On the Isle of Aeaea, known to the ancient Greeks as the Island of the Dawn, lived the bewitching goddess Circe. This very beautiful daughter of Helios and Perse was a powerful sorceress who loved using her magic to transform both men and women into beasts. She took pleasure in changing the physical bodies of her victims, while leaving them in complete charge of their mental senses. Though Circe is briefly mentioned in the story of Medea, she is best known for the role she played in Odysseus' journey home from the Trojan War. It seems that after losing all but one of his ships and the majority of his crew to a race of cannibal giants, Odysseus and his surviving mates set sail towards the east. After many days they found themselves landing upon the shores of Aeaea. Upon their arrival, the men drew lots to see who would stay onboard the ship and who would go off to explore the newly found land. Eurylochus and twenty two of the other men were chosen to go forth and investigate.
They found the island to be a large rich forest, thick with oak trees. The wanderers walked through the woods until they came upon a clearing, where they happened upon a fabulous palace. There they found lions and wolves prowling about the grounds, all displaying charactertsics of a most unusual nature. Instead of attacking the search party, the beasts stood upright and warmly embraced them with welcoming hugs. If it were not for their animals forms, thought Eurylochus, they would be human. It would not be long before his suspicions would be confirmed.
As the men entered the corrider of the palace they found Circe busy weaving a tapestry upon her loom. She graciously invited her visitors to join her for dinner, and at once set before them a huge banquet. The famished men eagerly accepted, all but Eurylochus, who suspecting a trap chose to remain outside. Safely hidden by some tall ferns, Eurylochus peeked through an open window and watched the hungry sailors fill their bellies. In a few moments it became apparent that all was not well. The men did not realize that their food had been drugged.
Circe then entered the dining hall happy to find her entire party of guests fast asleep at the table. She drew her wand and touched each caller lightly about his shoulders, instantly turning the entire lot into a herd of swine.
Feeling quite amused with herself, Circe hurried the seafarers into a sty, where she left them to wallow in the mud. Shocked and weeping, Eurylochus returned to the ship and sadly reported to Odysseus everything he saw. Odysseus listened intently, and when the story was over he picked up his sword and ran off to rescue his crew.
As he made his way to the palace, Odysseus was met by the god Hermes who had in his possession a magical white flower with a black root. This was a plant that could only be grown by the gods themselves and contained properties that would repel Circe's magic. Odysseus readily accepted the charm from the herald and hid it among his clothing before continuing on with his journey. He soon found himself standing in front of the palace gates. The great sorceress welcomed her new guest and once again happily set a place for him at the table. As always, Circe encouraged her visitor to eat his fill.
When Odysseus appeared to be fast asleep she lightly placed her wand atop his shoulders. "Off to the sty with you to" she sneered but to her surprise, Odysseus, having been protected by the magic talisman jumped up with sword in hand.
Circe begged for her life, promising Odysseus that in return she would share her bed with him and proclaim him co-ruler of Aeaea. Knowing that he was dealing with a witch, Odysseus refused to hear of it until Circe swore a solemn oath to the gods not to cause him any further mischief. She agreed and afterwards drew her guest a warm bath which he enjoyed while drinking wine from a golden cup. She led him to her bed in the hope of seducing the handsome traveler, but Odysseus refused all her advances until his crew was restored back to their rightful shapes. She also removed her curse from all those who she had bewitched in the past. Once this was done Odysseus agreed to stay in Aeaea, where he went on to father three sons with Circe. When it came time for Odysseus to be on hs way, Circe roused the breeze so that he and his crew could make a smooth departure. Before setting sail Circe prepared Odysseus and his men for some of the perils awaing them on their voyage home.
Circe has always lived up to her reputation of being an amorous woman. She often used her magic to rid herself of those who rivaled her in love, as was the case with the sea god Glaucus. Glaucus was a fisherman, who one day after a particularly big catch, laid his wares in a meadow to be counted. As soon as the fish touched the green they began to wiggle as if they had been returned to the water.
Shocked, Glaucus watched as they made their way towards the sea and swam away. Wondering if the grass held a strange power, he decided to pluck a handful and taste it for himself.
As soon as the herbs were in his mouth, he was filled with an uncontrollable desire to be part of the sea. Without a second thought Glaucus picked himself up and headed for the water. Once afloat he was eagerly welcomed by the gods of the deep. The sea deities called upon Oceanus and Tethys to wash away all traces of his mortality, making it possible for Glaucus to live among them forever. Oceanus caused one hundred rivers to run over him, each drop rendering Glaucus unconscious. When he awoke he found himself donning a totally different form. His hair was sea green, the long tresses flowing behind him and resting softly upon the water.
His lower body no longer held his thighs and legs, but now bore only a giant fish tale. One day Glaucus caught a glimpse of a beautiful nymph called Scylla. She showed no interest in male companionship, but instead was content to spend all her time playing with the other sea nymphs. When Glaucus approached her she took one look at him and ran away in terror.
He followed after her calling out that he was no monster, but a god of the sea who had come to profess his love for her. But alas, it was no use. Scylla had disappeared from his sight. In total despair, Glaucus turned to the enchantress Circe for help.
He went to her seeking a love potion that would successfully melt Scylla's cold heart. As Circe listened to his story, she found herself falling in love with her visitor. She tried her best to spark a romance but Glaucus would have no part of her advances.
He sincerely expressed that it was impossible for him to love anyone but Scylla. Circe, who did not take well to being shunned for another, turned her anger towards the innocent young nymph. The sorceress went to the place where Scylla regularly bathed and poured a magic potion into the water. As soon as Scylla entered into her bath she began to change into a horrible monster. Out of her body grew serpents, and in place of legs she now wore the bodies of six ferocious dogs. Not realizing the beasts were attached to her, Scylla feverishly tried to run away. Sadly, she could not escape her fate. The unlucky maiden was destined to remain rooted like a stone in the Strait of Messina, where she would forever snatch unsuspecting sailors from their ships. Jason, with the help of the goddess Thetis was able to pass the Argo safely through the narrow strait. others were not as fortunare. Odysseus lost six of his crew members and the ship of Aeneas was totally destroyed. Scylla was eventually turned into a giant stone, that to this day proves to be a hazard to sailors.
There is another story told in ancient Rome which tells of the wrath of Circe. It seems there was a youth called Picus, who was the son of Saturn and Venilia. Circe once again found herself in love but Picus only had eyes for the nymph Canens. Flushed with anger, Circe lured Picus into the forest and turned him into a woodpecker. From that moment on the woodpecker became sacred to the god Mars and was said to have prophetic powers. Losing Picus also brought about the end of Canens, who wasted away from grief.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2012.