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date: 22 April 2024



  • Richard Hunter


  • Greek Myth and Religion

Powerful sorceress of mythology, daughter of Helios and the Oceanid Perse (Hom.Od. 10. 135–9). Homer places her island of Aeaea at the extreme east of the world (Od. 12. 3–4), but as early as Hesiod, Theog. 1011–16 she is associated also with the west and frequently placed at Monte Circeo (see circeii) on the coast of Latium (so Apollonius (1) of Rhodes and Virgil; cf. Hunter on Ap. Rhod. Arg. 3. 311–13). In the Odyssey, Circe transforms a group of Odysseus' men into pigs (though they retain human intelligence); Odysseus rescues them by resisting the goddess’ magic, thanks to the power of the plant ‘moly’ which Hermes gives him. Odysseus and his men stay with her for a year, after which she dispatches them to the Underworld to consult Tiresias. On their return she gives them more detailed instructions as to how to confront the perils of the homeward journey. In the cyclic Telegonia (see epic cycle), her son by Odysseus, Telegonus, accidentally killed his father when raiding Ithaca, and she herself married Telemachus (cf. M. Davies, EGF pp. 71–3). As Aeëtes’ sister, she has a prominent role in Apollonius’ Argonautica in which she cleanses Jason (1) and Medea after their treacherous killing of Medea's brother Apsyrtus (Arg. 4. 557–752); it is probable that Apollonius was not the first poet to associate her with the Argonautic voyage (see argonauts). Moralists frequently interpreted Circe as a symbol of luxury and wantonness, the pursuit of which turns men into beasts (cf. Hor.Epist. 1. 2. 23–6; Kaiser, MH1964, 200–13).


  • A. Lesky, Gesammelte Schriften (1966), 26–62.
  • F. Canciani, Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 6.