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Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus, by John William Waterhouse.

In Greek mythology, Circe (pronounced /ˈsɜrsiː/; Greek Κίρκη Kírkē "falcon") is a minor goddess of magic (or sometimes a nymph, witch, enchantress or sorceress) living on the island of Aeaea.

Circe's father was Helios (or Helius), the god of the sun and the owner of the land where Odysseus' men ate cattle, and her mother was Perse, an Oceanid. She was sister of two kings of Colchis, Æëtes and Perses, and of Pasiphaë, mother of the Minotaur. Circe transformed her enemies, or those who offended her, into animals through the use of magical potions. She was renowned for her knowledge of drugs and herbs.

That Circe also purified the Argonauts for the death of Apsyrtus, as related in Argonautica[1] may reflect early tradition.[2]

Contents

In ancient literature

In Homer's Odyssey

Circe, by Charles Gumery

In Homer's Odyssey, Circe is described as living in a mansion that stands in the middle of a clearing in a dense wood. Around the house prowled strangely docile lions and wolves, the drugged victims of her magic;[3] they were not dangerous, and fawned on all newcomers. Circe worked at a huge loom.[4] She invited Odysseus' crew to a feast of familiar food, a pottage of cheese and meal, sweetened with honey and laced with wine, but also laced with one of her magical potions, and she turned them all into pigs with a wand after they gorged themselves on it. Only Eurylochus, suspecting treachery from the outset, escaped to warn Odysseus and the others who had stayed behind at the ships. Odysseus set out to rescue his men, but was intercepted by Hermes, who told him to use the holy herb moly to protect himself from Circe's potion and, having resisted it, to draw his sword and act as if he were to attack Circe. From there, Circe would ask him to bed, but Hermes advised caution, for even there the goddess would be treacherous. She would take his manhood unless he had her swear by the names of the gods that she would not.

Odysseus followed Hermes's advice, freeing his men. Odysseus and his men remained on the island for one year feasting and drinking wine. According to Homer, Circe suggested to Odysseus two alternative routes to return to Ithaca: toward the "Wandering Rocks" where King Aeolus reigned or passing between the dangerous Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, conventionally identified with the Strait of Messina.

This adventure, like the story of the Cyclops, is a fairy tale of wide dispersion. In 1869 G.K.C. Gerland[5] showed that the story makes part of the collection of Somadeva, Kathāsaritsāgara, a store of Indian tales, of which 1200 AD is the approximate date. Circe appears as a Yackshini, and is conquered when an adventurer seizes her flute whose magic music turns men into beasts. The Indian Circe had the habit of eating the animals into which she transformed men. [6]

In Hesiod's Theogony

Towards the end of Hesiod's Theogony (1011f) we find that Circe bore of Odysseus three sons: Agrius (otherwise unknown), Latinus, and Telegonus who ruled over the Tyrsenoi, that is the Etruscans.

Other literature

Later poets generally only speak of Telegonus as Odysseus' son by Circe. When grown to manhood, later poets reported, she sent him to find Odysseus, who had long since returned to his home on Ithaca, but on arrival Telegonus accidentally killed his father. He brought the body back to Aeaea and took Odysseus' widow Penelope and son Telemachus with him. Circe made them immortal and married Telemachus, while Telegonus made Penelope his wife.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.72.5) cites Xenagoras the historian as claiming that Odysseus and Circe had three sons: Romus, Anteias, and Ardeias who respectively founded three cities called by their names: Rome, Antium, and Ardea.

In later tales Circe turned Picus into a woodpecker for refusing her love, and Scylla into a monstrous creature with six dogs' heads when Glaucus (another object of Circe's affection) declared his undying love for her. She had one daughter: Aega, who was born from the ocean in a shield of ice.

"Virtue is like an enemy avoided by all, as is a serpant, through misfortune of place, or through bad habit that impels them, on which account have so transformed their nature, the dwellers in the miserable valley, it seems that Circe had them in her pasture." Purgatorio XIV. The Devine Comedy Of Dante Alighieri. Circe is mentioned in small parts throughout. A poem and story of epic proportion.

In ancient art

Although some scenes from the Odyssey remained favorites of the vase-painters, notably the visually dramatic episode of Polyphemus, the Circe episode was rarely depicted. In describing an unusual miniature fifth-century Greek bronze in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore,[7] that takes the form of a man on all fours with the foreparts of a pig, Dorothy Kent Hill expressed the artist's dilemma: how could an artist depict a man bewitched into a pig other than as a man with a pig's head? "An author can discuss the mind and the voice, but an artist cannot show them."[8] In an Etruscan bronze mirror relief, a common barnyard pig is depicted at the feet of Circe: Odysseus and Elpenor approach her, swords drawn. The subject would be obscure, save that the names of the characters are inscribed in the bronze.[9] Some Boeotian vase-paintings show a caricature version of the episode, acted out by dwarf pygmies with negroid attributes, and an aged and lame Odysseus leaning on a staff; they are the mute survivors of some rustic comedy tradition that is impenetrable to us.

