Who was Circe?
Circe was the daughter of the ancient Greek sun god Helios, and the first witch in Western Literature. She’s most famous for turning Odysseus’ men to pigs in Homer’s Odyssey, but she has a whole life outside of that which goes far beyond Odysseus. She’s a maker of monsters, the aunt of the Minotaur, Ariadne and Medea, and cousin to many notable divinities, including Prometheus.
How can she inspire us today?
Circe lives in a culture that is hostile to women and anyone perceived as weak. She begins life as a cowed, obedient child, but quickly learns that she is the only one who can save herself. Through will, determination and hard work, she is able to carve out an independent life for herself in spite of those who would keep it from her. That path isn’t always comfortable—it is difficult to stand out, and difficult also to learn to trust your own instincts when everyone is telling you not to. But Circe encourages us to be bold, to be different, to allow ourselves to think outside the boundaries society sets.
What relevance do Greek myths have for the modern day?
We don’t fight in chariots anymore, we don’t sacrifice bulls to appease the gods, but we still wage war, still worship, still love and grieve, hope and hate. Culture has changed, but human nature hasn’t. Unfortunately, things like abuse of power, misogyny and family dysfunction are timeless. Happily, so are things like compassion, courage, love and art. The ancient Greek myths give us insight into the human condition in all its messy glory.
What draws you back to the Greek world?
I love how simultaneously epic and larger than life these stories feel, and also how real and personal. The ancient myth-makers don’t just show us exciting adventures and glorious battles, they show us the horrific consequences: the broken bodies, the grieving parents and children. For all of its monsters and angry divinities, the Odyssey is a story about a care-worn and desperate man, yearning to get home to his family. It is this exquisite humanness that always pulls me back.
If you could be a Greek god, which one would you be?
I have always loved Athena, because of her brilliance and strength, and the fact that she is patron to some of my favorite heroes. But it’s hard to set aside the whole ‘destroying the city of Troy because of a slight to her beauty’ business. So, I think I’ll say Thalia, the muse of comedy. It seems like a true gift to spend your life laughing and bringing joy to others.