Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1247
Helios arrives, not because he is easily summoned but perhaps out of a morbid curiosity about his daughter’s request. She brazenly asks him to end her exile. When he refuses, Circe fights back, threatening to expose her knowledge of his and her uncle’s treasonous whispers to Zeus. Angered...
(The entire section contains 1247 words.)
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Helios arrives, not because he is easily summoned but perhaps out of a morbid curiosity about his daughter’s request. She brazenly asks him to end her exile. When he refuses, Circe fights back, threatening to expose her knowledge of his and her uncle’s treasonous whispers to Zeus. Angered that she would dare to start another war between the Titans and Olympians, Helios says he can end her “with a thought.” Circe reminds him that he has no idea how deep her power goes or what lengths she has gone to protect herself, suggesting that she may even be able to make his own powers to “rebound” upon him. In the end, Helios bends to her will, though he calls her the worst of his children. Circe retorts that when he counts his children, he should leave her out.
Circe divulges to Penelope her plan to leave the island. Penelope wishes to stay on Aiaia, so Circe teaches her how to work herbs to create spells and potions for protection. Circe sets out for the boat and finds that it has been repaired. Telemachus appears and admits that he was angry with her for believing he would go with Athena. Circe explains that she misinterpreted his stories about Athena as him yearning for that kind of life—one filled with glory and adventure. He reminds her that he is not his father and expresses his wish to join Circe in leaving Aiaia. Circe warns him that it will not be safe, but he wants to go with her anyway. They depart at dawn, headed for the straits where Scylla lives. They’ve gathered the necessary supplies: potions and salves, along with the poisoned spear. Aboard the boat, Circe transforms twelve big fish into twelve fat rams and affixes a pot of potion around the neck of the fattest one. She then places a spell on Telemachus, making him appear invisible.
They arrive at the straits. The hungry Scylla snatches up the rams as expected and ingests the one with potion attached to its body. This potion is powerful, for it contains a potent blend of Trygon’s poison, rare herbs, elements from Aiaia, and Circe’s own blood. Circe advances and cries out the spell into the mist. However, before her magic can take effect, Scylla, in her bloodlust, makes out the form of Telemachus rowing hard at the oars. Circe temporarily fends her off using the spear made of Trygon’s tail.
The potion finally begins to take effect. Scylla’s heads begin to droop, her twelve enormous legs dropping one by one into the sea. The legs threaten to hit the boat, and they struggle to row away, Telemachus’s hands bleeding from the effort; each leg that falls into the sea nearly sends them to their death. In the commotion, the poisoned spear falls overboard, along with their stores for the journey. Finally, Scylla’s entire body plummets down the cliff, the impact wave sending them splashing out of the straits. Circe, dazed from the battering, looks back and sees Scylla’s form at the foot of the cliff. Her spell has turned Scylla to stone.
Circe and Telemachus recover on a faraway shore. She hesitates at first to tell him of how Scylla came to be a monster; however, she later casts aside her fear and takes the leap. He listens without judgement and tries to comfort her, suggesting that maybe it was Scylla’s destiny to be a monster. Circe rejects this, reminding Telemachus that his shame over killing the slave girls is how he knows he is different from his father; Circe explains that it is important for her, too, to hold on to her feelings of guilt and regret. Circe confesses that her past is filled with other “monsters and horrors no one wants to hear,” but Telemachus replies “I want to hear.” In this moment, Circe perceives that all her excuses as to why they cannot be together—his mother, his father, his mortality—are based in fear. Admitting to herself that she has never been a coward, Circe reaches for him, and they find solace in each other’s arms.
Circe and Telemachus survive together on the shore for three days, making do with what they can find around them and growing closer every day. Circe continues to tell him stories of her life, and Telemachus tells her the dreams he’s always held on to and about the places he would love to see.
They set out again and sail until they reach a shore from Circe’s past: the site where she and Aeëtes lived their best days. Here lies the forest where she recovered from her father’s wrath and the hill where she led Glaucos to make him a god. Circe again finds the patch of potent flowers that sprung from Kronos’s blood. She muses that these flowers—which transform one into their true self—would surely change nothing in Telemachus, for he has always been his true self. Nevertheless, Circe uproots some of the flowers and places them in her bag.
They return to Aiaia and find Penelope well-adjusted to life on the island. Penelope mentions something Odysseus had said about Circe once: “That he had never met a god who enjoyed their divinity less.” Circe announces that she is done with the island and asks Penelope, who is making progress in her “witchery,” if she will accept Circe’s loom, house, island, and place as the witch of Aiaia. Penelope is honored and accepts the offer but asks what will become of Circe now. Circe replies vaguely that there is something she must do. Later, Circe warns Telemachus that she does not know whether the spell she means to cast will work. She kisses him and leaves by herself.
That night, Circe kneels by her pool, crafting a potion from the flowers of “true being” that she once used to change Scylla into a monster and Glaucos into a god. She feels an old familiar fear, wondering, “what creature waits within me?” and briefly imagining the potion might turn her into a monster as well. But hope makes her brave as she imagines traveling with Telemachus to places he has always wanted to go. They would live on their companionship and the merits of each other’s craft—his carpentry, her witchcraft—and “take pleasure in the simple mending of the world.”
A powerful vision overtakes Circe, and she sees her future life with Telemachus unfold: They travel the world together, raise two daughters, and visit Penelope and Telegonus, who both thrive. She sees herself growing older, until she is led by Hermes to the house of the dead; she sees herself both “drunk” with luck and happiness and terrified by the fragility of mortal life. In her vision, she finds comfort in the strength of her witchcraft and in Telemachus’s tenderness. He tells her “it will be alright,” meaning not that their lives are free from pain or fear, but simply that “we are here”—that “this is what it means to be alive.”
When the vision ends, Circe muses that the lives of the gods are static, eternal and therefore “dead,” while she herself has always “been moving forward.” Finally, she drinks from the bowl of potion that will call forth her true self, casting off her divinity and embracing a mortal life.