Circe of The Odyssey: Mythology, Overview

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore one of the minor goddesses of ancient Greek mythology, Circe. The goddess of magic and transformation, Circe plays her most pivotal role in Greek literature in Homer's 'Odyssey'.

Bad Relationships

Men and women often worry when they fear their friends are getting involved in a relationship with an unsavory character. They worry their friend will get hurt, lose touch, or perhaps even change into an entirely different person. For any ancient Greek man worried their friend was getting involved with a woman who was possibly Circe in disguise, these concerns were well founded: Circe had a habit of literally turning men into animals!

Who was Circe?

Circe's status in ancient Greek mythology varied over time, though she was most often considered a minor goddess. Her many nymph attendants have at times caused some to claim she was actually a nymph herself. Circe was said to have powers of transformation and other forms of necromancy, and she often had a harmful effect on those with whom she came in contact.

The daughter of the sun god, Helios, and the Oceanid nymph, Perse, Circe is often depicted as a mature, moderately attractive woman and may be seen carrying a mortar and pestle or other paraphernalia related to herbs and/or magic. Greek fears concerning black magic and Circe herself are best illustrated by where they place Circe's home island, Aeaea: in the farthest seas, the closest landmass to the River Okeanos, which Greek mythology claimed encircled the Earth.

Circe in the Odyssey

In the Odyssey, Circe tricked a band of Odysseus' men before eventually helping Odysseus find his way home.

When Odysseus arrived on the island of Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, Odysseus sent a crew of men ahead to investigate while he stayed behind. The men soon landed on Circe's island, upon which she lived in a vast, wooded estate with docile wolves and lions. She quickly demanded that the crew eat her food, and she prepared a spread of cheese and honey, which she had laced with a special herb. After the meal was over, all the men who had eaten were turned into pigs.

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