Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller

I’ll be completely upfront: I never read The Iliad or The Odyssey and had no clue about any of the ancient gods or Greek and Roman religions. I was completely and totally ignorant about it all and have only just begun to graze its gilded surface.

What about college, you ask—I’m a college dropout; I couldn’t afford to stay in college. What about high school—this is where I laugh out loud and ask what high school did you go to? My high schools had barely taped together text books, Bible as Lit and Christianity indoctrination classes (no matter how much I bitched about separation of church and state), and teachers that didn’t care and didn’t want to be there. (Yes, I took that Bible as Lit class but don’t get me started on it or the brainwashing, signed the Secular Humanist Atheist). But you read—a lot? Yeah, well, all those ancient gods and stories were much too complicated for me to launch into by myself when I was trying to get rid of the Abrahamic one constantly dogging my every breath and action thru—what felt like and still does—their indoctrinated cult. It was all so exhausting, and I couldn’t fathom bringing other gods, especially ancient ones, into my life when trying to escape all that. They were all so daunting and the themes quite imposing. Religion, in general, no matter what form, both repelled and fascinated me—expressly ancient religions. I would wade into those waters occasionally, but nothing above my head.

That reasoning seemed logical at the time for a naive illiterate teen simply trying to survive a rough childhood. I now see it as an error in thinking and a larger ruse I attribute to that pesky Christian cabal to retard education by denying me mine. Facetiously, I like to credit my inherent godlessness revelation to all that forced indoctrination, including that Bible as Lit course, a college world religions class (of which I adored) and eventually Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (review forthcoming). I additionally credit all things scientific and those self-ascribed ‘new atheists’ to that awareness; but, in doing so I would also note a postscript warning—their since highly problematic racism and misogyny and outright ugliness to all things religious; an absolutist or nihilistic approach to religion that leaves me with an unpleasant aftertaste. I’ve come to accept that—unlike the new atheists—as an edict to compassion, faith and religion, if not weaponized as a tool of oppression or fascism, can be sociologically beneficial to those in need; and, it wouldn’t be compassionate of me as a person to deny that which gives so much hope to those longing for that or any faith. So, I align myself more with Humanism in that regard, even while being purposely blasphemous and irreverent to religious hypocrisy and an exuberant student of all religions, including those ancient ones. Ultimately, to not study those ancient myths would be to deny a larger part of humanity’s story, and the history of who and where we are now—something we should always study and never deny or forget.

Anywho, I digress—so much so. More on that topic in later posts.

Madeline Miller created such a sublime interpretation that I dunno if I’ll ever be able to read any of those ancient myths again without comparing them to her magnificent story and gorgeous words. Written by and for males, those ancient tales depict men as the saviors and sole arbiters of their myths while sculpting women as flat objects and tools with little agency—much like the majority of ancient texts, and a lot of modern ones too. Miller constructed an intimate portrait layered in all its deliciousness of bad girl, good girl and everything in betwixt—those vexing nasty women; all hail those grand goddesses; may we destroy the patriarchy and forever rule.

The Song of Achilles is in my queue and I’m so looking forward to it. Here’s hoping Ms. Miller rewrites it all and I thank her so much for giving us a favorite and enduring text to quote and love and lift.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

“I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.”

“I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer. Then, child, make another.”

“The thought was this: that all my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.”

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