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, 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.
"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...
(The entire section contains 768 words.)
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