The name ‘Circe’ seems to be related to the English words ‘circle’ and ‘circus’. They are derived from the Indo-European ‘sker-3’, ‘To turn, bend’. One possibility is that her name relates to the gyre of a hawk and thus she is related to bird goddesses. But it may also relate to the transformations that she performs and relates more to the fact that with her wand she turns men into pigs. The second part of her name may relate the the Indo-European ‘ke-‘, ‘To sharpen, whet’. This may reference the point of her wand. Thus her name may mean ‘Turner (with the point of her wand)’
Circe is a goddess, the daughter of the Sun and the sister of Aeetes, the king of Colchis, the land of the golden fleece. She lives on the island of Aeaea which is located to the west as far as Colchis in in the east. Homer indicates she is the daugher of Helios and Perse. She was able to purify the Argonauts for the murder of Apsyrtus, the brother of Medea. When Odysseus landed on the island where she lived, she turned some of his men into beasts. Odysseus managed to escape her enchantment, and through a show of force managed to rescue his men and share her bed. He and his men then receive her hospitality for over a year. Later she bore Odysseus a son, Telegonius.
Circe is a temptress who proves that conquering sometimes just involves a show of force. To us she looks like a beautiful witch, but it is important to remember that she is not a witch. She is, according to Homer, a goddess. She is also an aunt of Medea. In the Odyssey Homer says, “And we came to the isle Aeaean, where dwelt Circe of the braided tresses, an awful goddess of mortal speech, own sister to the wizard Aeetes. Both were begotten of Helios, who gives light to all men, and their mother was Perse, daughter of Oceanus.”
Circe, the temptress — Here she appears with her braided tresses and a Minoan String skirt. The story of Circe seems to occur during Mycenaean times but the Mycenaeans are thought to have copied Minoan Dress.
Power over nature and man can be obtained in several ways. You can have knowledge of nature’s ways and you can use that knowledge to coax nature into your way. Or you can seek the power of a god or goddess. A deity just needs to will an action in the proper realm. A witch is a mortal woman who tries to use the power of a deity to direct power. Some Christians and Protestants believed that witches used the power of the devil and this justified, for them, the persecution of witches. Ancient Greeks had no notion of the Devil but there was a whole pantheon of deities available for their appeal. Homer seems to think Circe is a goddess in her own right. Hermes says to Odysseus, “And I will tell thee all the magic sleight of Circe. She will mix thee a potion and cast drugs into the mess; but not even so shall she be able to enchant thee; so helpful is this charmed herb that I shall give thee, and I will tell thee all. When it shall be that Circe smites thee with her long wand, even then draw thou thy sharp sword from thy thigh, and spring on her, as one eager to slay her. And she will shrink away and be instant with thee to lie with her.” Circe uses drugs for power and her wand seems to focus that power. Later Athena uses a similar wand to transform Odysseus. This clearly is the tool of a goddess. But what goddess has need of drugs and herbs? These have more relation to a knowledge of nature. Charms, of course, relate to a pact between a mortal and a deity. Thus, in this one scene we encounter all the ways of interacting with nature, and Circe seems both mortal and goddess-like.
‘φάρμακον’ is translated both as a charm and a drug. ‘ῥάβδῳ’ is translated as a magical wand. These words do not seem to have Indo-European roots. ‘πολυφαρμάκου’ is a related word that means knowing many drugs or charms. ‘κατέθελξεν’ means to subdue by spells or enchantments. This word derives from the Indo-European ‘kat-1’, ‘something thrown down’ and ‘dheu-‘,’ rise in a cloud’. This word seems to mean literally ‘put down the soul’.
In the Odyssey book X the process of Circe is described: “She gave then all comfortable seats, and made them a posset, cheese and meal and pale honey mixt with Promneian wine; but she put dangerous drugs in the mess, to make them wholly forget their native land. When once they had swallowed it, she gave them a tap of her wand at once and herded them into pens; for they now had pig heads and grunts and bristles, pigs all over except that their minds were the same as before. There they were then, miserably shut up in the pigsty. Circe threw them a lot of beechnuts and acorns and cornel-beans to eat, such as the earth-bedded swine are used to.”