Modern interpretations

Snowdrop, perhaps the herb moly

Medical historians have speculated that the transformation to pigs was not intended literally but refers to anticholinergic intoxication.[10] Symptoms include amnesia, hallucinations, and delusions. The description of "moly" fits the snowdrop, a flower of the region that contains galantamine, which is an anticholinesterase and can therefore counteract anticholinergics.

Eponyms

The phrase "Circean poison" has been used to refer to intoxicating things, such as applause.[11]

The "Circe effect", coined by the enzymologist William P. Jencks, refers to a scenario where an enzyme lures its substrate towards it through electrostatic forces exhibited by the enzyme molecule before transforming it into product. Where this takes place, the catalytic velocity (rate of reaction) of the enzyme may be significantly faster than that of others.[12]

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ "They escaped neither the vast sea's hardships nor vexatious tempests till Kirké should wash them clean of the pitiless murder of Apsyrtos" (Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, iv.586-88, in Peter Green's translation).
  2. ^ See the ancient concept of miasma, a Peter Green's commentary on iv. 705-17, The Argonautika Apollonios Rhodios, (1997, 2007) p 322.
  3. ^ Odyssey x.212ff.
  4. ^ Refer Weaving (mythology).
  5. ^ Gerland, Alt Griechische Märchen in der Odyssee: Ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Mythologie, 1869.
  6. ^ S.H. Butcher and Andrew Lang, The Odyssey of Homer, 1890 where she has relations with odysseus. (Project Gutenberg)
  7. ^ Walters Art Museum, acc. no. 54.1483.
  8. ^ Hill, "Odysseus' Companions on Circe's Isle" The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 4 (1941:119-122) p. 120.
  9. ^ Noted by Hill 1941:120
  10. ^ Homer's moly identified as Galanthus nivalis L.: p...[Clin Neuropharmacol. 1983] - PubMed Result
  11. ^ 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopaedia.
  12. ^ Jeremy M. Berg, John L. Tymoczko, Lubert Stryer. (2006). Biochemistry. New York, NY: Freeman. ISBN 9780716767664. 

Ancient source references

  • Servius, In Aeneida vii.190
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses xiv.248-308
  • Lactantius Placidus, Commentarii in Statii Thebaida

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CIRCE (Gr. KipKrt), in Greek legend, a famous sorceress, the daughter of Helios and the ocean nymph Perse. Having murdered her husband, the prince of Colchis, she was expelled by her subjects and placed by her father on the solitary island of Aeaea on the coast of Italy. She was able by means of drugs and incantations to change human beings into the forms of wolves or lions, and with these beings her palace was surrounded. Here she was found by Odysseus and his companions; the latter she changed into swine, but the hero, protected by the herb moly, which n he had received from Hermes, not only forced her to restore them to their original shape, but also gained her love. For a year he relinquished himself to her endearments, and when he determined to leave, she instructed him how to sail to the land of shades which lay on the verge of the ocean stream, in order to learn his fate from the prophet Teiresias. Upon his return she also gave him directions for avoiding the dangers of the journey home (Homer, Odyssey, x. - xii.; Hyginus, Fab. 125). The Roman poets associated her with the most ancient traditions of Latium, and assigned her a home on the promontory of Circei (Virgil, Aeneid, vii. 10). The metamorphoses of Scylla and of Picus, king of the Ausonians, by Circe, are narrated in Ovid (Metamorphoses, xiv.).

The Myth of Kirke, by R. Brown (1883), in which Circe is explained as a moon-goddess of Babylonian origin, contains an exhaustive summary of facts, although many of the author's speculations may be proved untenable (review by H. Bradley in Academy, January 19, 1884); see also J. E. Harrison, Myths of the Odyssey (1882); C. Seeliger in W. H. Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie.


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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Circé

Contents

English

Etymology

From Ancient Greek Κίρκη

Proper noun

Singular
Circe

Plural
-

Circe

  1. (Greek mythology) An enchantress who turned Odysseus' men into pigs.

Translations

Anagrams


Simple English

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Circe was a sorceress who trapped Odysseus and made him her lover. She turned his men into pigs, but Odysseus was immune to the spell because Hermes gave him a plant that would make him immune to the spell. She is also the daughter of Hecate.








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