Reinventing Greek Myth: Circe and Ulysses 31

In today’s lesson, we explored reinventing Greek myths through two very different adaptations. I asked you to read two pages from Madeline Miller’s novel, Circe, which tells the story of the witch Circe, who famously appears in Homer’s Odyssey. In the Odyssey, Circe is a relatively minor character. She is the daughter of the sun god Helios, and lives on the island of Aiaia, with an entourage of enchanted animals.

When Odysseus and his men arrive, she turns them into pigs. Odysseus himself evades transformation, as he is given a special herb, moly, by the god Hermes. Eventually, Circe agrees to turn the men back, and they all then stay on her island for many months.

In Madeline Miller’s novel, she begins with Circe’s birth and childhood, and her many years spent in the dark halls of Helios. It tells of how she is poorly treated by fellow nymphs and relatives, but that she has a special care for mortals. She also discovers she has certain skills in magic.

We discussed how the choice of main character gives us a whole new perspective on the narrative. We hear the story from Circe’s side, complete with all the details she might see, and all the internal biases she might have. We also discussed how Madeline chooses to set the story in its own time, so the setting is still ancient Greece and the mythic past.

We then turned to look at a completely different sort of adaptation. As a young child in the 80s, I would rush home to watch Ulysses 31, a French/Japanese anime series, which set the Greek myths in the 31st Century. Odysseus was the central character, called Ulysses, his Roman name, and he travels across the universe in a space ship called the Odyssey, with his son Telemachus, an elfin creature called Yumi, and a small robot called Nono.

Ulysses has been punished by Zeus for killing the Cyclops, and is sentenced to travel across the universe with his crew frozen, until he finds the kingdom of Hades. At this point, his crew will be revived, and they can return to their home planet, Earth.

We talked about how, unlike with Madeline Miller’s novel, this adaptation chose a completely different time and place, the 31st century and space, to recreate the Greek myths. The character of Ulysses seems to have changed too. We talked about how the ancient Greek idea of a hero didn’t mean someone who was altruistic and morally good in the way our modern word ‘hero’ does, but instead a Greek hero was simply strong, powerful, and loved by the gods. In the cartoon, though, Ulysses is more like a modern hero. The theme tune refers to him “bringing peace and justice to all”, which some of you noted had an almost religious sound to it!

I then introduced you to the Epics of Enkidu, a graphic novel themed on the story of Gilgamesh, an epic which tells the story of the hero Gilgamesh, his half wild friend Enkidu, and his quest for immortality when his friend Enkidu dies. Alameen Ahmed, the creator of this graphic novel, chose to imagine his lead character as autistic, and he has recorded this video to introduce his graphic novel to you, and to give you some advice as we get started on our Primordial Greek Gods graphic novel.

I asked you to think of some questions for Alameen, which we will record and send back to him!

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