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An awful goddess, using human speech ~ Odysseus
They sprang not at my men, but pranced about / And fawned, their long tails wagging. ~ Odysseus

Circe (Ancient Greek: Κίρκη, Kírkē) is an enchantress and a minor goddess in ancient Greek mythology and religion. In most accounts, Circe is described as the daughter of the sun god Helios and the Oceanid nymph Perse. Circe was renowned for her vast knowledge of potions and herbs. Through the use of these and a magic wand or staff, she would transform her enemies, or those who offended her, into animals.

Classical works


Homer, Odyssey, X

And so they had the heads and voice and bristles / And shape of pigs, but even as before / Their minds abode unchanged. ~ Odysseus
In love we may put trust in one another ~ Circe
Thou mayest make me weakling and unmanned ~ Odysseus
Sir William Marris, The Odyssey of Homer (Oxford University Press, 1925), pp. 161–180
  • ... Then we reached the isle
    Ææan, where the fair-haired Circe dwelt,
    An awful goddess, using human speech,
    Own sister to Æetes, that dark mind;
    And Helios who gives light to mortal men
    Begat them both, and Perse was their mother,
    Daughter of Ocean.
    • [Circe's Island]
  • ... Now in the forest glades they found
    The house of Circe built of polished stone,
    With a wide outlook; and all round about
    Were mountain wolves and lions, which she herself
    Had charmed with the bad drugs she gave them: yet
    They sprang not at my men, but pranced about
    And fawned, their long tails wagging. As when dogs
    Fawn on their master coming from a feast,
    Because he always brings them bits of food
    To soothe their temper, so around them fawned
    The strong-clawed wolves and lions.
    • [Circe's Beasts]
  • And in the fair-haired goddess’ gate they stood,
    And heard the winning voice of Circe, singing
    Inside, as to and fro she went in front
    Of her great deathless web, a work like that
    Of goddesses, so fine, so fair and bright.
    • [Circe's Web]
  • And quickly she came out and opened wide
    The shining doors and bade them in, and all
    Followed her in, the fools. Eurylochus
    Remained behind, because he smelt a trap.
    She brought them in and seated them on chairs
    And settles, and prepared for them a mess
    Of cheese and barley meal and yellow honey
    With Pramnian wine, and in the food she mixed
    Dark drugs, to make them utterly forget
    Their native land. Now when she gave it them
    And they had drunk, she rapped them with her rod
    At once, and fell to penning them in styes:
    And so they had the heads and voice and bristles
    And shape of pigs, but even as before
    Their minds abode unchanged. Thus were they penned
    There crying, and before them Circe tossed
    Acorns and mast and cornel fruit for food,
    Such things as wallowing pigs are wont to eat.
    • [The Swine]
  • “Whither again, O luckless, roamest thou
    The wolds alone, unknowing of the country?
    Lo, there in Circe’s house thy men are penned
    Like pigs in close-shut styes. And art thou come
    To free them? Nay, I tell thee, thou thyself
    Shalt not return, but stay there with the others.
    But see, I will redeem thee from the peril
    And save thee. Take thou this good herb, and go
    To Circe’s house: ’twill keep the evil day
    Off from thy head. And I will show thee all
    The deadly arts of Circe. She will mix thee
    A potion and throw drugs into thy food.
    Nor even so shall she avail to witch thee,
    For the good herb that I shall give thee will not
    Permit of that. And I will tell thee all.
    When Circe raps thee with her tapering wand,
    Then do thou pull thy sharp sword from thy side
    And spring at her as thou wert fain to slay her;
    And she in fear wall bid thee lie with her.
    Then after that refuse thou not her bed,
    That she may free thy men and succour thee:
    But bid her swear by the great oath of heaven
    To plan thee no new hurt, lest when she hath
    Thee stripped, she make thee weakling and unmanned.”
    • [Hermes advises Odysseus]
  • ‘“... Nay, but put up
    Thy sword into its sheath, and then let us
    Go up unto my bed, that met together
    In love we may put trust in one another.”
      ‘So said she, but I answered her and said:
    “How canst thou, Circe, bid me use thee gently,
    Thou, who hast turned my fellows into swine
    Within thy halls, and now dost hold me here
    With crafty mind, and bid me to thy room,
    Ay, to thy bed, that when thou hast me stripped,
    Thou mayest make me weakling and unmanned?
    No, no, not I! I have no mind to share
