Kirke (Circe) – SEPTEMBER 2020

Kirke long held a deep fascination for the ancients. But in the Odyssey, Kirke is just one of a string of dalliances which detain Odysseus on his journey homeward to Ithaka. A goddess but also a witch, Kirke causes outrage by transforming Odysseus’s companions, seasoned Greek veterans of Troy, into grovelling swine.

And yet Kirke rescues Odysseus at one of his lowest and most vulnerable points of his journey, just after he has suffered the catastrophic loss of ships and men. With the seasons turning against him, Kirke offers Odysseus shelter and respite for his men over winter. Later her local knowledge helps Odysseus steer his ship back on course, negotiating the perils of the Sirens, the sea-monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. In return Odysseus forms a deep attachment towards Kirke, to such an extent that their relationship sows discontent and alienation amongst his men, which will later lead to disastrous consequences.  

It is believed Kirke’s home Aiaia may be based on the memory of a local pre-Roman cult at Terracina, Italy. Here worship was devoted to Feronia, the goddess of beasts and forests, whose name was derived from feri meaning wild animals. The Odyssey’s account of Kirke bears a striking resemblance to an early sacred precinct, only poetically embellished through the inventiveness of a Greek oral tradition.

Finding Ithaka rightly restores this bold character to her central place within the Odysseus myth and provides a fresh look at this spirited female figure. 


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