The 2018 adult fantasy novel, “Circe,” by Madeline Miller, has been hailed as a tour de force of feminist literature. Written in a prose style frequently found in Young Adult, “Circe” does not qualify as adult literature. I certainly disagree that it qualifies as a feminist story.
This novel is actually the patriarchy presenting itself on Olympian-powered steroids. Misogyny and rape culture are the engines of this book. To qualify as “feminist literature,” “Circe” demands that the reader be ignorant of the original myths selected to be altered and retold in this Forrest Gump-style romp through Greek mythology. Madeline Miller manages to take the misogyny and rape culture at the foundation of the original myths and intensify the unchecked reign of the patriarchy by a drastic amount. The patriarchy is the star of this book. Reader, please be awed by its might.
Miller has repeatedly stated in interviews about “Circe” that this book was written as “mythological realism,” which she defines as realistic historical fiction with deities appearing as characters, the same way those deities appear as characters within their original myths. Yet nowhere in the novel’s text is the reader oriented to anything “realistic” from Ancient Greece. Miller does not write any scenes that include historical reality at all. There are no scenes of the actual worship of the gods in Ancient Greece; there are no scenes of animal sacrifice, temple officiants, or realistic displays of worship for any of the deities in this book. Miller is not concerned with the realities of slavery and poverty in Ancient Greek life either, in the military or on ships, which are both depicted in her book.
She also changes each of the Greek myths in her text so drastically that no claim can be made that the mythological canon itself is where she derives her “realism” from. This is in stark contrast to a book like “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” by Lew Wallace (1880), in which biblical canon was carefully and assiduously used in his novel to shape the dialogue and actions of Jesus. Wallace completed extensive research on the geography, culture, language, customs, architecture, and daily life of the ancient world, which permeates every scene in his book. “Ben-Hur” is an authentic work of “mythological realism,” both for Wallace’s adherence to biblical canon as well as historical reality. Miller displays neither in “Circe.”
Most unrealistic of all, Miller never orients the reader to the way that Ancient Greeks defined and understood the word “hero,” a word that appears numerous times in the text. Miller’s characters use the word “hero” the same way a modern American reader would.
The Ancient Greeks (and the Ancient Greek gods) did not think of “heroes” as people who were morally good; they did not view “heroes” as worthy of fame due to being moral exemplars. To the Ancient Greeks, Odysseus was what a modern American would understand as a “celebrity”: someone imbued with an extraordinary attribute or ability, a person who captures public attention due to their actions and lifestyle, regardless of their moral character. Kim Kardashian, to the Ancient Greeks, would also qualify as a “hero”: she possesses an attribute of great beauty, has become famous, and many people emulate her actions, but this does not mean that those people emulate her because they believe she is “morally good.” To the Ancient Greeks, Kim Kardashian’s actions bring her fame and popularity, and her life therefore qualifies as “heroic”: entertaining to discuss, capturing public attention, and therefore worthy of public conversation.
Most modern Americans would never call Kim Kardashian a “hero.” In the interest of brevity, I’ll cite two main reasons why. First, in the days since “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad” were recorded, the historical Jesus of Nazareth was born and walked on the earth, changing forever the Western public perception of what a “god” is, and what a “hero” is. In Christian mythology, Jesus was a God who was born into a mortal body to die for the sins of humanity, saving the entire human race to be reborn into Heaven. Jesus the God is morally good. In the centuries following the rise of Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, the concept of “deity” changed from the roles the gods held in Ancient Greece, into a monotheistic, morally good “Savior of All” who rewards his worshipers with immortal life.
To be fair, this is a much more appealing “story of god” than anything the Ancient Greeks had to offer. Many people say that the Bible is “the greatest story ever told” and “the greatest story ever SOLD” for a reason. As we all know, many people are terrified to die. A god who promises immortal life to every human on earth has definitely cornered the market on goodness, kindness, and popular appeal.
Second, the modern understanding of “hero” took a big jump forward in 1841, when Thomas Carlyle published his famous work, “On Heroes: Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History,” and penned, “The History of the world is but the Biography of great men.” Carlyle helped solidify the word “hero” into how most modern Americans understand the word. “Heroes” are “Great Men,” men of bold action who alter the course of human history by the choices they make. Carlyle named “Jesus” as one such Great Man, and a large number of modern Americans would agree with him.
Miller’s text views Odysseus through the modern understanding of a Great Man of History, as well as a modern understanding that “heroes” are “morally good.” Miller’s novel is entirely sympathetic to Odysseus. Rather than displaying his deeds with the hubris and greed the original myths give him, Miller has stated in interviews that she gave her Odysseus Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from war, so that her reader can have sympathy for him. Miller has stated that she sought to “explain” why a “hero” would commit what her modern reader understands as horrific actions and deeds, not “heroic.”
But the original myths treated Odysseus the way modern Americans treat Kim Kardashian, and the original myths did not give Odysseus PTSD. Odysseus is a hypocrite and a proud boaster in “The Odyssey”; he is not meant to be punished or condemned by the listeners of his tale. Odysseus is never meant to be viewed as “morally wrong,” but as “heroic.” In fact, the people he kills after he returns home to Ithaca are considered “just kills” by the text, including the female servants/slaves Odysseus slaughters. Those women are rape victims who have been reduced to “porneia”: literally, “vile whores,” or “dirty sexual slaves,” in the eyes of Odysseus and the Ancient Greeks. That is the reality of the patriarchy on display in the original myth. Odysseus is viewed as a “hero” as the Ancient Greeks understood the term; he was not a morally-good soldier who “unfortunately” suffered PTSD after he returned home from war. Odysseus was a man of action, a man who killed who he needed to kill, and the details of his killing served as entertainment; it is the purpose of telling his story. When his killing is finished, his story ends.
But Miller’s audience is far removed from Ancient Greece, and understanding the Greek myths within the context of history. Instead of orienting her reader to the world of Ancient Greece, she alters the text in all ways to suit a modern ideology and setting. Whatever motivated Miller to make these choices, in the text, Odysseus becomes a modern Great Man of History, and the entire second half of the novel is devoted to illuminating Odysseus, and sympathizing with him. Odysseus appears in-scene for roughly two or three chapters of the twenty-seven total chapters, but his personality, his life, and his deeds are discussed at length for a full half of the book.
The novel begins with the protagonist, the goddess-witch Circe, best-known for her role in “The Odyssey.” Circe is the sole first-person protagonist of the novel, and she narrates her own autobiography from a distance. The very last page of the novel describes Circe committing suicide, and her narrative voice at the start of the book is told from Circe’s adult voice looking back on her life. The entire book seems to be Circe reflecting on her life, narrating her life story to a mortal listener in the moments before she takes away her own immortality and commits herself to die a mortal’s death. Circe’s mortal listener is later identified as “you,” the mortal reader of the text, in a switch to second person narration that takes place on page 17.
