Hey you! How have you been!?
Thanks for joining me on this most… amorous of days? *If you’re reading this late and thinking ‘Lana, what are you on about?’ – I posted this on Valentine’s Day*
This week I am delivering a rather unconventional Valentine’s Day Myth. What? You thought I was going to stick to the tried and tested Cupid and Psyche?
Well, Psych! *See what I did there?*
No, no dear reader. That’s not how things work around here!
Today I will be transporting you to the Island of Aeaea *not a real place* where you will meet the celestial sorceress Circe and her short-term companion/budding hero Odysseus.
Circe *Obviously* – Daughter of Helios and minor Goddess in Greek Mythology.
Odysseus *Didn’t see that coming* – King of Ithaca and a hero of the Trojan War.
Odysseus’s Men – Also known for a short time as “The Boars”. *Spoiler Alert*
Hermes – Son of Zeus, total killjoy.
Setting The Scene:
Now I’m sure you’ve most likely heard of Odysseus; Homer did write an entire epic about the guy! So, I’ll try to keep his backstory short and sweet.
*For those that don’t know, after writing The Iliad, Homer wrote The Odyssey which is all about Odysseus and his adventures after the Trojan War*
Odysseus was the son of Ithacan King Laertes and his wife Anticleia, Odysseus himself became King of Ithaca when his father stepped aside in his senior years.
In his youth, Odysseus was a suitor for Helen of Troy. This meant that when she was stolen, kidnapped, whatever you want to call it, he was bound by oath to join the Greek forces in their efforts to retrieve her.
After failing to woo Helen, Odysseus married Penelope with whom he fathered a son named Telemachus.
Odysseus is said to have played a significant part in the Trojan War. Some of his most famous actions include trying to garner peace between the Greeks and the Trojans, retrieving the body of Achilles and devising the plan for the famous Trojan Horse!
*My man Odysseus needs to CHILL*
Circe, who in comparison, may have a less dramatic background to Odysseus, was the daughter of Helios and Perse, an Oceanid Nymph.
Circe possessed powers of natural sorcery, making her a total badass, and lived alone on the Island of Aeaea in a beautiful house made of polished stone. Her companions were made up of various nymphs and a selection of wild beasts, basically just enchanted lions and wolves.
The Beginning: Circe and Odysseus Meet
The story of Circe and Odysseus begins during Odysseus’s return from the Trojan War.
Odysseus and his band of heroes had already endured numerous trials on their trip home to Ithaca. Little did they know, they’d be facing another one when they landed on the island of Aeaea, home to the beautiful and according to Homer “dreadful” Goddess Circe.
After laying low on the shoreline for a number of days, Odysseus took his sword and began the search for civilization. All he found was the house of Circe, built of beautifully polished stone and standing alone in a tranquil glade.
Odysseus sent some of his men to scout the building, when they arrived, they heard the goddess singing and so decided it would be safe to approach…
The house itself was surrounded by the aforementioned wolves and lions; with whom, most men would expect an altercation. But there was something different about these beasts. They had been somehow tamed by the sorceress and gathered around the men showing great curiosity.
The men called to Circe who answered immediately, inviting them inside for bread and wine.
Only Eurylochus, Odysseus’s newfound right-hand man, remained outside expecting some kind of trickery.
And *shock horror* Eurylochus was right! Circe blended the men a potion of barley, cheese, and golden honey, mixed with Pramnian wine. To this potion, she added potent drugs to make the men forget their homes.
*She was probably just annoyed because they disturbed her, no one likes surprise visitors*
Once the men had taken their fill, Circe took out her wand and, well quite simply, turned the men into pigs.
*In the words of 1970’s rock band Thin Lizzy, the Boars, were truly back in town*
After seeing all this go down, team tattletale Eurylochus ran back to the ship to inform Odysseus of the events!
Short But Sweet: The Love Story
Odysseus, obviously not impressed by what had just happened to his men, took up his sword and urged Eurylochus to take him back to the house. But in a state of fright, Eurylochus refused!
So, like the true hero he is, Odysseus went alone.
On his way, Odysseus encountered the god Hermes who warned him of Circe’s powers and presented him with a magical herb called Moly, an antidote for Circe’s magic.
When Odysseus arrived at the house, Circe invited him in and offered him a meal, just like his men before. But this time her magic failed. The magical herb had worked!
Odysseus drew his sword and ran at Circe who cowered in response begging him not to harm her. After a short conversation mainly about how manly and strong Odysseus is *eye-roll* the two decided that to build trust, they MUST sleep with each other…
*I mean I’m not sure if that’s how trust works but you know, they obviously felt like they needed an excuse *
Over the next year, Circe and Odysseus grew close, sitting together in great armchairs by the hearth. The pair confided in each other and, I mean, they must have gotten pretty busy because they had up to four children.
The names of which were, for anyone who’s interested: Latinus, Telegonus, Rhomos, and Ardeas.
Circe *in good faith to her newfound friend* reversed the spell she had cast on Odysseus’s men and nursed the group back to health so that if they should leave, they were ready for their next adventure.
This time soon came, and as Odysseus’s men became more restless, he turned to Circe asking for advice on the next step of his journey. Her response was that they must now travel to Hades. *Which they obviously weren’t thrilled about…*
As the men prepared to leave, Circe tied a black ewe and a ram to their ship for protection. Then finally, in the words of Homer, she “slipped away, easily.”
“Who can see the gods go by unless they wish to show themselves to us?”
If you enjoyed this tidbit and want to know more, I highly recommend reading the Historical Fiction Circe by Madeline Miller which truly brings the story to life.
I would also recommend you give book 10 of the Odyssey a go, I like this version translated by Emily Wilson.
Thanks for joining us and we hope to see you next time! Remember to follow our Instagram @artingtheancients for bonus content and updates!
The Arting the Ancients Team