January 18, 2023 at 7:56 am

    This seems like a book I personally would read and enjoy but after reading this it seems like a must read!

    • Areeb Shah
      January 26, 2023 at 1:59 am

      It is a must read! I absolutely loved it. And if you like mythology you will really love this!

  • Maria
    January 22, 2023 at 10:00 am

    I love this book and love how the narratives around villains are changing now. Awesome review, btw!

    • Areeb Shah
      January 26, 2023 at 1:58 am

      Same! It is interesting how a simple change of perspective completely changes the story! I’m glad you liked my review! Thank you so much!


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