Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe, a powerful enchantress from Greek mythology, practicing witchcraft in her sanctuary on the island of Aiaia

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe book cover“Circe” by Madeline Miller is a fascinating and beautifully written novel that reimagines the life of Circe, a minor goddess and enchantress in Greek mythology. Published in 2018, this book has captivated readers with its unique blend of mythological retelling and character-driven narrative. Miller, known for her ability to breathe new life into ancient tales, has crafted a story that is both a journey of self-discovery and a testament to the endurance of the human (and divine) spirit. Suitable for readers aged 16 and above, this novel is a perfect blend of myth, magic, and emotional depth.

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“Circe” spans several centuries, offering a deep dive into the life of its eponymous character. It begins with Circe’s childhood in the halls of Helios, her father, where she struggles to find her place among gods and nymphs. She discovers her penchant for witchcraft, a talent that leads to her exile on the island of Aiaia. This isolation becomes both a punishment and a sanctuary, allowing Circe to hone her magical skills and interact with various figures from Greek mythology, including Odysseus, the Minotaur, and Athena. The novel is not just a series of events but a profound exploration of Circe’s evolution from a naive nymph to a powerful sorceress, grappling with her immortality and her desire to understand the mortal world.

Main Characters

  • Circe: Initially a timid and overlooked nymph, Circe grows into a formidable witch. Her journey is marked by moments of vulnerability, strength, and deep introspection.
  • Odysseus: A clever and complex character, Odysseus’ interaction with Circe adds layers to both their stories.
  • Telemachus: Odysseus’ son, who visits Circe and develops a unique bond with her.
  • Athena: The goddess who often stands as Circe’s antagonist, representing the capricious and often cruel nature of the gods.


In-Depth Analysis

Miller’s writing is a standout feature, with its lyrical quality and deep emotional resonance. The novel excels in its portrayal of Circe as a multifaceted character, exploring themes of power, isolation, and identity. It also delves into the pettiness and politics of the gods, contrasting it with Circe’s growing affinity for humanity.

A scene from 'Circe' by Madeline Miller, illustrating a pivotal meeting between Circe and Odysseus on the island of Aiaia.Strengths

  • Character Development: Circe’s evolution is the heart of the story. Miller skillfully depicts her transformation, making her a relatable and compelling protagonist.
  • Lyrical Prose: The writing style is evocative and poetic, enhancing the mythological setting and the emotional depth of the narrative.


  • Pacing: Some readers might find the middle part of the book a bit slow, as it delves deeply into character exploration.

Literary Devices

  • Symbolism: Circe’s witchcraft symbolizes her independence and self-discovery.
  • Foreshadowing: The novel uses subtle hints to foretell key events, particularly in the interactions between gods and mortals.

Relation to Broader Issues

“Circe” speaks to the universal themes of identity, power dynamics, and the nature of humanity. It also touches on gender roles and the struggle for autonomy, particularly resonant in the #MeToo era.


“Circe” will appeal to fans of Greek mythology, character-driven narratives, and feminist literature. It stands out for its fresh take on a mythological figure often relegated to the margins of these stories. Readers who enjoyed “The Song of Achilles,” also by Miller, or “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker, will likely find this novel captivating.

Potential Audiences

  • Fans of Greek mythology and retellings.
  • Readers interested in feminist narratives.
  • Those who appreciate character-driven stories and lyrical prose.

the magical landscape of the island of Aiaia from 'Circe' by Madeline Miller. The scene is a panoramic view of a mythical, lush islandThematic Analysis

The novel deeply explores themes like female empowerment, the nature of divinity versus humanity, and the search for identity. Circe’s journey is a powerful representation of breaking free from societal constraints and finding one’s voice.

Stylistic Elements

Miller’s prose is rich and poetic, bringing a modern sensibility to ancient myths. Her use of vivid imagery and careful pacing adds depth to the narrative and characters.

Comparison with Other Works

“Circe” can be compared to “The Song of Achilles” in its retelling of Greek myths with a humanistic perspective. It also shares thematic similarities with works like “The Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood, offering a feminist perspective on classical stories.

Potential Test Questions with Answers

  1. What is the significance of Circe’s exile to Aiaia?
    • It represents her transformation from an ignored nymph to a powerful witch, allowing her to explore her abilities and independence.
  2. How does Miller reinterpret the character of Odysseus in her novel?
    • She portrays him as complex and flawed, focusing on his cunning and moral ambiguities.

Awards and Recognitions

“Circe” was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019 and received critical acclaim for its innovative approach to myth retelling.

Bibliographic Information

  • Title: Circe
  • Author: Madeline Miller
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN: 978-0316556347

BISAC Categories:

  • Literary
  • Historical – Ancient
  • Classics
  • Sagas
  • Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
  • War & Military

Summaries of Awards and Other Reviews

#1 New York Times Bestseller — named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, the Washington PostPeopleTime, Amazon, Entertainment WeeklyBustle, Newsweek, the A.V. Club, Christian Science Monitor, Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Paste, Audible, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Thrillist, NYPL, Self, Real Simple, Goodreads, Boston Globe, Electric Literature, BookPage, the Guardian, Book Riot, Seattle Times, and Business Insider.

Purchasing Links

Is This Book A Series?

“Circe” is a standalone novel. However, Madeline Miller’s other work, “The Song of Achilles,” explores similar themes in a different mythological context.

About Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller is an American novelist and classics scholar. Her debut novel, “The Song of Achilles,” also received critical acclaim and awards. Miller is known for her ability to reimagine ancient myths with contemporary relevance and emotional depth.

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