Circe by Madeline Miller

It is genius to write about Greek/Roman gods. There is so much backstory that requires no explanation. As a reader, I found it a fascinatingly unique experience to read a fresh story but somehow already know all the characters. I think my prior level of knowledge of Circe’s story was perfect. I knew something about basically all the characters but I was unspoiled throughout since I had forgotten most of my Greek mythology.

1) “The Olympians would never be truly happy until they destroyed us utterly.”

One part of Greek mythology I had completely forgotten is the fight between the Olympians and Titans.

2) “Let me say what sorcery is not: it is not divine power, which comes with a thought and a blink. It must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over, and sung.”

Circe was in between the gods and the mortals, which lent to a rich point of view into both sides.

3) “‘Minos claims it, and instead of being a cuckold he shares in my sister’s glory. He becomes the great king who begets monsters and names them after himself.'” – Circe

I was amazed at how many seemingly independent stories (e.g. Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Scylla) were all connected. I guess that’s what happens when everyone lives forever.

4) “When he talked, he was lawyer and bard and crossroads charlatan at once, arguing his case, entertaining, pulling back the veil to show you the secrets of the world.”

Great writing.

5) “They had no art to them, which of course was also art.”

No personality is also personality.

6) “‘You are right. I don’t know the world. How could I? You don’t let me out of your sight.'” – Telegonus

This sounds like something I likely said many years ago.

7) “‘Rebellion is for prosperous islands, or else those so ground down they have no other choice.'” – Telemachus

corr(income inequality, rebellion)?

8) “‘Gods pretend to be parents, but they are children, clapping their hands and shouting for more.'” – Circe

The central irony of Greek mythology is that all the gods have human weaknesses.

9) “There was a sort of innocence to him, I thought. I do not mean this as the poets mean it: a virtue to be broken by the story’s end, or else upheld at greatest cost. Nor do I mean that he was foolish or guileless. I mean that he was made only of himself, without the dregs that clog the rest of us. He thought and felt and acted, and all these things made a straight line. No wonder his father had been so baffled by him. He would have been always looking for the hidden meaning, the knife in the dark. But Telemachus carried his blade in the open.”

One of the reasons I keep reading is for the occasional writing like this.

10) “All my life I have been moving forward, and now I am here. I have a mortal’s voice, let me have the rest. I lift the brimming bowl to my lips and drink.”

I wondered how the book would end, and this was an unexpected yet perfect ending.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing was simple yet sophisticated. The stories presented a completely new angle to understand this set of famous characters. Unlike dry textbooks, this book gives us their thoughts and motivations. They might be fictional, but the original was also fictional, so who’s to say who the real Circe is?

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