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Some contemporary authors now rewrite classical Latin and Greek stories from the point of view of Dido, Circe, Penelope, Calypso, Medea, Cassandra, finally promoted to the rank of protagonists. Irreverent, ironic and profoundly daring, their novels reverse the patriarchal perspective, providing us with a “new antiquity”.
The Powerful Magician of Aeaea
Circe (1) was published in 2018. It is the second best-selling novel by American Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles, winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction. In this audacious reinterpretation of one of the best-loved and best-known stories of the Odyssey, Circe is a courageous and sensitive heroine on a constant quest for independence and truth.
She spends a sad and lonely childhood in the sumptuous palace of her father Helios, the powerful and eccentric god of the sun, and her non affectionate mother, the naive Perseid. Thus, the little girl feels profoundly different from her parents and her siblings who, accustomed to receiving without giving, tend to mock her for her sensitivity to mortal pain.
More fascinated by the adventures of men than by the tedious diatribes between Olympians and Titans, she falls in love with the fisherman Glaucus and transforms him into a divinity of the sea thanks to a magic potion that reveals the true essence of men. Forsaken in favor of the beautiful and frivolous Scylla, Circe becomes angry and transforms the nymph into a terrible monster which, along with Charybdis, devours ships and sailors in the Strait of Messina.
On her father's orders, she is confined to the remote and deserted island of Aeaea where she studies the properties of plants and learns to tame wild beasts and animals, her only companions. During this exile, Circe discovers her authenticity and passion and lives her emotions in their totality and fullness. She shares romantic nights with Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth of Knossos where the monstrous minotaur conceived by her sister Pasiphae is locked up, whom she helps give birth to. She also has an erotic friendship with the playful and unreliable god Hermes, the only one allowed to visit her.
She offers hospitality to travellers who land on her shores but turns them into pigs if they have bad intentions, as in the famous episode of the companions Odysseus, with whom she falls madly in love. As Maria Grazia Ciani notes in the Italian afterword to the novel, the man with the big heart and a thousand tricks appears to be profoundly different in Madeline Mille’'s story. “The author”, she writes, “gradually demolishes the famous character, following the post-Homeric tradition according to which, the lord of Ithaca is a perverse, vile and lying being.”
The indomitable Telegonus is born from the encounter between the two lovers. Circe raises him alone in the woods and cliffs of the island. In Miller’s narrative, the young man kills his father by mistake on the beach of Ithaca and returns to Aeaea, taking Penelope and Telemachus with him. Telemachus becomes his mother’s lover.
Once again, Circe the magician will use her potions to transform herself irreversibly into a woman, for it is only in the painful humanity of an ageing and dying body that she seems to be able to find a possibility of freedom and salvation.
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