Circe Quotes

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Last Updated on June 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 768

"I remembered what Odysseus had said about her once. That she never went astray, never made an error. I had been jealous then. Now I thought: what a burden. What an ugly weight upon your back."

Circe’s romantic relationship with Odysseus is complicated by her knowledge that his wife, Penelope,...

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"I remembered what Odysseus had said about her once. That she never went astray, never made an error. I had been jealous then. Now I thought: what a burden. What an ugly weight upon your back."

Circe’s romantic relationship with Odysseus is complicated by her knowledge that his wife, Penelope, is still alive and awaiting his return to Ithaca. Though she loves Odysseus, Circe is keenly aware of the fact that no matter how strongly she feels, his visit to her island and their companionship is merely temporary. He will never be content to stay with Circe on Aiaia, and his thoughts will always drift back to his wife in Ithaca.

Before Circe meets her, she regards Penelope with a mixture of jealousy and guilt; she resents the object of Odysseus’s affection, yet she also has sympathy for Penelope, knowing that though she waits faithfully for Odysseus, he is not faithful in return. When they finally meet, Circe finds that Penelope is not what she expected: she is not the perfect wife or mother that Odysseus described. Instead, she arrives on Circe's island weary and filled with regret over her inability to stand up to Odysseus and take action to save her son, Telemachus, from Athena. Penelope reveals to Circe that her enduring patience—the very trait that Odysseus treasured and praised—cost both her and Telemachus terribly:

“I outlasted the war and the suitors. I outlasted Odysseus’ travels. I told myself that if I were patient enough, I could outlast his restlessness and Athena too . . . And while I sat, Telemachus bore his father’s rage year after year. He suffered while I turned my eyes away.”

In light of this new information, Circe reexamines her previous envy of Penelope, recognizing that Odysseus’s belief in Penelope’s perfection was not a reflection of reality, but evidence of Penelope's confined and restricted existence. Circe’s realization in this moment reflects the feminist themes of the novel as a whole: Penelope has suffered in trying to conform to the expectations of men like Odysseus, who fail to recognize her as a fully developed and flawed human being. It is only after the death of her husband and her subsequent escape to Aiaia that Penelope discovers her full independence and comes into her true power as a woman and a witch.

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"Circe, he says, it will be all right. It is not the saying of an oracle or a prophet. They are words you might speak to a child. I have heard him say them to our daughters, when he rocked them back to sleep from a nightmare, when he dressed their small cuts, soothed whatever stung. His skin is familiar as my own beneath my fingers. I listen to his breath, warm upon the night air, and somehow I am comforted. He does not mean it does not hurt. He does not mean we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive."

In these lines, which appear in the closing pages of the book, Circe describes a vision of the future that awaits her should she choose to drink a potion that will transform her from a goddess to a mortal. Her vision shows her living alongside her human husband, Telemachus. They have children together and grow old; like all mortals, they experience moments of joy and moments of hardship.

When Telemachus tells Circe that things will be “all right,” Circe knows that he offers this reassurance in the way that mortals mean it. Unlike a god, Telemachus cannot predict the future or magically shape events to suit his whims, but he can choose to believe that he and Circe are “all right” in the present moment. This, Circe realizes, is precisely what being mortal means. To be human is to experience a life that is ever changing, filled with times of terrible pain and sadness but also with stretches of delight and bliss.

Circe once thought that immortality made gods the “opposite” of death, but she now understands that it merely means gods are frozen and unchanging. The gods may not fear life’s unpredictability or feel its precariousness, but they also cannot experience life’s preciousness and beauty. Thus, while a mortal’s life may be fleeting, a god will never live at all. Understanding this, Circe brings the potion to her lips and drinks, prepared to give up immortality so that she may truly live.

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