The very fact that this novel stars a woman who kills herself – a woman who destroys herself “for love,” no less – ought to have sent up plenty of red flags that this book does not qualify as “feminist literature.” Women committing suicide “for love” is one of the longest-running misogynistic tropes of storytelling; it often goes hand-in-hand with women being raped and enjoying it, a point I will return to later in this review.
Circe begins the book by narrating the story of her parents meeting, marrying, and giving birth to her. Her father is Helios, the extremely powerful God of the Sun, and her mother is a “lesser goddess,” a nymph named Perse. Circe is born as a nymph, like her mother, and tells the reader that the word “nymph” in the gods’ language means “bride” (page 3). She describes nymphs in this way:
“Least of the lesser goddesses, our powers were so modest they could scarcely ensure our eternities. […] That word, nymph, paced out the length and breadth of our futures” (page 3).
Although nymphs are divine and immortal, they can still be killed. Circe even states that her “oldest fear” is to be murdered by her father (page 361).
In this book, the defining characteristic of nymphs is that they are weak: physically weak, magically weak, and divinely weak. Nymphs are only ever female. Nymphs suffer rape, incest, and violence, including the threat of death, from their male family members (page 147). The word “incest” is never used in the novel, but when Circe’s sister speaks of the violence she has suffered at the hands of their brother Perses, the implication is clear. Circe’s sister also admits that their father forced her to marry a mortal man against her will (page 147). Nymphs are property. Circe’s mother could have been raped by her father, if he had chosen to rape her (page 4). Circe’s father Helios also rapes his female animals, a sacred herd of “fifty snow-white heifers” (page 9) that he “fucks” to sire their calves, and when the cows get old, he cooks them (page 12). Helios keeps two of his daughters as slaves, a pair of beautiful nymphs named Lampetia and Phaethousa, who are forced to watch over and care for his sacred herd (page 10).
The intense misogyny among the gods is not limited to Helios or Perses. It is made clear to the reader that Aeëtes, Circe’s second younger brother, “has never liked a woman in his life” (page 117). Even Hermes, the Messenger God of the Olympians, makes it clear in his own dialogue that nymphs exist to be raped by anyone who can overpower them (page 181). Later in the book, Hermes suggests that even Circe try raping some nymphs who have been imprisoned on her island (imprisoned there by male relatives), and Circe responds in this way:
“That is absurd,” I said. “They would run screaming.”
“Nymphs always do,” Hermes said. “But I’ll tell you a secret: they are terrible at getting away.”
Hermes delivers his words while “grinning like a goat” (page 181), taking pleasure in the helplessness of the nymphs, who can be raped by anyone who has power over them, including Circe with her witch powers, powers she was not “born with” as a nymph, but acquired on her own (pages 83-86). Since Hermes’s own mother is a nymph named Maia, his dialogue also implies an intense loathing for his own mother. In the worldview of of this novel, Hermes is a god who would see his own mother as nothing but a piece of meat.
Nymphs are beautiful, but are still seen as almost entirely worthless, even by their own children. Aeëtes states: “Even the most beautiful nymph is largely useless, and an ugly one would be nothing, less than nothing. She would never marry or produce children. She would be a burden to her family, a stain upon the face of the world. She would live in the shadows, scorned and reviled” (page 71). This information is never questioned, but confirmed in the text as the absolute truth (page 71). Aeëtes’s own mother is the nymph Perse; he has no more respect for nymphs than Hermes does.
Female Titans, goddesses who have more divine power than nymphs, fare no better. Circe tells the reader: “My uncle Proteus lost his palace, and his wives were taken for bed-slaves” (page 15). Male gods possess plural wives, but any god’s wives can be taken away by a stronger male deity, and turned into his sexual slaves, raped and bred at his discretion.
As a modern female reader, I find the patriarchy on display in this novel deeply compelling, and extremely relatable. Circe’s female relatives are also quite vicious. Perse calls Circe “stupid” (page 13) and Circe’s siblings also call her ugly (page 9). My own life experiences made me want to bond and identify with Circe in all ways, since I know exactly what it feels like to be abused by your family members, and to be seen as “worthless,” “stupid,” and “ugly” by your family as well as your community.
In her phenomenal nonfiction book, “Intercourse” (1987), Andrea Dworkin describes the inferiority women experience in the patriarchy:
“Inferiority is not banal or incidental even when it happens to women. It is the deep and destructive devaluing of a person in life, a shredding of dignity and self-respect, an imposed exile from human worth and human recognition, the forced alienation of a person from even the possibility of wholeness or internal integrity. Inferiority puts rightful self-love beyond reach, a dream fragmented by insult into a perpetually recurring nightmare; inferiority creates a person broken and humiliated inside. The fragments—scattered pieces and sharp slivers of someone who can never be made whole—are then taken to be the standard of what is normal in her kind: women are like that. The insult that hurt her—inferiority as an assault, ongoing since birth—is seen as a consequence, not a cause, of her so-called nature, an inferior nature.” (page 213)
Dworkin’s words illustrate why Miller’s novel is so compelling. In the opening pages of “Circe,” it is made clear that Circe is a woman who has been humiliated and broken by the patriarchy, the power structure that places men above women in all ways in this text, a patriarchy that is upheld by both male and female patriarchs. Both Andrea Dworkin and bell hooks write at length in their work about female patriarchs: patriarchal women who have aligned their thoughts and behaviors to meet the expectations of the patriarchy. This patriarchal alignment and complicity is an aspect of conditioning as well as survival; Circe is surrounded by female patriarchs in her immortal society.
Circe’s enslaved sisters, Lampetia and Phaethousa, say judgmental things about Circe’s looks (page 10), as do Circe’s sister Pasiphaë and brother Perses, who are much more scathing: “Her eyes are yellow as piss. Her voice is screechy as an owl. She should be called Goat for her ugliness” (page 9).
Circe receives no love or affection from her mother, aunts, or female family members. Circe longs most to be loved by her father, and many of her childhood memories describe her efforts to spend time with Helios, even though Helios, as a male patriarch, has no more regard for Circe than one of his snow-white heifers. But even that is not quite true. Helios loves to gaze upon his herd of cows, and make sure their cow-bodies stay pristine. But Helios takes no such pleasure from gazing upon Circe, and he gives no care to protecting her body.
