Sunday, May 3, 2009

Circe the Sorceress

German painter Franz von Stuck (1863-1928)

Tilla Durieux as Circe (ca. 1913)

Circe was the daughter of Helios. Sometimes she’s called a goddess, sometimes a nymph or a sorceress. But it’s clear that her power was more witchcraft than divine. She lived in a great mansion in a forest on the island of Aeaea together with a lot of wild animals like lions and wolves.

Odysseus sent some m of his crew ashore on that island to search water and food. Maybe they slaughtered some of Circes beloved animals. Finally the men discovered the palace of Circe and were invited by her to have wine and food. Because the wine was poisoned all the men but one were transformed into swine, which signifies that they behaved like this before.

The only one who had escaped went back to the ship to warn the others who had stayed behind. When Odysseus went to Circe’s palace to rescue his men, he was intercepted by the god Hermes, who gave him a magic herb to protect himself from Circe's potion. So with the help and the advices of Hermes Odysseus not only achieved to rescue his men, furthermore he became the lover of Circe and stayed for one year with Circe on that island. Later she helped him to reach his home.

In the iconography of art Circe is sometimes a kind of nature goddess, who wants to protect her animals from the wild intruders. But most times she has the part of the seductive witch. Where Eva is offering the fateful apple, Circe has her potion.

It’s clear that with the beginning of women emancipation that last part was the more interesting as it can be seen on this painting by Franz Stuck. Here we have a modern aggressive women who affronts her adversary.

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