I’ve read so many books over the past year, but nothing has stayed with me like Circe.
The name Circe may be familiar to anyone who had to read The Odyssey in grade school: She’s the witch who lures Odysseus onto her island and then turns his shipmates into pigs. (Some might say that fate was too good for them...) Anyhow, in that version of the story, she’s clearly the villain; but Madeline Miller’s 2018 novel Circe brings us into the witch’s life and shows Circe’s unusual perspective.
The book opens in Circe’s youth: As the daughter of Helios, the God of the Sun, and a nymph named Perse, she is raised amongst a community of deities. But she’s an outcast within this divinity -- Circe doesn’t have the “right” looks, voice, or powers to be respected. She nurses a very human resentment and does some naughty stuff (messing around with magic, falling in love with a human man) and ultimately gets banished to an island, where she learns to understand her gifts and comes into her full power.
Though it may seem strange to say this about a literal goddess, Circe is one of the most human characters I’ve ever read. She’s every woman that’s been told their looks aren’t right, or their voice is too high; every woman that’s been told they’re not enough, or that they’re too much. She’s full of sadness and rage and anger, but also light and joy and love. She’s capable of extraordinary things, especially when pushed to her limits.
She outgrows the constraints that come from others defining who you are. She grows and changes, sometimes resisting it with every fiber of her being. She’s imperfect in a very human way.
Every year I celebrate my April birthday in the thick of spring, thinking about the years before that brought me here. Much like Circe, I have fallen for my share of human men and have had my heart broken. (No goddess is exempt from the blindness of love, it seems.) And like Circe, I’ve been overwhelmed by anger and sorrow, which, for a time, became my strength. But I’ve learned how to find my strength elsewhere, and forgive.
Like Circe, I’ve grown and changed (sometimes resisting it), but I admire the person I’ve ultimately become: self-sufficient, successful, supportive and, most importantly, content.
Another April has arrived, and I try to look back on my past selves with grace. Those versions of myself did the best they could; they made me who I am today.
Another spring to celebrate after the necessary winter, a reminder that the most beautiful and resilient things are often born of difficulty and chaos.