Circe is a semi-divine enchantress who features most famously in Homer’s Odyssey. Inhabiting the island of Aeaea, the witch Circe delays Odysseus' return home to Ithaca.  Odysseus and his men find themselves on her island, and Circe promptly turns most of them into swine. The drug she gives to the men is meant "to make them lose desire or thought of our dear father land" (Od 10. 260-61).  Odysseus, with the help of Hermes, is able to withstand her magic.  Although he does not succumb to her magic, Odysseus does succumb to Circe’s tempting charms.  Even after she takes her spell away, Odysseus and his men remain, greedy to enjoy her beauty and divine hospitality.  Odysseus refers to her as "dire beauty and divine” (Od 10. 150).  As Brilliant writes, "Circe signifies the great danger of exotic vice, the lure of the illicit erotic.”  Circe entices them, and Odysseus agrees explaining, "As we were men we could not help consenting" (Od 10. 515).  For that year, the men are forgetful of their home.

        Just as Circe presents a threat to the re-establishment of patriarchal order, so, too, does Dido.  Like Circe, Dido is seen as “other;” she is foreign, exotic, mysterious, sexually and politically potent.  Dido makes Aeneas lose sight of his mission, his fate to found the city of Rome.  Not until Odysseus’ comrades remind him of home does he "feel a pang" for his fatherland (Od 10. 524).  After this reminder, Odysseus regains his heroic attributes for action, as he prepares to set sail immediately (Od 10. 33-38).  So, too, with Aeneas.  It takes two firm reminders from Mercury for Aeneas to regain the focus towards pursuing his destiny.  And like Odysseus, Aeneas “snatched his body up from sleep, and rouses his comrades headlong” (Aenied, 4. 572).  Both Circe and Dido hold the heroes captive on their foreign lands, not against the men’s will, but against their fates.  Both women are abandoned by the men they love for the sake of patriarchal order.

        While Dido and Circe are similar in many ways, there are also some striking differences.  Circe is immortal; she is a sorceress, magic and divine.  Dido is a mortal woman and is not a witch.  What differentiates the two figures the most, however, is that Circe ends up helping Odysseus return to Ithaca, whereas Dido only ever acts as a hindrance to Aeneas.  Circe gives crucial advice to Odysseus regarding his journey to the Underworld, as well warning him about the future dangers of Skylla and Charybdis.  Dido, heartbroken and frenzied, merely curses Aeneas upon his departure.  Acting as either helper or hindrance, both women represent the threat of female sexual potency on the power of the male.

        For a compelling discussion of Circe and the stag she releases for Odysseus, click here.  Scroll down past the Calypso section to the Circe section.  Look to the "Mistress of Beasts, Woods, and Sacrifice" and "Sexual Initiatrix" headings. Compare Circe's stag with the simile comparing Dido to a wounded stag at Book IV of the Aenied, lines 68-73.

For a thorough set of information on Circe with links to related characters and places, click here.

For a brief biography of Circe, click here.

For the story of Odysseus and his men on the island of