Book Review: CIRCE by Madeline Miller (2018)

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Is the art of Greek antiquity still relevant today? Every piece of art, given a certain age, will eventually be evaluated by later societies and quite possibly be deemed „outdated“ and „irrelevant“. Questions such as this have been asked many times, and while the historic value of those pieces is undeniable, the standing of such art in society may falter. Madeline Miller, author of best-selling novel The Song of Achilles, has answered this question with a very loud Yes twice now. After her success with The Song of Achilles, she has written a second novel exploring a faction of Homers epics: Circe, which is bound to be just as successful as her first one.

Madeline Miller did both her Bachelor and Master degree in Classics at Brown University, and has a long history of teaching Greek and Latin at High Schools. She has also studied how to adapt classical works into the modern society. As a Classics scholar, she manages to describe both feeling and tone of the epics of Greek Antiquity but simultaneously also makes her plot incredibly relevant to our society. The undertones in her writings capture the readers interest and relate to modern discourse on rights and identity while still maintaining an authentic antique setting.

Millers first novel, The Song of Achilles, was an immense success and won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, which is now called The Women’s Prize for Fiction, the novel itself became a bestseller almost immediately. Miller explores the more subtle nuances of Homers Iliad, mainly the much discussed nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, and tells a story with so much depth and force that every reader will immediately be drawn in by her story.

Needless to say, the excitement for her second novel was huge. Circe is just as enticing as The Song of Achilles, the same energy grabs the reader once they take up the book and it is very hard to put it down again. Circe retells the story of the witch Circe, known from Greek mythology and of course, Homers Odyssee, a daughter of the god of sun, Helios. Although thought to be unremarkable in both appearance and mind, Circe eventually discovers her powers and is cast from the house of Helios and banished to a remote island, Aiaia. There she studies her powers and keeps to herself, but is ultimately thrown back into the world, which is hard and unforgiving, especially for a woman on her own. Confronted with both male and godly fury, she learns to protect herself and those around her, but is also forced to ascertain her place in the world.


Millers intoxicating writing style alone would make this book a bestseller, but her amazing ability to write every character as vivid and believable as possible creates an even more breathtaking atmosphere. Given that Homer only dedicated very few space to Circe and her story, Miller manages to transform those few lines into a spellbinding novel that is so relevant and important to modern issues, especially on feminism, it almost hurts. Although relating greatly to modern issues, Miller however also keeps the brutal and clipped tone of Greek antiquity, which makes the reading experience surreal but enticing. Circe is the perfect example on how ancient and new ideas and concepts can work together effortlessly if they are composed by the right person, and how classical literature is still relevant, especially when presented in the right way. Everyone will be able to enjoy Circe, no matter age, gender or education.

Lea Hüntemann

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