Nymphs are also relentlessly slut-shamed in this book, by male and female patriarchs alike. For example, Circe’s cousins say the following about the nymph Scylla: “You know she’s lain with half the halls. I’m glad I never let her have me.” A male river-god adds: “Of course she barks. She always was a bitch!” Scylla’s sister pretends to “howl like a dog” to emphasize the river-god’s words. While the entire hall fills with “shrieking laughter” at the slut-shaming, Circe states: “Even my grandparents had come over to listen, smiling at the crowd’s edge” (page 59).
Circe’s brother Aeëtes later adds: “She was a painted back-hall slattern same as the rest” (page 70). By “the rest,” Aeëtes means “all nymphs” are sluts; “all goddesses” are whores. Circe neither argues with nor condemns anyone who slut-shames another woman anywhere in this book. In fact, Circe deeply hates women. She never puts herself in the category of “female” with the other women in this book because Circe is Not Like Other Girls. Circe is Not Like Other Nymphs. Circe is Not Like Other Goddesses. The slut-shaming stands because Circe believes it is true, and her belief in that truth is what is communicated to the reader. Circe alone is not a Whore, because Circe alone is Not Like Other Girls.
The cruelty of the patriarchy on display in this novel is very realistic and relatable to many modern women, including myself.
But the patriarchy is never named or identified as “the problem” in this book. Since Circe is Not Like Other Girls, Circe sees no problem with slut-shaming, or the patriarchy that creates the word “whore.” In fact, Miller’s novel never discusses the patriarchy at all, the power structure that devalues all women, mortal and immortal alike. Circe never humanizes her fellow nymphs; she never identifies with them or expresses any sympathy toward them. After she has lived more than a thousand years, Circe tells the reader that a nymph is “a dry well” (page 179), by which she means: empty-headed and foolish. Much later in the book, Circe states that nymphs are “shadows flitting at the corner of my eye” (page 341), by which she means: nymphs are so far beneath her notice that they don’t even have physical bodies. Circe is contemptuous of women in this book, especially the women in her own family.
Circe’s story is the story of an unreflective female patriarch, a woman who takes violent male power for her own: the power to rape, maim, and kill. In her state of lovelessness and isolation, Circe tries to make herself whole by inflicting violence upon other people, using her powers to dehumanize, degrade, and destroy, and the novel punishes Circe the way all female patriarchs who “seize male power” are punished in patriarchal stories: Circe dies, and she dies at her own hand.
Circe dehumanizes the vast majority of the people she meets throughout the course of the book. Circe kills a large number of mortal human men, and she kills them sadistically, taking pleasure in their dehumanization and torture (pages 194-196). Circe never feels a shred of remorse for the human men that she kills. And she never regrets completely dehumanizing other women. Circe denies her own female body, the way other female patriarchs nearly always do. She announces her alignment with the patriarchy very early in the novel, on page 17, just before Prometheus is about to be punished for sharing fire with human beings. Circe tells the reader —
“The punishment of a god was a rare and terrible thing, and talk ran wild through our halls. Prometheus could not be killed, but there were many hellish torments that could take death’s place. Would it be knives or swords, or limbs torn off? Red-hot spikes or a wheel of fire? The naiads swooned into each other’s laps. The river-lords postured, faces dark with excitement. You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.”
Because Circe specifically mentions the pleasure that both gods and goddesses are taking in Prometheus’s future punishment (in this paragraph: female naiads and male river-gods alike), the word “gods” can be read as “mankind.” Circe is identifying all of the gods and goddesses with the male-centric word “gods,” because everyone in her father’s great hall is “excited” and “swooning” to see Prometheus be punished.
The text reveals Circe’s erasure of the pain all immortal women face in this book, including Circe herself: rape, enslavement, violence, and the threat of death. Although the story makes it clear that nymphs and other goddesses may be raped and killed by male gods, and Circe’s “oldest fear” is that her own father will kill her, Circe still tells the reader that there is “nothing more foreign” to the gods—male and female alike—than “pain.”
I need to make it *very* clear that I completely disagree. Violence is painful. Violent death is painful. Enslavement is painful. Being forced to marry someone against your will is painful.
And rape is certainly painful. Rape is so painful, degrading, humiliating, and brutal that rape victims often suffer lasting trauma. Rape is always used as a weapon in war. Rape is used against people of any gender to enforce subjugation, and it is always the first weapon of torture. Rape establishes inferiority, whether someone is raping a small child, an adult woman, an adult man, or any other person. Rape can cause unwanted pregnancy and death. Rape can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. By learning to treat rape victims, modern therapists learned to identify PTSD in combat soldiers, and developed therapies for them. Rape has a higher percentage of PTSD among its victims than combat does.
In this book, nymphs are raped, slut-shamed, and put through any number of horrors at the hands of the male gods who wield power over them. That means that the goddesses in this book are NOT strangers to pain. Pain is not “foreign” to them, and neither is death.
As a child, Circe does not fear being raped because her brother is sadistically torturing her sister Pasiphaë instead (page 147), and Circe is adamant that she does not want to know the details about her brother’s sadistic torture of her sister (page 147). Growing up, Circe believes that no one will rape her because her father is Helios, who is respected and feared. Circe does not look at the rape of nymphs as being “painful” at all. She erases all pain from the nymphs, and denies her own female body as a potential rape victim’s body, a fact that will lead to her own rape later in the book (pages 184-189).
Circe erases all pain from the nymphs because female patriarchs adopt the rape culture mentality of the patriarchy, a mentality that states all women are whores, an ethos best summarized by the rape culture mantra: “She wants it. They all do.” Rape is not “painful” if you were asking for it, if you are really a whore who enjoys it. Likewise, the patriarchy views men as being only animals who rape, an ethos best summarized by: “Boys will be boys.” According to the patriarchy, an erect penis is a knife or a sword to stab people with, which is why the word “vagina” is the Latin word for “sheath”: to emphasize that a cock is a weapon, a knife or a sword to be thrust into women. According to the patriarchy, rape is natural: it is man’s natural state to rape women. And according to the patriarchy, women naturally enjoy being raped: “She wants it. They all do.”
For the record, rape culture is *not* feminism. Feminism is about valuing all people as human beings, whatever a person’s genitalia. Feminism is about recognizing that rape and rape culture is not innate to human biology; men are not “born” to rape. Feminism is also about respecting the fact that no one is ever “asking” for rape.
