As anyone who has ever tripped the light fantastic with a witch knows, Circe was not only a witch, she could also at times be a bitch, and a sorceress. She was, after all, the daughter of the Sun and a goddess in her own right. If she were around today she would most probably be the first American female president, her specialty being turning men into pigs. When poor old battered Odysseus landed on Circe’s island, having lost all his ships except his flagship when he tangled with the Laestrygonians—their king liked to eat Greek flesh and swallowed up most of his crews, yummy—Circe turned the few survivors into swine except for Odysseus, whom she wanted for some old-fashioned hanky-panky.
Odysseus serviced her rather well and stayed in her palace for a year. He also used the “moly,” the antidote Hermes had given him in the form of a magic herb that turned pigs back into men. When Circe realized that Odysseus was not just a dumb shipwrecked schmuck, she played nice, although kindness was not an everyday happening on her island of Aiaia. But unlike some hardcore feminists of today, Circe developed a soft spot for Odysseus and told him how to get to the underworld and then on to Ithaca and his family. If the kindness toward Odysseus got out, however, I don’t think she’d crack the glass ceiling and make it to the White House. Hate right now is much more important than love.
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Circe came to mind after reading that a female American novelist has recast the goddess as a very nice girl, a hero in her own right, the type you’d like to bring home to mother. American women do not particularly like to be considered second-best, yet Circe was just a pit stop of one year in the hero’s ten-year peregrinations. No longer. Madeline Miller’s novel—one I do not plan to read, incidentally—places Circe as a sort of avenging angel. In an interview, Ms. Miller said the following: “Circe as a character is the embodiment of male anxiety about female power.” Now she tells us. Why, that arch phony Homer, how dare he lead us astray all these 3,000 years. It was all about female power all along and how we men are scared shitless of it.
La Miller has perfect timing. She reads the mood of the culture and writes accordingly. About seven years ago, when being gay became de rigueur among the bien-pensants, she wrote her first anti-classic about the romance between Achilles and Patroclus. Dress designers, hairdressers, Hollywood types, closeted sailors, TV writers, book reviewers, Condé Nast journalists, and others of that ilk all went bananas. Why make war when you can stay in your tent and bugger one another? Back home where it all began, we have never accepted the Achilles-Patroclus friendship as anything but that. But the drop-the-soap-in-the-shower crowd says it ain’t necessarily so. Too much time in the tent and under the sheets makes Achilles and Patroclus naughty boys. La Miller knew how to catch the attention of the très bien-pensants. I wonder what she will write next? We now need transgender types, and Troy besieged by Greeks can provide opportunities galore.