This seems to be the description of a religious ceremony. It would be easy to consider this as ceremony for a family group with a pig totem. What you have is a ceremonial meal for members of the family. Perhaps they are wearing pig masks because that is their totem. The magic wand changes humans into pigs so that the people can identify with their totem. ‘σύες’ seems to derive from Indo-European ‘su-‘, ‘pig’ and so what may be descriped is a religous festival from the Indo-European past of Greece.
It is interesting to note that the word ‘προσάλειφεν’ means ‘to rub or smear upon’ and this word is used by Circe to describe her applying the drug that is used to undo the transformation to a pig. This might be added as an addition to the previous to complete the ceremony.
This is a woodcut of Circe as a Minoan priestess.
There are ancient pictures of Circe:
Odysseus and the sorceress Circe. This picture suggests a relation
between Circe and the Egyptian pantheon.
Circe and Odysseus
She could be well described as a beautiful witch as I have discussed earlier. But refering to her as a witch is confusing. It is interesting to note that the word ‘witch’ has Indo-European roots and is related to the word ‘weik-2’ which is related to concepts of magic. The word ‘magic’ is also Indo-European and comes from the word ‘magh-1’, ‘To be able, to have power’. What was associated with this power was not originally in the hands of a hero but more likely a priestess of Indo-European religion. The power that a priestess invokes is not a material power but a spiritual one. Our word ‘spell’ refers to an incantation while the Indo-European word ‘spel-3’ means just ‘To say aloud, recite’. Of course what the priestess says aloud are petitions to a deity whose action is desired. The model for Circe may be a priestess, but in fact she is a goddess. She has no need to petition as she is a goddess and should be able to act like one.
The concept of potion is more complex. The word ‘potion’ is also from Indo-European ‘poi-1’, ‘To drink’ and ‘ag-‘, ‘To drive’. The word ‘ag-‘ became the word ‘action’ and strictly ‘potion’ comes from ‘poi-1’ and ‘action’ with the ‘ac’ of action dropped. So a potion is a drink that does something. There is reality here because there are plenty of substances that can act by bring drunk. Poisons, drugs, and alcohol are all examples. Whether a spell or a potion is involved there are realistically expected actions and ones that are unrealistic. It is in the realm of unrealistic expectation that magic is involved. These are hoped for actions that would require divine intervention.
The word ‘wand’ is also Indo-European from ‘wendh-‘, ‘To turn, wind, or weave’. Originally twigs were woven so a trig, as something that was woven, became a wand. But a wand is used in a transformation ceremony. When the men are touched by the wand they are transformed to pigs. So the turn can be interpreted as turn into. ‘Salve’ also has Indo-European Roots in ‘selp’, ‘Butter’. Evidently herbs were mixed bith butter to form a healing aplication in the Indo-European Culture.
Plainly Circe performs what is obviously magic and she seems to need spells, potions, and a wand. But because she is truely a goddess none of these are truely necessary. Even so Circe has provided a model that is widely followed in art where a witch or a soceress is portrayed
There are also some recent paintings:
- Circe, Joseph Andrews, American, 1806–1873
- Ulysses at the Table of Circe, Plate 16 of The Odyssey of Homer Engraved from the Compositions of John Flaxman R.A
- Circe Giving Drink to the Companions of Ulysses, 16th century 1500s
- ‘Circe’, by Wright Baker
- John William Waterhouse, ‘Circe offering the cup to Ulysses’
- ‘Tilla Durieux as Circe’ by Franz von Stuck
- ‘Circe and Scylla’ by John Melhuish Strudwick
- ‘Circe’ by John William Waterhouse
Here are resource pages:
- Marcello Carastro, La cité des mages: Penser la magie en Grèce ancienne. Grenoble: Editions Jérôme Millon, 2006. Pp. 271. ISBN 2-84137-190-5. €25.00.
Calypso and Circe
- Classical Images and references for Circe
Circe (Greece): “She-Falcon”; Dark Moon Goddess; Fate-Spinner. Called the deathbird (kirkos or falcon). As the circle, or cirque, she was
the fate-spinner, weaver of destinies. Ancient Greek writers spoke of her as Circe of the Braided Tresses because she could manipulate
the forces of creation and destruction by knots and braids in her hair. The isle of Aeaea was a funerary shrine to her; its name is said
to come from the grief wail. Associations: Physical love, sorcery, enchantments, procognitive dreams, evil spells, vengeance, dark
magick, Witchcraft, and cauldrons. (from Witchy Works)
Questions and Answers
Question: what’s a role of Circe
Answer: Circe has several roles.