When I first started reading “Circe,” I thought that the book was promoting White Feminism: a feminism that supports women being seen as human beings *only* so long as they are able-bodied, white, neurotypical, cisgender, upper-middle-class, and heterosexual, which are all qualities that Circe possesses. When I realized that Circe does not give a damn about the rape of any woman but herself, and that she is perfectly fine dehumanizing entire ships full of men as “rapists” in order to murder them, I thought the novel might be promoting a message of Power Feminism, which bell hooks defines as “just another scam in which women get to play patriarchs and pretend that the power we seek and gain liberates us. Because we did not create a grand body of work that would have taught girls and women new and visionary ways to think about love, we witness the rise of a generation of females in our late twenties and early thirties who see any longing for love as weakness, who focus our sights solely on gaining power.” (quoted from the preface of “Communion,” by bell hooks, published in 2002, page xviii)
But the novel “Circe” does not even qualify as a book about Power Feminism. Even though the protagonist does fit the description of viewing love as weakness, and focuses her sights solely on gaining power, Circe is so full of self-loathing that when she finally finds love at the end of her story, she destroys herself. When Circe is about to become the “bride” of a mortal man she has fallen in love with, thereby becoming the “true nymph” or the “bride” that she was “born” to be (because “nymph” is the word for “bride” in her language), she punishes herself by giving up all of the male power she has acquired, including her own divine immortality, and chooses to die a mortal’s death.
This is a book that deeply hates women. Circe deeply hates women, and deeply hates herself.
This is also a book that deeply hates men who are poor. As the modern United States has become more economically segregated, with an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the classism in American media has radically increased in potency and cruelty. The classism on display in “Circe” is profound. Infantry soldiers and ship crews in Ancient Greece were largely composed of poor and impoverished men, men who were uneducated and used as slave labor. The novel “Ben-Hur” does a better job of exposing the realities of life for the male slaves aboard ships, ships like the ones that land on Circe’s island.
Academic studies of many different eras of history, including modern times, have exposed some essential truths about slavery, military life, and life aboard ships. In regards to Ancient Greece, the majority of men who were forced to row aboard ships did so as slaves. Prisoners were also used as slave labor. Male slaves could be ordered to war, or forced to fight wars that they did not want to fight. For ship captains in Ancient Greece to maintain control over crews that might mutiny, rape and corporeal punishment enforced order. The vast majority of mortal men that Circe turns into pigs and destroys in this novel are largely slaves, slaves who were most likely victims of rape themselves. The reader is allowed to ignore this reality because this is a book that hates men who are poor, and this book especially hates anyone “low” enough to have been born into slavery.
When I read “Ben-Hur” at age fourteen, I fell in love with that book because I could empathize with Ben-Hur’s horrible situation as a slave. Slaves would be chained to their rowing positions, and whipped severely if they stopped rowing. According to the patriarchy, all men in the military, and all men aboard a ship, are considered “rapists,” but in reality, in those situations (aboard a ship or in the military), it is only ever a minority of men who do the raping: the men who have power. Slave-masters are the ones who rape their slaves. This is true whether you are studying a cotton plantation in Alabama in 1843, or a ship rowed with slave labor in Ancient Greece. Miller’s novel depicts Circe dehumanizing and murdering entire ship crews of human men, and justifying her behavior as “killing rapists.” But the brutal truth is: NOT ALL MEN RAPE. The patriarchy teaches that “all men rape,” but the patriarchy is wrong. And what Circe does in this book is wrong.
Circe never regrets dehumanizing and killing those men, and the reader is meant to understand that no regret is required: the book wants the reader to agree with Circe, and believe that Circe’s behavior toward those men is correct, and justified.
Circe states in the text that she spared the lives of less than ten human men from all of the ships that came to her shores (page 192). There were twenty human men on the first ship that arrived on her island (page 184). If there are roughly twenty men per ship, and Circe killed the entire crews of several ships, her victims must number at least one hundred, and probably many more.
Circe does not have the power to read minds. But she claims that of the handful of men she spared, “They did not see me as their dinner” (page 193). By this, she means: by looking into their eyes, she could tell that they did not plan to rape her.
But when Circe killed the entire crew of the first ship, she could not know for a fact if every one of those twenty men was a rapist. She killed them because they witnessed their captain rape her and did nothing to stop him. She killed them because a second man, who was probably the second in command on the ship, stated that he also wanted to rape her immobile body, and the other men did nothing to stop him.
For the record, there are many enslaved men who have watched their male masters rape other people—children, women, and men—and have done nothing to stop them. Slaves, as a class, have no power over their masters.
For example, when slavery was legal in the United States, black male slaves were sometimes witness to their white male masters raping black female slaves. If the male slaves tried to stop the rapes, they could be maimed or killed. Likewise, female slaves were sometimes witness to their masters raping their own children. If they tried to stop the rapes, they could also be maimed or killed.
When made powerless, there are large numbers of people who choose to remain silent and still in order to keep their own lives. To condemn these enslaved people for their survival instinct is vicious and cruel. And yet, that is what the reader is expected to do in order to enjoy reading the novel “Circe.” The reader is expected to condemn powerless people for the actions of the masters who control them.
Miller states that her novel is “mythological realism,” but she does not present historical reality anywhere in her novel. Instead, Miller assumes that her reader is ignorant of the historical reality of Ancient Greece, and her novel is written to perpetuate the reader’s ignorance.
Miller did not grow up in poverty, and neither did most of her readers. It is Miller’s good fortune and privilege that, as a writer, she has not had to identify with the men in her book who were born into poverty, men who were put into prisons, and turned into slaves.
Circe claims that she can tell, just by looking at a man, if he “sees her as dinner” or not. This is just like men who claim that they can tell by “the look in a woman’s eyes” that she was “asking for it.” In truth, those rapist men who believe a woman’s eyes tell them that she is “asking for it,” or that “a woman’s eyes say yes when her mouth says no,” are only justifying their rape of those women. And Circe, by stating that she can tell by one look in a man’s eyes if he is a rapist or not, is justifying her dehumanization and murder of ships full of men.
Not every soldier who goes to war is a rapist. Not every soldier who survives active combat rapes female civilians. Not every seaman is a rapist. Not every seaman in Ancient Greece was a rapist. For Miller’s novel to portray Ancient Greek ships as massive raping machines is a disgusting and revolting way to portray Greek history. It is incredibly classist. It is incredibly cruel. Circe’s thoughts and behavior perpetuate rape culture by demonizing all men, especially men who are poor.
I cannot condemn Circe for killing the man who rapes her, or the man who says, “She better not be dead, it’s my turn” (pages 188-189). Given the situation she is in, lying helpless on the floor, with a crushed windpipe that would have killed a mortal woman, it makes sense that Circe also kills the other eighteen men who might harm her further. Any woman who kills to protect herself will always have my support, and rape is often a life-or-death situation; many rape victims are too terrified to fight at all because they fear they will die. There are far too many real-life women like Circe who have killed their rapists and would-be murderers in self-defense, only to be imprisoned or executed for killing a man. It is a horrible consequence of rape culture. I do not criticize this novel because Circe kills all twenty men in the room when she is physically assaulted, to the point of death for a mortal, and raped.
