Tuesday 21 July 2009

Circe: bad witch, radical feminist or just smart?

My favourite character from Homer's epic tale of adventure The Odyssey isn't the Greek hero of the Trojan wars, it is the witch Circe.

The other night I went to see a wonderful outdoor performance by Fan Made Theatre, which leads the audience down winding woodland paths following Odysseus on the journey home from the Trojan Wars, as he struggles against storms, monsters, the whims of the gods and the enticements of beautiful women.

Circe, of course, is among them, but is she one of the monsters or just a powerful woman - and witch - protecting herself from men reputed to have sacked cities and raped women as spoils of war?

Odysseus' men encounter the enchantress Circe living alone on the island of Aeaea. She invites them into her house, offers them food and drink, then with a magical potion turns them into pigs and drives them out to live in the pens - where they would have remained if it was not for Odysseus.

The hero goes in search of his men, but on the way meets a messenger from the gods who warns him of Circe's machinations and gives him a herb, Moly, to protect him from her potions of transformation. Thus armed and forewarned, Odysseus is unaffected by Circe's magic, but falls for her charms in other ways. They stay together for a year, at the end of which Circe offers Odysseus advice on his route home and the dangers he has still to face.

The men are returned to their human shape, but as Circe says in Fan Made Theatre's play: "I will leave it to their wives to decide if they are still pigs inside."And that's a view many feminists could sympathise with.

The website Godchecker.com says of Circe: "Something of a radical feminist, she thinks all men are swine, a theory she has put to the test with positive results."

But is even that view correct? Is Circe simply a radical feminist who feels men are animals and deserve to be treated as such?

I wonder, if I was in Circe's place and had her powers, what would I have done? Just one woman against a shipload of soldiers long-starved of female company as well as good food and whose reputation was not good? Would I have protected myself, turned them into pigs first and asked questions later? I think I might have done...

The Odyssey - a walkabout theatrical performance by Fan Made Theatre is on at Oxleas Woods, London SE9 tonight, July 21, and at Southwark Park, London SE16 on Thursday 23 - Sunday 26 July. Performances start at 7:30pm. Tickets can be booked through http://www.fanmadetheatre.com/ or by calling the box office on 020 7232 1663.

Marvel is also releasing a hardback illustrated edition of The Odyssey on 22 July (pictured above). The Odyssey Premiere HC (Marvel Illustrated) is available to order through Amazon.

The Odyssey Premiere HC (Marvel Illustrated)

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