- Circe turns men into pigs. There are women alive today who seem to be able to do this. She is a witch and a seductress.
- By a show of force Odysseus is able to turn Circe from a menacing witch to a sweet seductress.
- She then tries to keep Odysseus from his fame by trying to keep him on her island.
Question: what does circe look like
Answer: For my guess:
Question: what did circe wear
Answer: She may not have worn anything. Homer describes her only as having braided tresses. She clothed Odysseus in a mantle and a doublet. Does this mean that is what she wore? Or would she have been a more effective enchantress in the nude? The classical Greeks portrayed her in a chiton like what their women wore, but Minoan garb of vest, girdle, and skirt is more likely. Odysseus lived at a time more closely to the Minoans than to the Classical Greeks. A mantle would be similar to a chiton while the doublet is more like the vest that the Minoan women wore.
Circe could have worn northing or anything. After all she was a goddess and the ruler of her island. Goddesses often wore garments fashioned by Athena. They were not often pictured nude until Praxiteles fashioned his nude Aphrodite, but they have commonly been pictured nude by artists of modern times. For many years any picture of a nude was immoral unless it was a picture of a god or a goddess.
Some of the garments pictured on Minoan ladies in Minoan art are quite elaborate. They were heavily flounced and embroidered. One could conlclude that the garments worn by ordinary people were similar, but this might be a mistake. It might be that these garments represented those worn by a goddess and were only worn by priestesses or women impersonating goddesses. Of course
Circe was a goddess and could easily have worn such garb. As an enchantress Circe might have worn nothing, or perhaps some revealing gossamer gown. But clothes are often an indication of status so as a ruler she might have worn the embroidered girdle and vest, and the heavily flounced skirt.
Question: did circe have a power
Answer: Yes she did. All deities have the power to foretell the future. She also had the power to transform creatures from one form to another. She was famous for turning men into swine. Could could also purify people and absolve them from a crime.
Question: what education was there in anicent athens
Answer: There were grammar schools for Greek boys, dancing and music schools for girls, and advanced schools by the Sophists and Philosophers.
Question: Is there a picture of a greek theatre mask for Circe
Answer: I have no picture, but Circe can be identified by her braided hair, wand, and pigs. The wand is a long stick with a butterfly at the end, the symbol of transformation. She was probably a priestess of a religion that worshipped pigs. When she changed a person to a pig she probably converted them to her religion. For more about pig worship see Maria Gimbutis in the bibliography. Click below for the Menu directory.
Question: What was Circe role in the odyssey of homer?
Answer: Circe demonstrates that when you loose sight of your goal you lose your status as a hero.
Question: didn’t she also change men into good people
Answer: No! She turned men into beasts and then she could turn them back from beasts to men.
Question: Is Circe rembered for anything besides turning men into pigs?
Answer: Yes. She absolved Medea and Jason of their crimes. She also poisoned the water so Scylla turned from a maiden to a monster.
Question: where did you get the picture upon which the words “the role of women…” is printed? What is it?
Answer: It is the Logo for the site The Role of Women in the Art of
Ancient Greece. It is a computer colorized piece of a black and white
woodcut about Artemis bathing off Crete. I carved the woodcut Jan. 28 of 1998.
Question: What does mean “to be a Circe” today?
Answer: The actress Madonna seems to have the power to turn men into slobbering pigs. It is a matter of a woman using her seductive power to produce an incapacitating effect on a man. The man becomes so focused on sex that he cannot do productive work.
Question: What impact did Circe have on greek culture
Answer: Professor Howard Marblestone The ‘wicked drugs’ that Circe administers in the potion remove memories of the crewmen’s own land, and, presumably, of previous experiences. They are seemingly suspended in the moment, like animals, who neither think about the past nor plan for the future, as we usually suppose. But the mens’ ‘minds stayed steadfast as before’, that is: they could think and feel as men. Homer uses the word ‘nous’, which usually means the intellectual capacity. The men’s transformation therefore becomes pitiable because their hideous outer form and animalistic behavior conceal their essential humanity, even if their memories are wiped out. What greater contrast could there be than between men, who think and feel, and pigs, which ‘root and roll in mud’
(p. 238)? Only another drug, a complete antidote (p. 242), restores the men’s human bodies and memories. Much later in literature, the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE), following Greek models, composed his ‘Metamorphoses’ (Transformations’), an epic poem controlled by the theme of change-of-form, most often human to non-human. There the poet paints the poignant contrast between the inside of a creature with its human thoughts and feelings and the non-human form outside e. g., in a tree or an animal.