My problem with Circe is that she could have shrouded her island from future ships, but chose not to (page 192), because she wants to dehumanize and kill more men. Circe wants the men to come to her island, and she is explicitly sadistic about it: “I wanted the next crew to come, so I might see again their tearing flesh” (page 193). After she has poisoned the entire crew with her herbs, she states that her “favorite moment” is the one right before they transform into pigs, and she states of the change: “I am certain it hurt” (page 194).
Andrea Dworkin persistently reminds us that patriarchy justifies the subjugation of women by maintaining that all women are vile, depraved sadists who must be kept under the control of men by violence, or the uncontrolled sadism of women will destroy innocent lives. The novel “Circe” does a fine job of portraying all women as sadists: people who take pleasure, including sexual pleasure, from inflicting pain on others. As an immortal goddess, Circe takes pleasure in turning human men into pigs and killing them in their dehumanized state. Her willingness to dehumanize and murder people is not limited to male rapists. Twice, she threatens to kill the nymphs imprisoned on her island. Long before Circe is raped, she tells the first nymph to show up on her island: “You will feed yourself, care for yourself, and if you cause me a moment’s more trouble, I will turn you into a blindworm and drop you in the sea for the fish” (page 180). That is not a joke, or an idle threat; it is clear in the text that Circe means every word.
When more nymphs are sent to her island, Circe tells Hermes, “Go to my father and see how they can be taken away” (page 181). When Hermes returns to tell her that her father will not be removing the nymphs, Circe says, “Tell my father I will do something awful to them if they do not leave. I will turn them into rats” (page 181). Even before Circe is raped, she is already cruel and sadistic; she takes pleasure in using her power against those who are weaker than she is, including nymphs who have no power at all. It is also why all of the people she kills in this book are powerless in comparison to her.
No woman in this novel is portrayed as being morally good, not even Ariadne or Penelope. In the world of Miller’s novel, the only people who are morally good are all male: Prometheus, Daedalus, and Circe’s own son, Telegonus. These three men possess wisdom, patience, kindness, empathy, compassion, and righteousness. The moral righteousness and altruistic goodness of these men is made explicit in the text. No female in the book possesses what these three men possess. Every woman in this novel is – at best — selfish, scheming, and foolish, as illustrated by the characters Ariadne and Penelope. Outside of Ariadne (who is killed) and Penelope (who Circe must forgive), the other women in this book are either absolutely depraved (Pasiphaë, Medea, Athena, Artemis), or those women are merely “empty wells” and “shadows,” also known as “all of the other nymphs who are not Circe.”
The sadism of women in this book is more extreme and pronounced than any man’s. That sadism and depravity is best represented when Hermes tells Circe about how her sister Pasiphaë dealt with her husband Minos’s infidelity:
“One evening, Hermes told me of a trick Pasiphaë had played upon Minos in the early days of their marriage. Minos used to order any girl he liked to his bedchamber in front of her face. So she cursed him with a spell that turned his seed to snakes and scorpions. Whenever he lay with a woman, they stung her to death from the inside.” (page 160)
Circe admits to the reader that these girls would have been “serving maidens, slaves, merchants’ daughters, anyone whose fathers would not dare raise a fuss against the king. All extinguished for nothing but petty pleasure and revenge.” (page 160)
The immortal women who have power in this book (witch-goddesses and Olympian-goddesses) are all absolutely vicious, far more vicious than any man in this novel. These women use their power for “petty pleasure and revenge.” Circe and Pasiphaë are identical female witches: they target powerless slaves and poor people to torture and murder for their own pleasure. But Miller’s novel never acknowledges that Circe and Pasiphaë are both sadists who prey upon the innocent and the powerless. Circe can never acknowledge that she and Pasiphaë are both villains. Circe can never admit this truth because the novel presents her as a “flawed hero,” not a villain. The reader is never meant to realize that Circe and Pasiphaë are identical in their nature. They share the innate depravity of women, according to the patriarchy.
Miller has repeatedly stated in interviews that she views the Greek gods and goddesses as “sociopathic narcissists,” and that it was her intention to portray the Greek deities as such in her novel. Circe summarizes Miller’s own view of the Greek deities in one of the final lines of the book: “I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands” (page 385). Circe gives this statement as the justification to annihilate herself. Because Circe believes she is already “more dead than anything,” then giving up her own immortality in order to die a mortal’s death is no loss of life at all.
Miller presents such a skewed opinion of the Greek deities – that they are “sociopathic narcissists” who are “unchanging” and “dead” – by leaving out all of the stories of Greek deities who do not fit her narrative. The Goddess Demeter, the Goddess Hecate, and the God Dionysus, for instance, all star in Ancient Greek stories that involve gods and goddesses loving women, and making sacrifices for the women they love, whether those women are daughters, human mortals, mothers, or simply people in need. The stories starring these deities also involve change – the change of worldly status, of mortality, even the change of nature itself, as when the seasons change after Demeter rescues her daughter Persephone from the Underworld. Miller’s novel and its messaging are best suited to a reader who is ignorant of Greek mythology. Circe’s story does not even intend to educate the reader about Greek mythology, but rather advances a narrative that upholds the patriarchy as timeless, unchanging, and permanent. Greek mythology is full of characters who challenged the patriarchy. But in Miller’s novel, no one ever challenges the patriarchy, and the Greek myths that do are excluded from her book for that reason.
In justifying her ideas that the Greek gods and goddesses are all “sociopathic narcissists,” Miller repeatedly cites the story of Actaeon, a mortal man and famous Greek hero who came across the Goddess Artemis bathing in the woods, and decided to gaze upon her naked body, watching her in secret. When Artemis realized what he had done, she turned Actaeon into a stag, and his hunting dogs chased him and ripped him apart.
Miller is adamant that this story illustrates the sheer depravity of the gods: that the gods dehumanize and destroy human beings for nothing more than their whims. But Miller fails to place this story within the context of Ancient Greece. Artemis does not destroy Actaeon on a whim, but as a punishment. By gazing upon her naked body, Actaeon severely disrespected her as a goddess. He treated a goddess the way a mortal woman born into poverty would be treated: women in poverty could be gazed upon while naked. Instead of showing reverence to Artemis, Actaeon treated her like a common whore, a vile whore, and that is why she punished him by turning him into a stag.