    Thy bed, O goddess, till thou first consent
    To swear a mighty oath that thou wilt not
    Devise new mischief for me to my hurt.”
      ‘So said I, and she swore as I required
    Forthwith, to hurt me not: and when she had sworn
    And made an end of swearing, then at last
    I went up into Circe’s gracious bed.
    • [Circe's Bed]
And they were men once more, and younger than / They were before and goodlier far and taller ~ Odysseus
So there for one full year day after day / Feasting on meat abundant and sweet wine / We tarried ~ Odysseus
  •   Now meantime in her halls her maids were busy;
    Four maids, who do the service of her house;
    And they are children of the wells and woods
    And sacred streams that flow forth to the sea.
    One of her maids was spreading o’er the chairs
    Fine purple rugs above and under them
    A linen cover; while another drew
    Tables of silver up beside the seats
    And set on them gold baskets; and the third
    Mixed in a silver bowl the honeyed wine
    Most sweet, and served out golden cups; the fourth
    Brought water, and then kindled a big fire
    Beneath a mighty cauldron, and the water
    Drew hot, and when it boiled in the bright bronze,
    She set me in a bath and tempering it
    To comfortable warmth, she bathed me with it
    From the great cauldron, pouring water down
    My head and shoulders, till she took away
    Heart-breaking weariness from all my limbs.
    But when she had bathed and had anointed me
    With olive oil, a goodly cloak and tunic
    She wrapt around me, and then brought me in,
    And placed me on a silver-studded chair,
    A fine, rich chair, with a foot-stool beneath.
    Then a maid brought me water for my hands,
    And poured it from a fair gold jug for washing
    Above a silver basin, and drew up
    Near me a polished board; and a grave dame
    Brought and set bread and added many dainties,
    Providing generously of what she had,
    And bade me eat. But my heart liked it not:
    With other thoughts I sate, and boded evil. [...]
      “O Circe, what right-minded man could ever
    Endure to taste of meat and drink, before
    He had redeemed his men, and had beheld them
    With his own eyes? But if in kindliness
    Thou bidst me eat and drink, then let them go,
    That mine eyes may behold my trusty friends.”
      At that, out through the hall with wand in hand
    Went Circe, and she opened the stye-doors
    And drove them out like swine of nine years old:
    And there they stood before her, and she went
    Among them, and anointed each of them
    With a new charm: and from their limbs fell off
    The bristles, which the deadly drug had made
    Grow on them, that the lady Circe gave them:
    And they were men once more, and younger than
    They were before and goodlier far and taller
    To see: and they all knew me, and each man
    Clung to my hands, and o’er them all there came
    Passionate sobbing, till the house around
    Resounded strangely. Even the goddess herself
    Was moved to pity, [...]
      Within her bouse meantime in kindly wise
    Had Circe bathed and rubbed with olive oil
    And clad my other men in woolly cloaks
    And tunics; and we found them all within
    Feasting in state. But when they saw and knew
    Each other face to face, they wept and wailed
    Till the house rang around: but near she came,
    That radiant goddess, and to me she said:
      “Set up no more this strong lament: I know
    Myself of all the pains ye have endured
    Upon the fishy deep, and all the wrongs
    That cruel men have done to you on land:
    But come, eat meat and drink ye wine, until
    Ye get again such spirit in your breasts
    As when at first ye left your native land,
    Rough Ithaca: but now are ye dried up,
    And listless, thinking always of the toil
    Of roving, and your heart is never merry,
    Because in truth ye have been sorely tried.”
      So said she, and our lordly souls assented.
    So there for one full year day after day
    Feasting on meat abundant and sweet wine
    We tarried. [...]
    • [Circe's Hospitality]

Hesiod, Theogony

Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Translated by Hugh H. Evelyn-White (London: William Heinemann, 1914), pp. 151, 154–155
  • And Perseïs, the daughter of Ocean, bare to unwearying Helios Circe and Aeëtes the king.
  • And Circe the daughter of Helius, Hyperion's son, loved steadfast Odysseus and bare Agrius and Latinus who was faultless and strong: also she brought forth Telegonus by the will of golden Aphrodite. And they ruled over the famous Tyrsenians, very far off in a recess of the holy islands.

