Circe was a sorceress/nymph/goddess of minor magic whose abilities shifted in each myth she was featured in, along with her lineage and species. She was a skilled herbalist and had a magic wand that could change people into animals. Most myths say she is a daughter of Helios and either the Oceanid, Perse, or Hecate, goddess of magic. She has many famous half-siblings, including Aeetes, King of Colchis, father of Medea, and Pasiphae, the unfortunate wife of Minos. She lives in a mansion in the middle of dense woods on the island Aeaea (wow there is not a single consonant in that name). In one version of the myth, she was exiled to the island after killing her husband, the prince of Colchis. In some others she was there by choice, but either way, the island was a magical place. The island is full docile lions, wolves, and other predators that may or may not be her prior lovers transformed into animals.
Those are the lucky ones, the monster Scylla wasn’t always a monster. She used to be a woman that a man named Glaucus loved. He asked Circe to help him win Scylla’s heart, but Circe fell in love with him and turned her rival into a monster. Picus, a Latin King, was turned into a woodpecker when he turned Circe’s advances down out of loyalty to his wife. Circe also has one son by Poseidon named Faunus.
In one version of the myth, she was exiled to the island of Aeaea (wow, there is not a single consonant in that name) after killing her husband, the prince of Colchis. In some others she was there by choice, but either way, the island was a magical place.
Circe helped out the Argonauts by cleansing the Argo and the murderous couple from the murder and send them on their way with much less drama than she gave Odysseus’ men. (It’s worth noting that in the Aeneid, Aeneas is smart enough to go around this particular island). Those she welcomed on to the island and fed drugged cheese and wine that turned the men into pigs. One man, Eurylocus, didn’t eat because he didn’t trust the enchantress, so he was able to warn Odysseus (he’d stayed behind on the ships). Odysseus left immediately to confront the witch goddess, but was intercepted by Hermes who gave him the herb moly to immunize Odysseus against Circe’s magic. He told Odysseus to draw his sword and threaten Circe, which he did, to which the nymph had a bizarre reaction. She changed the men back then invited Odysseus to her bed. Odysseus agreed, so long as she swore not to harm his manhood.
Odysseus stuck around for a year. A year. Let’s not talk about how much this infuriates me on Penelope’s behalf, or the double standards of Homer to use this as a “cool” example of Odysseus’ manliness while his wife is upheld as an ideal woman for abstaining from sex/marriage with the suiters.
Anyhow, Odysseus left a year later, armed with the advice Circe gave him to complete his journey. She eventually left, and possibly destroyed the island of Aeaea, and moved to Cape Circeo, Italy. Little known fact, Odysseus and Circe had three children. One of which, tracked Odysseus down decades later and stabbed him with a poisoned spear, then brought Penelope and Telemachus back to Circe’s island to bury Odysseus. Circe granted them all immortality and brought Odysseus back to life. Odysseus was so grateful, he allowed Telemachus to mary one of Circe’s daughters. Unfortunately, Circe had a disagreement with her son in law that resulted in her murder, which then resulted in his murder once his wife found out, which caused Odysseus to die of grief. Great family, huh? But bright side, Penelope didn’t get murdered so maybe she got to live forever. 🙂
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