Andrea Dworkin writes most meaningfully about the role of vile whores in Ancient Greece, and how Ancient Greek ideas about vile whores are still with us today, as modern American readers:
“The word pornography, derived from the ancient Greek pornē and graphos, means ‘writing about whores.’ Pornē means ‘whore,’ specifically and exclusively the lowest class of whore, which in ancient Greece was the brothel slut available to all male citizens.
The pornē was the cheapest (in the literal sense), least regarded, least protected of all women, including slaves. She was, simply and clearly and absolutely, a sexual slave. Graphos means ‘writing, etching, or drawing.’
The word pornography does not mean ‘writing about sex’ or ‘depictions of the erotic’ or ‘depictions of sexual acts’ or ‘depictions of nude bodies’ or ‘sexual representations’ or any other such euphemism. It means the graphic depiction of women as vile whores. In ancient Greece, not all prostitutes were considered vile: only the porneia.
Contemporary pornography strictly and literally conforms to the word’s root meaning: the graphic depiction of vile whores, or, in our language, sluts, cows (as in: sexual cattle, sexual chattel), cunts. The word has not changed its meaning and the genre is not misnamed. The only change in the meaning of the word is with respect to its second part, graphos: now there are cameras—there is still photography, film, video.” (quoted from “Pornography: Men Possessing Women,” pages 199-200, published in 1981)
In Ancient Greece, women born to wealth and noble bloodlines were sheltered from the eyes of men. Only vile whores could be gazed upon by any man. When Actaeon reduces the Goddess Artemis to the status of a vile whore, he is punished accordingly: with violent death.
Contrary to Miller’s beliefs, Artemis’s behavior in this story is not the behavior of a “sociopathic narcissist” who “kills on a whim.” This is moral behavior, deeply rooted in a sense of right and wrong. The myth of Actaeon, like many ancient myths, is a story that teaches a moral lesson: do not disrespect the gods. Do not treat a goddess the same way you would treat a vile whore. If you treat a goddess as a vile whore, that goddess will punish you with death.
Miller earned a combined BA and MA in classics from Brown University. I assume that she was taught how to put Greek myths into the appropriate historical context. Her fictional choices and worldview display a complete disregard for what I assume she learned. Her opinions on the meanings of Greek myths seem entirely shallow and uninformed. And her novel is consequently extremely patriarchal and problematic.
In interviews, Miller has repeatedly stated that her motivation for writing “Circe” was to answer the question: “Why does Circe turn men into pigs?” Miller’s novel answers that question this way: Circe turns men into pigs because a man raped her, a second man wanted to rape her, and eighteen other men did nothing to stop it.
It makes perfect sense that Miller would answer her own question that way because Circe is, in fact, raped by Odysseus in “The Odyssey.” It is the only time the reader ever witnesses Circe being raped in the story.
Miller, however, never uses the word “rape” to describe what Odysseus does to Circe. In interviews, when Miller describes that scene in “The Odyssey,” she states that Hermes gives Odysseus the divine herbs to nullify her witch powers. When Odysseus enters Circe’s home, he pulls out his sword and threatens her with it. Circe screams in terror, falls to her knees, begs for mercy, and “invites him into her bed.” Miller describes the rape of Circe after the 8-minute mark at this link, during her presentation at the 2018 Gaithersburg Book Festival—
I would like to emphasize that when a man pulls out a sword, threatens to kill a woman with it, and then fucks her, that is rape.
Odysseus is a rapist in “The Odyssey.”
But Miller never calls Odysseus a rapist. Miller has placed the modern understanding of the word “hero” over the Ancient Greek understanding of the word. Like many academics who seek to make Odysseus’s behavior in “The Odyssey” more palatable to a modern audience, which would understand rape as a crime, and is uncomfortable with Odysseus slaughtering his female slaves who are rape victims, Miller forgives Odysseus and sympathizes with his behavior by stating that he suffers from PTSD after the Trojan War.
Even if a modern reader decides that “The Odyssey” is about a man who is suffering from PTSD, I must state this emphatically:
Having PTSD does NOT make you a rapist.
And I will say that again, because it begs repeating:
Having PTSD does NOT make you a rapist.
Rape culture is what makes a rapist. Odysseus is a king, a man of great privilege and power, and it is the rape culture of Ancient Greece, combined with Odysseus’s status, that makes him a rapist.
As Miller points out, when Circe is on her knees with Odysseus’s sword at her throat, she “invites him into her bed.” According to Miller, a terrified woman begging for mercy, and with a sword at her throat, who “invites” a man into her bed, is “asking for it.” Circe wants Odysseus to fuck her. This is the mantra of rape culture: “She wants it. They all do.” In Miller’s worldview, Circe is not raped by Odysseus. According to Miller, Circe “invites” Odysseus to fuck her, so he does. Being fucked because you are terrified that a man might cut off your head if you don’t fuck him is not rape. Circe “invited” the fuck. Circe was “asking for it.” She invited Odysseus to fuck her, so Odysseus fucked her. Supposedly, being fucked at sword-point is not rape.
To be clear, this kind of bullshit rape-excusing logic is what is known as victim-blaming. Rape culture always blames the victim. Even if a woman is raped and murdered, rape culture will always maintain that the murdered woman was “asking for it.”
I do not support the victim-blaming that excuses Odysseus’s rape of Circe in “The Odyssey.” Odysseus is a rapist. Odysseus raped Circe.
In “The Odyssey,” during the entire time Odysseus spends on the island, he is armed with the herbs that nullify Circe’s witch powers. Odysseus has these divine herbs because they were given to him by a god. Hermes allows Odysseus, a mortal man, to rape Circe, a goddess. This is true in “The Odyssey,” and Miller repeats this action in her novel (page 203).
But Miller’s retelling of Circe’s story does not portray Odysseus raping Circe, as he does in “The Odyssey.” In Miller’s retelling, Circe is the one who forces Odysseus to have sex with her; Circe becomes Odysseus’s rapist.
In Miller’s novel, long before Odysseus arrives on the island, but after Circe has been raped by a ship captain, she begins to behave as many women do in modern American hookup culture: Circe engages in hookups that are hate-fucks, as an expression of self-loathing. Circe punishes herself by letting men fuck her, which gives her no pleasure. Circe’s real pleasure is in killing the men who come to her island. Of the handful of men Circe spares (fewer than ten), Circe tells the reader: “They did not see me as their dinner. They were pious men, honestly lost, and I would feed them, and if there was a handsome one among them I might take him to my bed. It was not desire, not even its barest scrapings. It was a sort of rage, a knife I used upon myself.” (page 193)
Circe is punishing herself by fucking men who are specifically “handsome,” but their outward appearance evokes no desire within her, “not even its barest scrapings.” The men’s cocks are the knives that Circe controls, knives she uses to hurt herself.