Apollonius, Argonautica, IV

Apollonius Rhodius: The Argonautica. Translated by R. C. Seaton (London: William Heinemann, 1912), pp. 333–345
  • And deadly fear seized them as they heard the voice that told of the grievous wrath of Zeus. For it proclaimed that they should not escape the paths of an endless sea nor grievous tempests, unless Circe should purge away the guilt of the ruthless murder of Apsyrtus; ...
  • And quickly from there they passed through the sea, beholding the Tyrrhenian shores of Ausonia; and they came to the famous harbour of Aeaea, and from the ship they cast hawsers to the shore near at hand. And here they found Circe bathing her head in the salt sea-spray, for sorely had she been seared by visions of the night. With blood her chambers and all the walls of her palace seemed to be running, and flame was devouring all the magic herbs with which she used to bewitch strangers whoever came; and she herself with murderous blood quenched the glowing flame, drawing it up in her hands; and she ceased from deadly fear. Wherefore when morning came she rose, and with sea-spray was bathing her hair and her garments. And beasts, not resembling the beasts of the wild, nor yet like men in body, but with a medley of limbs, went in a throng, as sheep from the fold in multitudes follow the shepherd. Such creatures, compacted of various limbs, did earth herself produce from the primeval slime when she had not yet grown solid beneath a rainless sky nor yet had received a drop of moisture from the rays of the scorching sun; but time combined these forms and marshalled them in their ranks; in such wise these monsters shapeless of form followed her.
  • And straightway Circe became aware of the doom of a suppliant and the guilt of murder. Wherefore in reverence for the ordinance of Zeus, the god of suppliants, who is a god of wrath yet mightily aids slayers of men, she began to offer the sacrifice with which ruthless suppliants are cleansed from guilt when they approach the altar. First, to atone for the murder still unexpiated, she held above their heads the young of a sow whose dugs yet swelled from the fruit of the womb, and, severing its neck, sprinkled their hands with the blood; and again she made propitiation with other drink offerings, calling on Zeus the Cleanser, the protector of murder-stained suppliants, And all the defilements in a mass her attendants bore forth from the palace—the Naiad nymphs who ministered all things to her. And within, Circe, standing by the hearth, kept burning atonement-cakes without wine, praying the while that she might stay from their wrath the terrible Furies, and that Zeus himself might be propitious and gentle to them both, whether with hands stained by the blood of a stranger or, as kinsfolk, by the blood of a kinsman, they should implore his grace.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca

Apollodorus: The Library. Vol. 1. Translated by Sir James George Frazer (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1921), pp. 77, 114–115
Apollodorus: The Library. Vol. 2. Translated by Sir James George Frazer (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1921), pp. 286–291, 293, 303–305
  • But Phrixus came to the Colchians, whose king was Aeetes, son of the Sun and of Perseis, and brother of Circe and Pasiphae, whom Minos married.
    • I, 9.1
  • When the Argonauts were already sailing past the Eridanus river, Zeus sent a furious storm upon them, and drove them out of their course, because he was angry at the murder of Apsyrtus. And as they were sailing past the Apsyrtides Islands, the ship spoke, saying that the wrath of Zeus would not cease unless they journeyed to Ausonia and were purified by Circe for the murder of Apsyrtus. So when they had sailed past the Ligurian and Celtic nations and had voyaged through the Sardinian Sea, they skirted Tyrrhenia and came to Aeaea, where they supplicated Circe and were purified.
    • I, 9.24
  • With one ship he put in to the Aeaean isle. It was inhabited by Circe, a daughter of the Sun and of Perse, and a sister of Aeetes; skilled in all enchantments was she. Having divided his comrades, Ulysses himself abode by the ship, in accordance with the lot, but Eurylochus with two and twenty comrades repaired to Circe. At her call they all entered except Eurylochus; and to each she gave a tankard she had filled with cheese and honey and barley meal and wine, and mixed with an enchantment. And when they had drunk, she touched them . with a wand and changed their shapes, and some she made wolves, and some swine, and some asses, and some lions. But Eurylochus saw these things and reported them to Ulysses. And Ulysses went to Circe with moly,! which he had received from Hermes, and throwing the moly among her enchantments, he drank and alone was not enchanted. Then drawing his sword, he would have killed her, but she appeased his wrath and restored his comrades. And when he had taken an oath of her that he should suffer no harm, Ulysses shared her bed, and a son, Telegonus, was born to him. Having tarried a year there, he sailed the ocean, and offered sacrifices to the souls, and by Circe’s advice consulted the soothsayer Tiresias, and beheld the souls both of heroes and of heroines. He also looked on his mother Anticlia and Elpenor, who had died of a fall in the house of Circe.
    And having come to Circe he was sent on his way by her, and put to sea, and sailed past the isle of the Sirens. [...] Sailing by them, Ulysses wished to hear their song, so by Circe’s advice he stopped the ears of his comrades with wax, and ordered that he should himself be bound to the mast.
    • VII, 14–19
  • By the advice of Circe he shunned the passage by the Wandering Rocks, and in sailing past the cliff of Scylla he stood fully armed on the poop.
    • VII, 21
  • When Telegonus learned from Circe that he was a son of Ulysses, he sailed in search of him. And having come to the island of Ithaca, he drove away some of the cattle, and when Ulysses defended them, Telegonus wounded him with the spear he had in his hands, which was barbed with the spine of a stingray, and Ulysses died of the wound. But when Telegonus recognized him, he bitterly lamented, and conveyed the corpse and Penelope to Circe, and there he married Penelope. And Circe sent them both away to the Islands of the Blest.
    • VII, 36–37

