In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, women play an integral role in the life of Odysseus, the story’s protagonist. Odysseus is forced to leave the comforts of Ithaca because of a woman, Helen, and he longs to return to his home largely for a woman, his wife Penelope. Throughout his journey, however, it is Circe who has a heavy influence on Odysseus because she is a major distraction and thus an obstacle for the renowned hero. Indeed, Circe’s comeliness coupled with her sorcery, and her kindness along with lavish hospitality all distract Odysseus and impede him from swiftly returning home.
With her otherworldly beauty and enchantments, Circe is a distraction for Odysseus and therefore an obstacle on his road to Ithaca. With her sensuality and magic potions, Circe is able to get that which she desires from men. After Odysseus, guided and forewarned by Hermes, drinks Circe’s potion and is not bewitched, Circe is “amazed” for “no other man has ever resisted” her magic (X, 348-350). Although Circe is probably used to fulfilling her sexual desires with men she has enchanted, she nevertheless tries to go to bed with Odysseus. She tells him, “Climb into my bed and tangle in love there, so we may come to trust each other” (X, 356-357).
Odysseus tries to resist the charming goddess and tells her that she must promise no more “trouble” for him, but as soon as she does that which he asks he “[climbs] into Circe’s beautiful bed” (X, 366-369). After ten years of fighting, Odyssey has grown quite lonely. He has been away from Penelope, his wife and the only other woman who most likely fulfilled his needs and desires, and Circe is putting forth very tempting offers. Although her potion did not have an effect on him, Circe’s physical beauty definitely appealed to Odysseus; otherwise, he would have cunningly found something to do other than engaging in an intimate act with Circe.
The goddess-nymph has many a trick up her sleeve, and she could have also found another way to get Odysseus to go to bed with her. She had no need to do such a thing because Odysseus was in a vulnerable state. Months at sea and at war can be quite trying on anyone, so Odysseus was susceptible to falling for someone–especially someone as seductive as Circe. With physical beauty and magical powers, Circe distracts Odysseus and hampers his return to Ithaca. Moreover, Circe’s kind manner and opulent hospitality also sidetrack Odysseus and therefore are obstacles to him.
Circe is an overall wonderful hostess, often having someone wait on hand-and-foot on Odysseus and making sure he is thoroughly comfortable. When trying to tell Circe that he will not eat “before seeing his comrades free” (X, 410), she merely speaks and “persuades [his] heart” (X, 431). Odysseus has a genuine concern for his men–he would not have gone to the goddess’ dwelling to find them if this was not the case; nevertheless, Odysseus is drawn to Circe because she treats him unlike anyone else he has encountered during his travels.
When he first arrives at her house, Circe seats him on a “beautiful chair of finely wrought silver” and prepares him “a drink in a golden cup” (X, 335-337). Later on, Circe tells Odysseus that he “must eat, drink wine, and restore the spirit” (X, 481) because he has “suffered many woes” (X, 486). Before this time, Odysseus has been struggling to survive; now he is being treated like royalty. This is further exemplified through Circe’s servants, whom Circe orders to wait on Odysseus. One particular maid meticulously bathes Odysseus until “she washed from [his] limbs the weariness that had consumed [his] soul” (X, 384-386).
This generosity and general concern with which Circe receives Odysseus adds to her already-existing appeal. It is for this reason that one day with the goddess quickly turns into 365 (X, 490). Odysseus falls into Circe’s trap, for he is unable to turn down a lovely woman pampering him, and he is veered away from his mission at hand: to go home. After a year has gone by, Odysseus’ crew tells him, “Good god, man, at long last remember your home… And return to your house and your own native land” (X, 493-495).
Circe’s kindness and extravagant treatment put Odysseus in a trance and take him away from his mission; when his crew blatantly tells him it is time to go home, he comes out of this stupor and goes back on track. Circe uses her attractive appearance and enchantments to sidetrack Odysseus, thereby acting like an obstacle on his long trek home. In addition, the goddess-nymph is quite generous and uses her material possessions to make Odysseus feel like a king miles away from home. Odysseus’ time with Circe is significant because it eventually leads him to Hades where he obtains life-changing information.