Many modern women who participate in hookup culture can relate to Circe, especially if they have engaged in hate-fucking in order to punish themselves the way Circe does. I have deep compassion for women who use hate-fucking to self-punish. Modern American culture is a culture that deeply hates women: women who are fat, who are too short or too tall, women who are poor, who are ugly, women who dare to tell men no. There is an endless list of reasons why modern women might hate themselves. Rape culture is founded upon the hatred of women, and modern American culture is rape culture.
In modern America, a number of rape victims also engage in promiscuous, self-punishing hate-sex after they are raped. As Circe states of this behavior, “I did it to prove my skin was still my own” (page 193). Many rape victims feel the same way. Promiscuous, self-punishing sex can allow a victim to feel like they are in control of their own bodies once again. As soon as the fucking is finished, Circe states of her sexual partners: “I wanted them gone. I wanted to scrub myself in the sea until the blood showed through” (page 193). Fucking these men makes Circe feel unclean and polluted, and she must wash herself afterwards, a bathing that is also violent and bloody. Anyone who scrubs themselves in saltwater until they can see their own blood is hurting themselves.
In Miller’s novel, Odysseus enters Circe’s home politely, as a gentleman; he has come to retrieve his men, the men she has already transformed into pigs and put in her sty. Odysseus does not take out his sword and threaten to kill her. There is no screaming or begging for mercy. Circe enjoys her first conversation with Odysseus a great deal, to the point that she wants to laugh with pleasure, and states that she feels “giddy” while speaking to him (page 202). Odysseus immediately tells Circe he has a wife, whom he praises (page 199). By the end of their conversation, Circe tells Odysseus that if he wants his men back, then he will have to have sex with her (page 204). In Miller’s novel, Circe is the one who chooses to engage in adultery. Circe is the one who forces Odysseus to fuck her in order to get his men back. Odysseus must have sex with Circe in order to save the lives of his crew, and thereby, save himself. He is the rape victim in the novel, not Circe.
Interestingly, Miller claims her novel is “mythological realism,” when in fact, her protagonist has so much more in common with a character in a seminal work of literary realism: Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” (1856). Emma Bovary and Circe both choose to commit adultery. Both women commit adultery with men who do not choose to stay with them, men who Emma and Circe both love more than they are loved in return. Both women’s stories end with the characters drinking poisons to kill themselves. Emma Bovary drinks arsenic, and dies a gruesome, agonizing death that is graphically written, allowing the reader to see Emma being brutally punished for her adulterous behavior.
Similarly, in “Anna Karenina” (1878), the adulterous Anna Karenina throws herself under a train in her act of suicide, killing herself with violence and mangling her body. From “Madame Butterfly” (1904) to “Miss Saigon” (1989) to “Thelma & Louise” (1991), patriarchal audiences are delighted by stories in which women fail to find love and then commit suicide, especially violent suicide that causes excruciating pain and hideous disfigurement. Watching adulterous and/or loveless women commit suicide is a favorite motif of the patriarchy. Adulterous men never commit suicide. But this motif is a running staple for female main characters, especially if the artistic work is named after them, as is the case in all the works referenced above.
Miller has stated that she used four primary texts of Ancient Greek mythology to write her novel: Homer’s “The Odyssey,” Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Apollonius Rhodius’s “Argonautica,” and the “Telegony,” a lost poem that survives in summarized form in the “Chrestomathy.” Miller has stated in interviews that she drew closely from all four of these ancient texts to retell Circe’s story.
The second half of Miller’s novel draws largely from the “Telegony,” a story that describes how Circe’s son with Odysseus, Telegonus, brings his father’s corpse to Circe’s island for burial. Telegonus brings Penelope and Telemachus with him. After Odysseus is buried, Circe makes Telegonus, Telemachus, and Penelope immortal. Telegonus marries Penelope, and Telemachus marries Circe. The four of them live together in love and happiness on Circe’s island.
Miller has stated that she wanted to “push back” against this happy ending for Circe, in favor of the ending she gives Circe in her own novel, in which Circe drinks poison to take away her own divine immortality, and die a mortal’s death along with Telegonus, Penelope, and Telemachus. Miller states:
“Actually, the ending of the novel is a huge pushback against mythology, because the Telegony ends with Circe, Penelope, Telemachus, and Telegonus all becoming immortal: she makes them all immortal, and they live as gods on the island of Aeaea. Again, that felt very uninteresting and unsatisfying, and I knew from the beginning that that was not the arc I was following. I felt like this is my Play-Doh, and I can do with it what I want.” (quoted from Miller’s interview with John Plotz and Gina Turrigiano at “Public Books,” found at this link: https://www.publicbooks.org/madeline-miller-on-circe-mythological-realism-and-literary-correctives/)
For Miller, allowing Circe to use her witch powers for life-giving purposes was “uninteresting and unsatisfying.” Miller wrote Circe to be a female patriarch: a woman who uses her powers to dehumanize and kill. Circe also uses her witch powers to bear a male child and raise him alone. Because Circe despises all nymphs, and believes they are “worthless,” she sends the nymphs away from her island before she gives birth. Rather than allowing the nymphs to help her through childbirth and motherhood, Circe faces all of these struggles alone. Miller describes in detail an extreme Motherhood of Martyrdom, a martyrdom that only occurs because Circe loathes the goddesses who could have assisted her, goddesses who could have given Circe time to nap and rest while her baby screamed, howled, and crawled around on the floor.
Circe falls in love with Telemachus before she drinks the poison. Miller’s novel falls into the classical misogynistic storyline in which women are told: you may have love, or you may have power, but you cannot have both. At the end of Miller’s novel, Circe gives up her powers; she renounces her godhead, and resigns herself to die. Circe does this of her own volition. According to the patriarchal logic deployed in this novel, it is the ultimate sign of her self-actualization and agency that she ends the book by killing herself. Right before drinking the poison, Circe fantasizes about marrying Telemachus and bearing female children for him (page 383). To be a bride, to be a wife, to be a mother of female children, coincides with the end of Circe’s life. It is the end of her divinity. Her future as a wife and mother of daughters is akin to death.