Oppian, Halieutica, II

Oppian, Collothus, Tryphiodorus. Translated by A. W. Mair (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1928), p. 327
  • That sting it was which his mother Circe, skilled in many drugs, gave of old to Telegonus for his long hilted spear, that he might array for his foes death from the sea. And he beached his ship on the island that pastured goats; and he knew not that he was harrying the flocks of his own father, and on his aged sire who came to the rescue, even on him whom he was seeking, he brought an evil fate. There the cunning Odysseus, who had passed through countless woes of the sea in his laborious adventures, the grievous Sting-ray slew with one blow.
    • II, 497 ff

Virgil, Eclogues, VIII

Abraham Fleming, The Bucoliks of Publius Virgilius Maro, Prince of all Latine Poets … Together with his Georgiks or Ruralls, &c. (London, 1589)
  • With charms did Circe turne and change Ulisses fellowes shapes

Virgil, Aeneid, VII

Circe's magic coast ~ Virgil, Aeneid
John Conington, The Æneid of Virgil (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1866)
  • Next, skirting still the shore, they run
      Fair Circe's magic coast along,
    Where she, bright daughter of the sun,
    ⁠  Her forest fastness thrills with song,
    And for a nightly blaze consumes
    Rich cedar in her stately rooms,
    While, sounding shrill, the comb is sped
    From end to end adown the thread
    Thence hear they many a midnight roar:
      The lion strives to burst his cell:
    The raging bear, the foaming boar
      Alternate with the gaunt wolf's yell:
    Whom from the human form divine
      For malice' sake the ruthless queen
    Had changed by pharmacy malign
      To bristly hide and bestial mien.

Horace, Odes, I

John Conington, The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace, 5th ed. (1872), p. 21
  • Here, shelter'd by a friendly tree,
      In Teian measures you shall sing
    Bright Circe and Penelope,
      Love-smitten both by one sharp sting.
    • Horace, Odes, I, 17 (... vitreamque Circen)

Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIV

Shee sprincled there the jewce of venymd weedes ~ Ovid
Arthur Golding, The. xv. Booke of P. Ouidius Naso, entytuled Metamorphosis (London: Willyam Seres, 1567)
  • ... There was at hand
    A little plash that bowwed like a bowe that standeth bent,
    Where Scylla woonted was to rest herself, and thither went
    From rage of sea and ayre, what tyme the sonne amid the skye
    Is hotest making shadowes short by mounting up on hye.
    This plash did Circe then infect ageinst that Scylla came,
    And with her poysons which had powre most monstrous shapes to frame
    Defyled it. Shee sprincled there the jewce of venymd weedes,
    And thryce nyne tymes with witching mouth shee softly mumbling, reedes
    A charme ryght darke of uncouth woordes. No sooner Scylla came
    Within this plash, and to the waast had waded in the same,
    But that shee sawe her hinderloynes with barking buggs atteint.
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIV, 52–65

