REVIEW: Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
We follow our main character Circe, the daughter of Helios, through out her life. Helios, the god of the sun was not exactly pleased with Circe being born. Circe just looks normal, not divine, not special, and just normal. So Circe is not liked among her kind. She feels isolated and rejected by her kin and so looks to the mortal to comfort her. She meets Glaucos, a mortal and they eventually become lovers. She loves him so much that she doesn’t want him to grow old and die so she uses Pharmaka, an herb that activates her magical powers. Glaucos becomes a God but no longer sees a need for Circe and discards her for Scylla, a beautiful sea nymph. She tells her father that she was the one that made Glaucos a God but he laughs at her and makes her the butt of the joke towards his friends. Circe enraged with all of this, Helios thinking that she is incapable and Glaucos being an ignorant arse, she takes her anger out on Scylla and turns her into a sea monster. For this, Circe is punished and is exiled to the island of Aiaia.
On the island of Aiaia, she learns how to control her magic and to experiment with it. She lives a life of exile but she is not always alone. She gets a numerous amount of visitors. We start with Hermes, the messenger God. Hermes becomes infatuated with her when they are together but once he leaves the island, he laughs at her or so she thinks. Hermes tells her one-day she will meet one of his descendants. She keeps that in mind when she goes through out her years. Her next love is Daedalus who created the loom that she adored and used. She was taken aback by his intelligence and wept for him when his son Icarus flew too close to the sun.
Then Odysseus comes along. The so-called prophesied descendant of Hermes. Odysseus and his crew of men rock up to the island leaving the Trojan War behind them. Circe makes them all feel welcome but especially Odysseus. They fall in love but he is desperate to return home to his wife and son Telemachus and thus journeys home before he finds out that she is pregnant with their child. A time after she gives birth to her son Telegonus, a name which she notes is very similar to his other son. Telegonus is doomed to hurt Odysseus and so to stop this, the goddess Athena tries to kill him as a young babe. Because of this, Circe introduces a protection spell across the island barring Athena from entering. Telegonus grows up to be a wonderful man but longs for visitors to the island as it is a lonely place for him. One day he plucks up the courage to tell his mother that he wants to meet his father. After a lot of pleading, she reluctantly lets him go but gives him the spine of a sting ray that she had earlier got from Trygon. He travels to see his father but ultimately kills him when he doesn’t believe who telegonus is. He flees with his brother and his mother, Telemachus and Penelope. They reach Aiaia and upon their arrival Circe is there to welcome them although a bit confused and wary of why they have visitors, she welcomes them nonetheless. They all stay and find that along the way, Telegonus falls in love with Penelope and Circe with Telemachus. They all love each other romantically and familiarly. Eventually Athena, not being very happy with the demise of her hero, Odysseus, she offers up a deal to the two sons of his but only one can accept. Telegonus does and becomes the father of Italus, the hero in which the country Italy is named after.
This book was beautiful. The emotions that we go through were simply astonishing. You really feel for the character Circe as she is overlooked by her peers. She is portrayed as evil in other works of literature and Madeline Miller looks to over turn that view and portray her in her own light which she deserves. She has such a back story and it works as a wonderful narrative of a book. She goes through all of these struggles but comes out the other side of them.
Madeline Miller has truly out done herself and I can’t wait to hear what she has installed for us next.
4 out of 5 stars.
Song of Achilles:
I’ve really been feeling the mythology retellings this year with Percy Jackson so now I thought I would dabble into the adult retellings. I’ve seen Madeline Miller’s name be thrown around a lot on twitter as her retellings are amazing so I wanted to dive in myself and allow myself to get immersed in her writing.
Song of Achilles follows Patroclus as the main character. He is an awkward young prince who has been exiled. He lands himself at the mercy of King Peleus and his son Achilles. Achilles and Patroclus become unlikely allies and their friendship begins to blossom into something more. But Achille’s Mother, Thetis, does not like their growing relationship and tries to sabotage it on many occasions. However, they have a stronger relationship than she wants and so despite her meddling, they remain together.
Eventually Achilles goes to Chiron the centaur to learn about the arts of war and medicine. But Patroclus doesn’t want him to go so he follows him up there without Achilles knowing. Achilles is overjoyed that he actually did that a
nd Chiron allows him to stay and learn with Achilles. They stay up there for a long time, grooming their relationship and learning about one and other whilst also learning about the natural world. Eventually words comes about that Helen of Sparta (also known as of Troy) has been kidnapped to Troy as she was promised to Prince Paris. This thus begins the Trojan War. Achilles must go to war and fulfil his destiny given to him at birth. But torn between love and war Patroclus and Achille’s relationship may not last and the years that they have will be ones of trouble.
Overall, this book was amazing. Having known the bare minimum about Achilles, it had an interesting way of portraying the narrative and that was through Patroclus’s eyes. We get his point of view where he is just a secondary character in Achille’s life. He watches as his lover gets more powerful but he can do nothing else. It was a sad but interesting read and I wish the story could have ended in a better way for both the mythology and the book but I still loved it nonetheless.
4 out of 5 stars.