To call Miller’s novel a work of “feminism,” when Miller’s book actually follows a deeply misogynistic storyline, and ends with the female protagonist committing suicide, is disgusting. Reading Miller’s book brought to mind an essay by bell hooks about the movie “The Piano” (1994). In the essay, “Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap? Misogyny, gangsta rap, and The Piano,” hooks frames her discussion by introducing the reader to the work of Joan Smith:
“In her book ‘Misogynies’ Joan Smith shares her sense that while most folks are willing to acknowledge unfair treatment of women, discrimination on the basis of gender, they are usually reluctant to admit that hatred of women is encouraged because it helps maintain the structure of male dominance. Smith suggests: ‘Misogyny wears many guises, reveals itself in different forms which are dictated by class, wealth, education, race, religion and other factors, but its chief characteristic is its pervasiveness.’ This point reverberated in my mind when I saw Jane Campion’s widely acclaimed film ‘The Piano.’
‘The Piano’ seduces and excites audiences with its uncritical portrayal of sexism and misogyny. Reviewers and audiences alike seem to assume that Campion’s gender, as well as her breaking of traditional boundaries that inhibit the advancement of women in film, indicate that her work expresses a feminist standpoint. And, indeed, she does employ feminist ‘tropes,’ even as her work betrays feminist visions of female actualization, celebrates and eroticizes male domination.”
Likewise, Miller’s novel “celebrates and eroticizes male domination,” whether that domination is being expressed by a male or female patriarch.
In the essay, hooks further states:
“In Smith’s discussion of misogyny she emphasizes that woman-hating is not solely the province of men: ‘We are all exposed to the prevailing ideology of our culture, and some women learn early on that they can prosper by aping the misogyny of men; these are the women who win provisional favor by denigrating other women, by playing on male prejudices, and by acting the “man’s woman”.’ Since this is not a documentary film that needs to remain faithful to the ethos of its historical setting, why is it that Campion does not resolve Ada’s conflicts by providing us with an imaginary landscape where a woman can express passionate artistic commitment and find fulfillment in a passionate relationship? This would be no more far-fetched than her cinematic portrayal of Ada’s miraculous transformation from muteness into speech. Ultimately, Campion’s ‘The Piano’ advances the sexist assumption that heterosexual women will give up artistic practice to find ‘true love.’ That ‘positive’ surrender is encouraged by the ‘romantic’ portrayal of sexism and misogyny.”
The same question applies to “Circe”: Since this is not a documentary novel that needs to remain faithful to the ethos of its historical setting, why is it that Miller does not resolve Circe’s conflicts by providing us with an imaginary landscape where a woman can express passionate divine-witchcraft commitment and find fulfillment in a passionate relationship?
The answer to the question is the same answer hooks provides in her essay: Ultimately, Miller’s “Circe” advances the sexist assumption that heterosexual women will give up divine-witchcraft practice to find “true love.” That “positive” surrender is encouraged by the “romantic” portrayal of sexism and misogyny.
In conclusion, I will offer my own plot summary of “Circe.”
In Miller’s retelling, Circe is a nymph born to the patriarchy. Circe longs for the love and respect of her father, but that love and respect is denied to her because she is female. Circe acquires male power in the hope of gaining her father’s respect. She uses her witch magic to turn the nymph Scylla into a murdering monster, and is dismayed to discover that monsters benefit the male gods, not herself (page 98). As a “punishment” for turning Scylla into a monster, Circe’s father gives his daughter her own island and a magical house that cleans itself and provides abundant food. Circe uses the island and her magical house to work on her witchcraft powers for hundreds of years. Circe hopes that if she gains enough power, especially violent male power, her father will one day love and respect her.
Since all women but Circe are loathsome and vile, the gods send other unwanted nymphs to be imprisoned on the island. Circe immediately threatens to kill the other nymphs, because women are shit. Circe is Not Like Other Nymphs, and she is definitely Not Like Other Girls, and if Circe weren’t such a good, compassionate person, she would kill all of these worthless women. Sadly, Circe has some empathy because she once gave Prometheus nectar to drink. Because Circe is so empathetic and good, she doesn’t go on a murdering spree of these shitty, useless women. Instead, Circe just does her best to ignore them, because nymphs are brainless wastes of space and not worth anyone’s time.
One day, a ship of twenty human men arrives on the island. Circe is eager to care for these men, and talk to them, and lavish her affection on them, because men have penises as well as brains. Circe is desperately hoping that these wonderful humans in possession of dicks and brains will worship her, and give her the respect her father denies her. Circe tells the nymphs to stay far away from her house and these men, and she even sends away all of her protective lions and wolves, because Circe wants to be all alone when she invites twenty hardened strangers into her home. Soon, Circe happily serves them delicious food, and eagerly anticipates their love and respect in return.
But instead of worshiping her, one of the men crushes her windpipe and rapes her. Oh no! Circe never expected this! Circe is so angry! Men are pigs! Circe realizes a very hard truth about the nature of men, an important truth that she teaches the reader: men are rapists, and men are pigs. Circe turns all twenty men into pigs and kills them. She takes sadistic pleasure in their painful deaths, and looks forward to more men coming to her island, so she can kill them the same way. The reader is relieved that Circe does this, because men are pigs.
Circe succeeds in dehumanizing and killing at least one hundred more human men. Go, Circe! What a feminist badass! She’s just like Adolf Hitler, but with a vagina!
When Odysseus finally arrives on her island, Circe becomes even *more* badass! Circe rapes a married man and decides to have a baby with him, without even telling him. Talk about a super-feminist move! Circe even raises her male baby all alone, because other women are worthless and Circe is the only woman fit to look after her son. Sarah Palin would be *so* proud. Circe has the Mama Grizzly act down.
After Circe’s son is grown and leaves the island, Circe borrows the poisonous tail of a male sea god, and uses his divine male power to kill Scylla. Circe has now killed a goddess! Wow! Scylla was *way* harder to kill than a mortal. But sadly, not even killing a goddess can convince Circe’s father to love or respect her. Circe will never have the love and respect that she truly wants. The best she can have is the love of a mortal man. Darn. The patriarchy is rough.
Circe falls in love with a mortal man, Telemachus. Unfortunately, Telemachus is a candy-ass who regrets killing rape victims on behalf of his father, so this man is not a true hero like Odysseus. Odysseus was a mighty soldier, a famous warrior who had PTSD. Odysseus only killed innocent people because he was afflicted with trauma. Also, that bitch goddess Athena told him to do evil stuff, and led him astray (page 353). Telemachus has no such excuse. He’s just a candy-ass who has never been to war. Circe loves him anyway. She wants to marry him and bear his female children, so she sentences herself to die a mortal death. She drinks poison to take away her immortality and all her divine power. Go, Circe! What a feminist!
I give this book negative stars.
I would only recommend “Circe” to misogynists, snuff film enthusiasts, fascists, and people who voted for Sarah Palin.