Hyginus, Fabulae

The Myths of Hyginus. Translated and edited by Mary Grant (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1960)
  • He came to the island of Aenaria, to Circe, daughter of Sol, who, by giving a potion, used to change men into wild beasts. When he sent Eurylochus to her with twenty-two of his men, she changed them from human form; but Eurylochus in fear did not enter, but fled and reported to Ulysses. Ulysses himself alone went to her, but on the way Mercury gave him a charm, and showed him how to deceive Circe. After he came to Circe and took the cup from her, at Mercury's suggestion he put in the charm, and drew his sword, threatening to kill her unless she restored his comrades. Then Circe knew that this had not happened without the will of the gods, and so, promising that she would not do the like to him, she restored his comrades to their earlier forms. She herself lay with him, conceived, and bore two sons, Nausithous and Telegonus.

Post-classical works

This woman was powerful because of her force and eloquence and that she did not much care about keeping her chastity untarnished as long as she got what she desired ~ Boccaccio
There are many Circes everywhere and many other men are changed into beasts by their lustfulness and their vices ~ Boccaccio
Ah, kinder far than thy fell philtres, Circe, / The ravening Cyclops and the Læstrigon! ~ Henry Austin Dobson
Circe of the Sudanese dancing world ~ Northcote W. Thomas
  • There are some who say that not far from Gaeta, a city in Campania, this woman was powerful because of her force and eloquence and that she did not much care about keeping her chastity untarnished as long as she got what she desired. Thus with her wiles and elegant words she not only brought many of those who reached her shore to her pleasures but induced some to piracy.
  • If we consider human behavior, we can well understand from this example that there are many Circes everywhere and many other men are changed into beasts by their lustfulness and their vices. And Ulysses, instructed by Mercury’s advice, obviously signifies the wise man who cannot be bound by the trickery of deceitful people and who by his example often loosens the bonds of those who are held.
  • This the house of Circe, queen of charms,—
  • Till we resemble those strange-headed things,
    Herded away behind her island throne,
    Chimaeras, tiger-apes, and wolfish swine.
    • Baron de Tabley, "The Island of Circe"
  • Ah, kinder far than thy fell philtres, Circe,
    The ravening Cyclops and the Læstrigon!
  • As one that for a weary space has lain
    Lull’d by the song of Circe and her wine
    In gardens near the pale of Proserpine, ...
  • Fourteen small broider’d berries on the hem
    Of Circe’s mantle, each of magic gold;
  • Or Circe’s cup, embossed with snakes that wound
    Through buds and myrtles, fold on scaly fold;
    • Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "On his "Sonnets of the Wingless Hours""
  • And now she knows, at agate portals bright,
    How Circe and her poisons have a home,
    Carved in one ruby that a Titan lost,
    Where icy philters brim with scarlet foam,
    ’Mid hiss of oils in burnished caldrons tost,
    While thickly from her prey his life-tide drips,
    In turbid dyes that tinge her torture-dome;
    As craftily she gleans her deadly dews,
    With gyving spells not Pluto’s queen can use,
    Or listens to her victim’s moan, and sips
    Her darkest wine, and smiles with wicked lips.
    • George Sterling, "A Wine of Wizardry"
      Cosmopolitan (September 1907); A Wine of Wizardry, and Other Poems (1909)
  • Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
  • To the much-tossed Ulysses, never done
      With woman whether gowned as wife or whore,
    Penelope and Circe seemed as one:
    She like a whore made his lewd fancies run,
      And wifely she a hero to him bore.
  • Something of glass about her, of dead water,
    Chills and holds us,
    Far more fatal than painted flesh or the lodestone of live hair
    This despair of crystal brilliance.
  • Circe of the Sudanese dancing world. A glitter of tinsel, a jingle of myriad dangling coins, vivid touches of scarlet among embroidered vestments, shapely arms that curve and float in graceful butterfly gyrations a lithe mahogany form of exquisite contour, and a pair of large black animated eyes; this is the Nubian dancing-girl—a siren of the lands of the desert.
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