Circe Chapters 1–3 Summary
by Madeline Miller

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Chapters 1–3 Summary

Chapter 1

Circe’s story begins on the day of her birth. Though a nymph (a lesser goddess) by lineage, Circe has difficulty relating to her mother, aunts, and numerous nymph cousins. Her mother, Perse, has an uncanny ability to play her surroundings to her advantage, and she used this skill to attract the attention of Helios, a god of the sun and a Titan, who believes that “the world’s natural order [is] to please him.” Feigning indifference toward Helios’s interest, Perse refused to be a mere fling. Instead, she made him promise not to bring other women to their hall, where only she will “hold sway.” Intrigued by the novelty of Perse’s demands, Helios agreed to her terms. For every child they have together, he gives her a strand of rare amber beads, which Perse flaunts before her sisters. However, the gods eventually forbid Helios and Perse from having more children after, as Circe explains, the other gods discovered “what the four of us were.” 

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When Circe is born, Perse is incensed by Helios’s prediction that Circe will fetch, at best, a human prince as a suitor. Repulsed by even the thought of mortals, Perse beckons Helios to come and “make a better [child].” As Circe grows, Perse’s distaste for her is obvious. Circe ends up in the care of an aunt, who names her “Circe” after a bird of prey due to the shrillness of her voice. When her aunt leaves, young Circe is left in a vast palace with her emotionally absent mother and irascible father. She learns to find freedom and amusement in her own solitude, though she struggles to escape her ever-present feelings of loneliness.

As a child, she eventually finds her place at her father’s feet and learns to handle the cruelty of her siblings Pasiphaë and Perses with quiet avoidance. Mortals seem to arouse her empathy, and she shows great interest when a group of human astronomers are put to death after Helios’s late chariot ride makes them miscalculate the sun’s path.

Chapter 2

News circulates about Circe’s uncle Prometheus’s punishment for defying Zeus and conferring on mankind the gift of fire. Before all this, the world did not know of any divide among the gods, for only Titans ruled the earth. The Olympians only rose to power when the Titan Kronos, having swallowed his own children due to a prophecy, was defeated by the lone child he did not succeed in eliminating: Zeus. With a thunderbolt and poisonous herbs, Zeus made Kronos cough up all the children he had swallowed. They rose and rallied alongside Zeus, and thus began the battle between Olympians and Titans. Zeus emerged victorious, and the Titans were subjugated.

Hundreds of years have passed, but the wounds from that great battle remain, and the Titans see Prometheus’s punishment as indicative of reawakened Olympian aggression. They gather to discuss whether to come to the defense of Prometheus and possibly restore Titan rule. Helios dismisses these ideas, imploring his fellow Titans to accept Zeus’s rule as sufficient, at least for now. He points out to the assembly that Prometheus’s sentence is fitting for a god who has allowed himself to be brought low by his affection for mortals.

The punishment of Prometheus is a spectacle. Everyone is present to witness the Titan endure numerous rounds of lashings. Everyone knows a god re-heals, but no one has seen a god experience a cycle of pain like this. Hours upon hours pass, “but even gods cannot watch a whipping for eternity,” so finally, the ordeal ends. Circe approaches Prometheus after everyone else has left. She offers him nectar and asks him about the mortals for whom he endured such a brutal punishment. Prometheus does his best to describe them, singling out death as something mortals all share. This encounter with Prometheus only strengthens Circe’s desire to learn more about mortals.

Chapter 3 

The next day, Prometheus is gone. Circe learns that he is now chained to a rocky precipice in the Caucasus. An eagle comes each...

(The entire section is 1,096 words.)