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Words, Words Words: ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller

The Folger’s virtual book club, Words, Words, Words continues on Thursday, May 6 with a discussion of Madeline Miller’s Circe. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this award-winning novel about a fascinating figure from Greek mythology.


What is Circe about?

Circe by Madeline Miller; portrait of a woman in the style of Greek pottery

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

Critical Reception

“A bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right.”―The New York Times

” . . . one of the most amazing qualities of this novel: We know how everything here turns out — we’ve known it for thousands of years — and yet in Miller’s lush reimagining, the story feels harrowing and unexpected. The feminist light she shines on these events never distorts their original shape; it only illuminates details we hadn’t noticed before.”—Washington Post

“Miller has taken the familiar materials of character, and wrought some satisfying turns of her own.”—Guardian

Awards: Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award; Indies Choice Best Audiobook of the Year Award; 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction (shortlisted);The Red Tentacle Award; American Library Association Alex Award (adult books of special interest to teen readers); 2018 Elle Big Book Award

Why did we pick this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, and critical and performance histories.

Shakespeare often referenced Greek mythology within his plays and was known to adapt the classics for narrative purposes, updating ancient stories for his own modern time. Similarly, author Madeline Miller drew heavily on classical literature, namely Homer’s Odyssey, for this retelling. Our collection holds a variety of Early Modern copies of the same sources that influenced both Shakespeare’s plays and this novel.

Content Transparency

This book contains depictions of sexual violence. We have provided additional context on our website.

About the author: Madeline Miller

From her website.A young white woman with shoulder length light brown hair wearing a white button shirt and smiling

Madeline Miller grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare to high school students for over fifteen years. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.

The Song of Achilles, her first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. Miller was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year. Her second novel, Circe, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller, and won the Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award and the Indies Choice Best Audiobook of the Year Award, as well as being shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Circe also won The Red Tentacle Award, an American Library Association Alex Award (adult books of special interest to teen readers), and the 2018 Elle Big Book Award.  It is currently being adapted for a series with HBO Max. Miller’s novels have been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic and Greek, and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Telegraph, Lapham’s Quarterly and NPR.org. She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Meet our Bookshop Partner: East City Bookshop

This month, we are thrilled to once again partner with East City Bookshop, an independently run, woman-owned, community-minded bookstore on Capitol Hill. Check them out at eastcitybookshop.com.

Order online, by phone (202.290.1636) or email orders@eastcitybookshop.com. Pickup is available at the shop, or they ship (almost) anywhere!

You can also order this title as an e-book or download an audiobook version of this title from Libro.fm.


Make a plan to join us on Thursday, May 6 to discuss Circe. Visit our website to register and stay tuned for additional Folger resources to enrich the conversation.

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