In Greek mythology, Circe was a goddess of magic or a nymph, a witch, an enchantress. She was the daughter of the sun god Helios and Perse, one of the three thousand Oceanid nymphs. However, other accounts make her the daughter of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Nevertheless, Circe was a strange girl, she was neither powerful like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. As she turned to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovered that she does possess a strange power, the power of witchcraft.
Circe discovered her amazing powers of sorcery when she turned a human angler into a god. After that, one day as she was annoyed and enraged by Scylla, another nymph, she transformed her into a horrific sea monster, who became a menace for the sailors. Circe repented for this action of her, for the rest of her life.
Somehow, Circe acquired vast and amazing knowledge of potions or magical elixir and herbs. By the use of those materials and her magic wand, she transformed her enemies, or those who earned her wrath, into beasts. Ultimately, her action of killing her husband, the prince of Colchis, resulted into her exile to the solitary island of Aeaea, by her people and her father Helios. According to later legends, she finally destroyed the island and moved to Italy, where she was identified as Cape Circeo.
Circe was described in Homer’s Odyssey, as living in a mansion that stands in the middle of a clearing in a dense wood.
Around the house strolled freely docile lions and wolves. When Odysseus’ ship lands on her shore, she invited Odysseus’ crew to a feast of familiar food, a pottage of cheese and meal, sweetened with honey and laced with wine and served the drinks mixed with potions, from an enchanted cup. Thus, she turned them all into pigs, after they gorged themselves on it.
Among his men, only Eurylochus did not entire the mansion of Circe, as he sensed trouble and escaped without being entertained, to warn Odysseus and the others who had stayed behind at the ship. Later, when Odysseus came to find and recue his men, Circe tried to lure him and entertain him by serving wine mixed with the same potion.
However, as Odysseus was protected against the herb by a gift from Hermes, he compelled Circe to restore his men in their original shape.
After the incident, Circe and Odysseus become lovers and Odysseus and his men stayed in the island for one year before resuming their journey.
With such a vivid story, it is not surprising that Circe would become irresistible to generation of artists. In fact, Circe transforming Odysseus’ men to pigs has proved a favorite theme in both the ancient and modern world. Artists from the Renaissance onward almost uniformly cast Circe as a classic romantic, pre-Raphaelite beauty, with unnaturally white skin and unusual reddish hair, which is definitely not a traditional ancient look. It is very much evident that, the Artists adored the femme fatale aspect of Circe.