The episode of Circe’s transformation of the crewmen may be compared to, and contrasted with, that of the benign Lotus-Eaters (Book 9, p.214), who give the crewmen the Lotus, the ‘honey-sweet fruit’. After eating it, they have only the ‘wish to linger there with the Lotus-eaters, gazing on lotus, all memory of the journey home dissolved forever.’ The lotus seems to obliterate mainly the prospects of future life, especially return home, whereas Circe’s drugs cruelly cause retrospective loss of memory. Both episodes are variations of a widespread folktale about magical, drug-induced forgetfulness, a folktale that scholars have long studied. Homer has transformed the story of the Lotus-eaters from a piquant folktale into an archetypal story symbolizing the allure of forgetfulness of
duty and responsibility. No wonder, then, that Odysseus is eager to get his men away from the Lotus-eaters. Reference
Question: In what ways are Circe’s actions like that of her niece,
Answer: They both used potions.
Question: Why did jw waterhouse paint so many pictures of Circe?
Answer: John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917) was a classical master also described as a Pre-Raphaelite. He had a fascination for the femme fatale.
Question: Are there any books on her that range from500ad to 1500ad
Answer: The Odyssey is the only book on Circe that I know of.
Question: what is Circe the goddess of?
Answer: Circe is the goddess of the island of Aeaea.
Question: Does Circe,like all the other Gods and Goddesses, have any items that represent her?Like Zeus has the eagle and acorn,Hera has the Peocock etc.
Answer: No! Territorial goddesses like Circe do not have symbols. Still her symbol may be a hawk.
Question: In one of you guestion below you answerd that Circe had no sible but her name did mean falcon so wouldn’t that count as a simble?
Answer: Good point. But by the time of Homer she seems to have lost that symbol. Circe seems to be a demoted goddess of a previous culture. Some ancient goddesses were demoted to mortality, such as Helen and Ariadne.
Question: what did circe’s house look like?
Answer: In the Odyssey it is described as of polished stone with wide prospect. By following the action it can be determined to be a standard Mycenaean home set on a hill for defensive reasons. Such a home consisted of a partly roofed courtyard surrounded by porches and rooms. The main door entered the courtyard and opposite the main door the building formed two stories with circe’s bedroom on the upper floor. The upper room had a balcony to view the countryside. Some maids stayed with Circe on the upper floor while others stayed in bedrooms on the lower floor. Also on the lower floor were storage rooms and a meeting room. On the outside of the
house all you could see was the main door and the wall running around the house to the height of one story. There were no windows in this wall for security reasons. The only windows were in the second story rooms. The roof was probably pitched and tiled. Columns were used to support the porch and balcony roofs.
Cooking took place in the fireplace in the middle of the courtyard. In warm weather eating and other activities took place there also. In cold weather most activities took place in the meeting room. Water had to be hauled into most houses though some had running water. Wastes had to be hauled out. Wastes were often dumped by the front door until they could be spread on the fields. The bedroom might be furnished with a tub or basin for washing.
Question: Where is Circe from?
Answer: Myths suggest Circe may have come from Colchis, where she had relatives, or she may have come from a nearby island. Her characteristics are similar to aphrodite who may have influenced her. That her name is similar to the Greek word for hawk suggests that she may be related to an ancient bird goddess. The wand that she uses seems related to the ax in the hands of the Amazons. The ax can be intrepeted as a butterfly which is the minoan symbol of transformation. Both the wand and the axe are related
to the labris of ancient Minoan religion. The priestesses of that religion probably used a wand with a butterfly symbol on its end. Circe probably was a bird goddess for the ancient Minoans.
Question: WHAT IS CIRCE GOOD/BAD?
