Last Updated on January 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1159
Helios delivers Circe to the deserted island. He remains emotionally unaffected by his daughter’s exile. Circe does not mind, for she has little to weep for in the absence of the gods. She finds an old but finely built house on the hilltop. The forest beyond catches her attention. Though she is drawn to its wildness, she fears the woods for what unimaginable things might lurk there.
She spends her first day exploring the inside of the enormous house. By evening, she comes to terms with her fears, the greatest being her powerlessness without “those flowers, oceans away” that had lent her strength. In the event of danger on the island, all she will be able to do is scream.
After spending a grueling night overcoming her terrors, Circe finally begins to feel a budding strength. Determined to survive, she steps out into the woods and acquaints herself with everything they have to offer, learning from the wide variety of flora and fauna. As fascination begins to replace fear, she takes some of the forest’s blooms home. She then proceeds to experiment with different methods for their preparation.
Her brewing mistakes are numerous; nevertheless, Circe remains steadfast. Her power first appears with an acorn. She rubs different salves on it, murmuring incantations, in an attempt to make it sprout—but to no avail. It is only when she recognizes that she truly desires and wills for the acorn to be a strawberry that she unleashes her true power as a pharmakis.
She devotes herself to honing her powers and, in the process, discovers their limits: “However potent the mixture, however well woven the spell, the toad kept trying to fly, and the mouse to sting. Transformation touched only bodies, not minds.” Her mind leaps to Scylla, who might be somewhere with her nymph self still alive and trapped within her monstrous form.
In an encounter with a large boar deep in the forest, Circe stands her ground and wills it to scamper away. She then uses this same will to summon her own familiar, a lion, and she begins to understand the boldness and confidence with which her brother carried himself in the presence of the other gods. She finds she is no longer dependent on the meager strength of a few flowers—instead, she can rely on the sustainable power of her sorcery.
Circe meets Hermes, a son of Zeus. He tells Circe he has stolen a lyre and that he needs a place to stay. Circe lets him in. She is well-aware of his nature—charming, quick-witted, manipulative—and so she and her lion remain wary of his presence.
After Circe sings for him, Hermes reveals that her voice is not that of a screeching bird, but that of a mortal. He also reveals the name of the island she inhabits: Aiaia. Circe recognizes this name, for it is the place where her father pledged loyalty to Zeus. Directly above it is where he “vanquished a Titan giant, drenching the land with blood.”
Circe and Hermes become lovers. Circe knows it is “his nature to seek out answers, to press others for their weaknesses.” She uses this to her advantage and asks him for news about the outside world.
One day, she asks Hermes how far her island is from the hill of potent flowers that she used on Glaucos and Scylla. It is the only question he refuses to answer. She asks him why the gods are so angry with Prometheus for helping mortals. Hermes explains that gods feed off of the weaknesses of mortals; the more unhappy mortals are, the more offerings the gods receive. Empowering mortals, as Prometheus did, makes them less dependent on divine power. According to Hermes, this explains Scylla’s predicament as well. Now a monster, she wreaks havoc from a cave next to a strait. Ships that must pass are doomed to either perish in the whirlpool opposite the strait or in the belly of Scylla. Though Zeus...
(The entire section contains 1159 words.)
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