The first time I realized Greek mythology was something I could click with, I was fifteen. I was mindlessly scrolling through Pinterest and I came across an Anais Nin poem on Hades and Persephone. I barely remember the poem but I can recall that it revolved around Persephone’s willingness to walk down the dark and deathly – pun intended – paths of Hades’ Underworld. Those were the days where I was blissfully unaware that the pomegranate seeds were used as a symbolism for Hades’ seeds.
Fast forward to when I am nineteen and bawling my eyes out, reading Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The years in between have helped me shape my flimsy knowledge of Helen of Troy, Aphrodite’s vanity, and Zeus’s ever-growing family tree that is hard to keep track of unless you are sixty and a Historian, specializing in Greek Mythology. The story of Achilles and Patroclus is best described as gut-wrenchingly sad, and sprinkling in the fact that Alexander The Great believed in their love story, defying many historians who say it was platonic (cue snorts), just makes their love story even more precious.
But this is not a book review on The song of Achilles where I go on and on about Madeline Miller’s brilliant quality of making me cry every twenty pages. The trojan war is a tree that sprouts many branches – all of them equally important – and has tragedy written in every breath of it. But as tragic as the elopement of Helen and Paris was for millions of people, this is not what I want to focus on.
Under the shadows of Miller’s pen, resides Circe. Circe is a goddess, the daughter of the Sun God Helios, and a nymph. She is more of a sorceress than a goddess, but more than anything, her heart is mortal. All of this becomes achingly apparent when Helios exiles her for witchcraft. Circe has never had a life befitting that of a goddess. She was shoved and bit and ridiculed for everything because Gods are vain and ruthless and she looked like a mortal.
Circe falls in love a lot; failingly. The first man she loved was a sailor who ached in his bones, living the common life of a poor Greek. She wished upon a flower growing on the land of Kronos’s blood and turned him to a God; her first signs of witchcraft. She dreamt upon patches of grass of life of immortality filled with love but a spear pierced through that dream when that man revealed his fickleness and left her heart in the dust.
The second man was Daedalus and he was an engineer in every way that matters. Strength flowed through his fingers and Circe was drunk on it and every moment she was acutely aware of his mortality and her lack thereof. This is the love that affected me the most. Years down the path, after they went their separate ways, on a turbulent day after entertaining Medea and Jason, when Aetees comes, she talks of Daedalus and he reels back in curiosity,
“He’s been dead for decades.”
I think this was the moment Circe became painfully aware of the fact that she will never die with her love, something she has been yearning, for years, that her immortality is a curse. It was definitely the moment I became painfully aware of how time slips through my hand like grains of sand.
Daedalus spent his last years in Egypt after his son Icarus went down with Apollo. But we don’t know that. Circe doesn’t know that. What I do know is that I am on borrowed time, and I don’t have the power to shift the ropes of fate according to my wishes.
It’s a terrifying thought. Reading about how Circe suffers because of her immortality and yet it doesn’t lessen the weight of time slipping on my back. At this moment, when I am writing this, I could drop dead. In the next moment, when I am submitting this, I could drop dead. At the moment this comes out, I could drop dead and I wouldn’t have done a thousand things that I haven’t even solidified on paper. But Circe had all the time in the world and she was hurting every second.
At the end of the book, Circe denounces her immortality in favor of a life with a mortal man. She is scared and she has no knowledge of how frail mortality is, but she gives it all away so she can die. So she can live a life knowing that she lived every day on borrowed time; giving her the push.
It’s hard to say which is a bigger burden to carry – to have it all or to have it in scraps.