Answer: As a goddess Circe is neither good or bad. Goddesses can do bad things, for which they are punished by Zeus, but this is rare. They have their own values above and beyond mortals. Mortals must look to their own situation and its relation to the gods to determine what is good or bad for them. For Odysseus and his men Circe is clearly a temptress. Some women can easily turn men into slobbering pigs. This is particularly true if they lack resolve and cannot focus on true goals. Odysseus must show his resolve to Circe
before she cooperates. He must also remember his goal before he can escape her clutches. Had he stayed with Circe he would have been wiped from history. Circe tested Odysseus. Had he failed it would have been bad, but since he passed it was good.
Question: WHAT DOES CIRCE REPRESENT??
Answer: Circe represents a divine force. The tale of Circe indicates how such a divine force must be dealt with. It is a story of intrigue and reward since life often reflects this. You have to keep your wits about you and you have to kepp divinities on your side. You have to show resolve and you have to be persistent. In the end you are rewarded as Odysseus was with pleasure. But even this must not be a distraction.
Question: WHY IS CIRCE IMPORTANT AT ALL?
Answer: Every goddess is important. But you can usually avoid most of them. The trick is to properly relate to those you cannot avoid. Circe represents a new goddess in a strange place. Odysseus demonstrates how to get along with such a goddess.
Question: So Circe was basically a supernatural being, goddess who turned men into beasts and forgave the Aurgonites for their crime?Does Circe have any other names?
Answer: No. Circe is a little more complicated than that. If
she is a goddess her realm should be identifiable. She seems to be
a lot like Hecate, but she would rank better as a priestess of Hecate.
She and Hecate cannot have the same realm. Perhaps she is the goddess of temptation. Then she could trade some of her powers with those of Hecate. If so she is still relevant and interesting.
Question: where did circe come from
Answer: The myths say she came from Colchis, the home of Medea, but Crete is more likely, since she acts like a Minoan priestess.
Question: what were their jobs
Answer: The job of Circe was to rule, and everyone else served.
Note: ‘…Where dwelt the enchantress skill’d in herbs of power,…’ Homer, Odyssey, Book X. Circe obtained power from herbs. Note also: ‘…Where mountain wolves and brindled lions roam, (By magic tamed,)…’ so taming of animals is another task. Here ‘…Placed at her loom within, the goddess sung;…’ so Circe is both a weaver and a singer. Other tasks are mentioned: ‘Milk newly press’d, the sacred flour of wheat, And honey fresh, and Pramnian wines the treat: But venom’d was the bread,…’ Then Circe ‘Instant her circling wand the goddess waves, To hogs transforms them, and the sty receives.’
‘The golden ewer a nymph obsequious brings,
Replenish’d from the cool translucent springs;
With copious water the bright vase supplies
A silver laver of capacious size.
I wash’d. The table in fair order spread,
They heap the glittering canisters with bread:
Viands of various kinds allure the taste,
Of choicest sort and savour, rich repast!’
Question: what type of role does circe play in the divine and human world
Answer: In the Odyssey Circe is a temptress but it seems unlikely that this is her general role. She might be a pig farmer. She seems like a witch, but this is merely a reference to her ability to use herbs and potions. She seems like a goddess of geography, but she seems one step up from the nymphs of the streams and woods. Her name suggests she is a bird goddess. This would probably put her in touch with the various cycles of nature because her name refers to the circles that a hawk makes in the sky.
Question: how does circe relate to fire?
Answer: Circe cooks with a fire in her hearth. As with other Greeks at this time a fire had to be kept going all the time. The only way to relight a fire was to get a light from a neighbor. Circe might have to sail to her neighbor so she had to be extra careful. She had to keep a good fire going all the time and the smoke from this fire was visible a long distance away. It was this smoke that indicated to Odysseus that the island of Circe was inhabited.
Question: what poetry/language is there to describe her and what does it mean or symbolize?
Answer: The best poetry about Circe is in the Odyssey by Homer. There she turns the men of Odysseus into pigs. Some contemporary women can turn men into pigs with their form, style, and sexy manner. The name ‘Circe’ is relaed to Circle and refers to the pattern of a hawk’s flight. And just as there are predatory birds, there are predatory women. Some men watch out for these women while others would just as soon be involved. Worse yet, instead of taking drugs to protect them, they drink alcohol that makes them more susceptable.