Circe, the daughter of Helius (Sun god) and Perse, was beautiful and immortal. She lived in the island of Aeaea, guarded by men, who she had turned into wild animals (Circe’s personality was not exactly nice) and served by nymphs (she seemed to be a little more patient with women).
When Ulysses was returning to Ithaca, his home, from the Trojan War, he arrived at her island and they were lovers for 3 years, despite her bad beginning. Ulysses’ men were turned into pigs and she tried to poison him. But, well…, a beautiful woman is worthy of forgiveness.
They had three children – Agrius, Latinus and Telegonus.
This Latinus will become a very important man since Romulus was not the only one who was reputed to be the founder of Rome: the Greek writers had another candidate. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Latinus was the founder of Latium, the region where Rome was located and, therefore, Circe´s blood is running all around the Mediterranean Sea, creating magical but dangerous lands, enigmatic but problematic places, immortal but risky countries around it.
Her legend has been inspiring artists from centuries: Dosso Dossi, Angelica Kauffman, J.L. Franklin, John William Waterhouse and Gustave Adolphe Mossa among other important drawers, painters and sculpters.
This painting by Edward Burne Jones represents Circe pouring poison into a vase and awaiting the arrival of Ulysses, and it is very popular. However, Circe myth lives today thanks to new designers, singers and film directors who have seen her as an independent, strong, modern woman.
Not only have these old Greek heroes clashed with Christian morals from the Middle Ages (Dante Alighieri was also shocked by them) but their behavior, so strictly sexist in some occasions, is really modern in others and if Circe is not precisely an innocent virgin and Ulysses was able to invent all kind of stratagems to run away of the Trojan War (he had even pretended to be completely crazy to remain peacefully at home), Achilles (in theory other brave man) turned into a woman to avoid going to fight. His disguise was discovered by his friend Ulysses with the following trick:
Ulysses, pretending to be a merchant, entered Licomedes’ home where Achilles was living as a woman together with Licomedes’ three daughters. He offered them some beautiful feminine jewels, perfumes … and a marvelous shield and other weapons! Logically, the three daughters did not pay attention to the weapons but Achilles betrayed himself by taking them with a warrior’s ability.
Yes, the borders between masculinity and femininity were not as clear in those old times as two thousand years later.