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CIRCE, BY MADE­LINE MILLER, A FEM­I­NIST RE­WRITE OF THE AN­CIENT GREEK TEXT OF ODYSSEY, CEL­E­BRATES WOM­AN­HOOD

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - By Lucy Sc­holes

The Song of Achilles, Made­line Miller’s re-imag­in­ing of The Iliad that po­si­tioned the love story be­tween Achilles and Pa­tro­clus cen­tre stage, was both a best­seller and won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fic­tion. With this recipe for suc­cess in hand, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Miller has turned to the same model for her thrilling sec­ond novel, Circe, though this time it’s the Odyssey that pro­vides the pri­mary text.

The pow­er­ful witch Circe, who way­lays Odysseus and his men on their long voy­age home to Ithaca, is set free from the few mea­gre lines of text she’s af­forded by Homer, and trans­formed here into the hero­ine of her own mag­nif­i­cent story.

The Clas­sics are un­der­go­ing some­thing of a fem­i­nist re­vi­sion­ist revo­lu­tion right now. Emily Wil­son’s new trans­la­tion of the Odyssey was pub­lished to great ac­claim at the end of last year, and this Au­gust brings Booker Prize-win­ner

Pat Barker’s new novel, The Si­lence of the Girls: a “rad­i­cal retelling of The Iliad” from the point of view of Bri­seis, the cap­tured queen-turned-slave. So too, Miller’s Circe is a woman who will not be si­lenced.

“When I was born,” she be­gins her tale, “the name for what I was did not ex­ist.” Circe’s witch­craft orig­i­nates in her rage and jeal­ousy, it­self the re­sult of years of harsh treat­ment at the hands of her more beau­ti­ful and pow­er­ful Ti­tan kin — she is the first­born of He­lios the sun god and the beau­ti­ful nymph Perse. She’s dis­missed as unattrac­tive, her weak mor­tal’s voice con­sid­ered most of­fen­sive of all, nev­er­the­less she per­sists; one could well de­scribe her as the orig­i­nal nasty woman.

The en­chantress’ “virtue” is “en­durance,” and Circe is ac­costed with much that de­mands for­bear­ance, all of which makes for glee­ful, greedy read­ing. Writ­ten in prose that rip­ples with a gleam­ing hy­per­bole be­fit­ting the epic na­ture of the source ma­te­rial, there is noth­ing in­ac­ces­si­ble or an­ti­quated about ei­ther Circe or her ad­ven­tures. Miller has ef­fected a trans­for­ma­tion just as im­pres­sive as any of her hero­ine’s own: she’s turned an an­cient tale of fe­male sub­ju­ga­tion into one of em­pow­er­ment and courage full of con­tem­po­rary res­o­nances.

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