30 Circe Just Wants A Quiet Life

By Philip Duchild


When I read the Odyssey this semester, I was particularly struck by the different ways Odysseus treats Calypso and Circe. He seems so eager to escape Ogygia, despite the fact that Calypso treated him with kindness. On the other hand, he seems content to stay on Aeaea for an entire year, even though Circe is initially hostile (it’s self-defense, honestly) towards him and his men. This decision seems illogical, and it’s even more shocking when paired with fact that Circe just… lets him and his crew stay in her house for a year, as if any feelings of hostility between her and his crew disappeared over the course of a few seconds. What if these feelings of hostility never disappeared? My counter-narrative attempts to reconstruct books 10 and 11 through an angle that seems more logical. In the following writing, I attempt to target the colonial/egocentric/entitled mindset of Odysseus as well as provide more avenues of possibility for the fates of subaltern characters. I haven’t written creative work in a while, so it ended up being both dark as well as funny somehow. The story begins with Odysseus recounting his last day in Aeaea:


‘Circe’, I said, ‘Fulfill the vow you made

to send me home. My heart now longs to go.

My men are also desperate to leave.

Whenever you are absent, they exhaust me with constant lamentation.’


And she answered,

‘Laertes’ son, great King Odysseus,

master of every challenge, you have always

been able to leave— you lack not my permission,

but instead have no destination in mind.

If you still seek the strong-willed Penelope,

you must heed my words carefully.

Set sail from my island at Dawn. Once Aeaea

sinks below the horizon, let your sails fly

without a pilot. After spending a night adrift,

your ship will reach the gray shores of Erebus.

You and your men must prepare a lamb for sacrifice

in the name of the goddess Persephone.

Pray for the presence of the Trojan prophet,

the judicious Cassandra, who shall tell you

how you and your men might survive the voyage home.

The other spirits flit around as shadows.


‘Circe, who is this Cassandra? Are we to put our trust

in some lowly handmaiden of Hades? My men may

be reluctant to make such a journey if

we are to seek advice from someone so obscure.’


With a mysterious smile, Circe

slowly pushed the door to her home shut. ‘All will be

revealed soon, cunning one.’



We reached the limits of the wide ocean at dusk,

and not long after beached the ship on the foreboding shores

of Erebus. I ordered my men to dig a shallow pit in the ground,

in which we let the blood of a newborn lamb flow.

After a brief prayer, a trio of spirits emerged from a nearby thicket

of skeletal poplar and cypress trees. Many more stood behind them,

but they remained in the forest.


‘Cassandra,’ I called as the three figures approached me,

‘The great goddess Circe instructed me to seek your advice.

How might I find my way back to my kingdom?’


The central figure spoke. ‘I am not Cassandra,

I am she who was your wife, Penelope. Years of suffering have

made my face and figure unrecognizable to even my own husband.

But if it is Cassandra that you seek, then I shall not deny you her

presence for another moment.’


Before I could find the will to speak, Penelope

faded into the starless night sky.  My eyes stung with tears,

but I was unable to fully process the events unfolding before me.

‘Cassandra,’ I shouted, ‘show yourself.’


Another spirit strode towards me. She had

a faraway look in her eyes and a strong jawline. After several heartbeats,

she began to speak. ‘Storm-tossed Odysseus, Circe

had told me that you and your men would reach these shores sooner or later.

And you came seeking my counsel?

I won’t give you answers, I’ll only bear questions.

For too long have you and your crew journeyed from shore to shore,

assuming that you have the ability to understand and master every

circumstance. But this is a situation that you cannot anticipate.

No mortal has ever departed the sandy shores of Erebus,

and you are arrogant to believe that you are an exception.

You were never the master of twists and turns.

Behold, Penelope, Chryseis, Briseis, and the legions of others

killed in your conquests.

Did you believe that Circe would bring you aid after she fed you one good meal?

Did you believe that Athena would stay by your side eternally?

Did you believe that Penelope would rather face years of

uncertainty and harassment than risk her life trying to escape?

Did you believe that the gods would permit you to journey

from island to island, destroying the lives of so many people

just for your personal gain?

I could tell you to seek the song of the Sirens in order to hear

your fatal flaw. But since you’re so cunning,

I’ll let you think about it yourself.

Take as much time as you need,

Penelope isn’t waiting for you any longer.’


Before I could think of an adequate response,

Cassandra turned around and sank back into the trees.

I turned around, expecting to find my men there,

but everything had disappeared, even our strong ship.

With nobody to turn to, I sat down on the sand and wept.



Circe smiled and popped another pomegranate seed into her mouth.

Putting up with Odysseus and his crew for a year was miserable,

but how else was she to gain his trust?

To see him sail so confidently into Erebus without a second thought

made the pain worth it. Mortals could be so silly.

And now, at last,

she could go back to her quiet life.




Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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