38 Circe’s Conflict

One discussion point that my small group was able to focus on in class became the subject of my fascination. Circe and Odysseus are easily two of the most powerful characters throughout the entirety of the Odyssey — Odysseus is a famed war hero and notably impressive soldier. Circe is a witch who is notorious for her power. However, when these two interact with one another, there is no battle of wits, nor a physical battle. Instead, these characters are minimized to their roles as male and female with one another, and those roles are minimized to the only interaction that is allowed for the two of them to engage in — sex. Odysseus is told by Hermes to overpower Circe, and when he goes to attack her, she pleads for him to go to bed with her. Their entire battle, and their conflict as a whole, is boiled down to their sexual relationship.

Why is it that these characters are only allowed to interact in this way? There is no competition allowed between these two. Circe’s ideological loss to Odysseus is entirely because of her position as a woman as established by the narrative, not her position as a powerful person. I wanted to create an interactive game that could be played to walk through the fantasy and reality of what it meant to be Circe in that situation. How would the path of an attempt to break free from the cycle result? What is the chain of events that funnels Circe (and all powerful women’s) power down to nothing but a sexual figure? I can imagine the feeling of frustration and hopelessness that has been thrust onto this character as she is forced to cycle through a loop of what is expected of her by a narrative that has no acknowledgment of her potential. The game is linked below.

(warnings for mentions of sexual content, objectification, violence — basically the same stuff from the Odyssey)



I drew the sharp sword on my thigh

and charged at her, as if intent on murder.

She gave a piercing scream, ducked, then ran up,

reaching for my knees. Through her tears she spoke—

her words had wings:

“ ‘What sort of man are you?

Where are you from? Where is your native town?

Your parents? I’m amazed you drank this drug

and then were not bewitched. No other man

who’s tried it has been able to resist,

once it’s passed the barrier of his teeth.

Inside that chest of yours your mind holds out

against my spell. You must be Odysseus,

that resourceful man. The Killer of Argus,

Hermes of the Golden Wand, always said

Odysseus in his swift black ship would come

on his way back from Troy. So put that sword

back in its sheath, and let the two of us

go up into my bed. When we’ve made love,

then we can trust each other.

Once she said this,

I answered her and said:

‘O Circe,

how can you ask me to be kind to you?

In your own home you’ve changed my crew to pigs

and keep me here. You’re plotting mischief now,

inviting me to go up to your room,

into your bed, so when I have no clothes,

you can do me harm, destroy my manhood.

But I will not agree to go to bed,

unless, goddess, you will agree to swear

a solemn oath that you’ll make no more plans

to injure me with some new devious trick.’

When I’d said this, she made the oath at once,

as I had asked, that she’d not injure me.

Once she had sworn and finished with the oath,

I went with Circe to her splendid bed.”

The Iliad, book 10, lines 322 – 348

Rinny Williamson


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

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