C is for Circe of Aiaia

Insofar as Till Human Voices Wake Us has an antagonist, that person is Circe of Aiaia. She was, as it happens, my initial main character, and the reason I started writing the story. I had image in my mind of a woman and a man, her sort-of flung back against the grass, him with a sword between them. I was fifteen or so, and that was the beginning of the novel.

When I was fifteen I believed that, being female, I had, or at least ought, to write from female perspectives. That my female character in question was an adult enchantress from a different world did not suggest to me at all that perhaps the whole point of fiction is to get into other people’s heads, to imagine other lives–and to imagine male and female or neuter or utterly alien perspectives. That came later, after many painful attempts to write the story of how those two got there from Circe’s–or Heloise’s, as she was known then (and which is still her original name, Circe having been one she chose for herself later)–perspective.

The problem was that Circe was the villain, and that was the climax of her contest with the hero. Once I realized that, and switched perspectives, the story started to come together.

Now, Circe, in the ancient Greek and Roman stories, is a figure of power and deception. I’ve read enough literary theory to see that I had internalized the traditional presentation of her as the fearsome woman: the one who is free, is independent, is a sexual being, and who very literally unmans men. (See, for the locus classicus, The Odyssey.)

I also took other things from my reading of the Greek myths in grades six and seven: that she lived on an island called Aiaia (or Aeaea), that she has golden eyes, that she has a golden wand, that she is a daughter or a descendant of Helios the Sun. That she is an enchantress, and a singing one. That she is beautiful, and powerful, and proud, and yes, fearsome.

I like Circe. I like her in The Odyssey, and I like trying to work my way into her character. Why does she turn men into pigs and wolves and lions? (I suppose another question is, why wouldn’t she? They keep showing up on her island and trying to rape her.)

The more I wrote from Raphael’s perspective (the main character in Till Human Voices Wake Us, for those who haven’t read it), the more I thought about Circe. The story in its end form ended up being much more a case of Man vs Himself (in high school English-class parlance) than Man vs Man, but there are three pivotal scenes with Circe in the novel. In the process of finishing Human Voices I wrote out those scenes, and a few others, from her perspective, and realized that I want to go back to her, tell her story. She comes in and out of different tales, and will be one of the bridges between the stories of Ysthar centred on Raphael and those centred on the Red Company.

I think it will be called The Sun in her Eyes.


Moly Sun 2 17.ii.2014

An abstracted take on Allium moly, probably the herb that Hermes gave to Odysseus to protect him from Circe’s spells.


2 thoughts on “C is for Circe of Aiaia

  1. Pingback: E is for Eurydice | The Rose and Phoenix Inn

  2. Pingback: J is for Jullanar of the Sea | The Rose and Phoenix Inn

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