K - Kirke

What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness.
Leo Tolstoy

Kirke, or Circe. Perhaps you know the story of Kirke?  Beautiful enchantress whose island is violated by the wayward bands of Odysseus.  Odysseus being elsewhere, Kirke spreads a magnificent feast for the men, in the course of which she magics them into swine.  I have no real idea (not particularly enjoying the blunders of Odysseus myself) if this is a display of some kind of chauvinism in one direction or another, but as C.S. Lewis pointed out in his poem Vitrea Circe, one wonders if one can really blame her.

She watched those drunken 
And tarry sailors 
Eat nectar-junket 
And Phoenix-nests; 
Each moment paler 
With pride, she shrunk at 
Their leering, railing, 
Salt-water jests. 
They thought to pluck there 
Her rosial splendour? 
They though their luck there 
Was near divine? 
When the meal ended 
She rose and struck them 
With wand extended 
And made them swine. 

All the same, regardless of Lewis' reasonable exposition of the passage, the meaning of Circe has stuck: a woman of beguiling, irresistible beauty.  Usually she wants to be enchantingly alluring, but I have found that isn't always the case and sometimes the poor woman can't help it.  Sometimes it is the response of the male character.  I have found it to be a true statement that, in Greek literature at least, often in the literature of other countries, to be a beautiful woman is usually a curse.  You are often cursed by the gods (they don't like being outdone), kidnapped, fought over, and frankly unhappy.

So you see there are two sides to this shapely, beautiful coin, and it's a currency I use in Adamantine.   Infatuation and enchantment by beguiling are perhaps harder vices to write about that torture or abuse, because torture and abuse are easily recognizable as brutal, ugly, cruel, inhuman things.  Beauty, on the other hand, is very easily mistaken as a virtue.  The taste of it is at once delightful and galling: once the character tries it, it grows on him (or her), until he finds himself in over his head with no way - and no want - to get out.  For the reader it is probably harder to read because cruelty can be shored up against; however, the more insidious vices can be seen coming by "dramatic irony" in the sense that you know the woman is only trying to wrap the fellow around her finger and then drop him at the end of a rope, but he can't see it.  He's a complete cad without a single scruple, but she thinks he's charming and she can't see to what things are tending - and how do you know what horror of the mind is about to ensue, what soiling of the soul?  The agony can be intense. Will everything be lost forever?

If you've read The Shadow Things, you know I'm perfectly capable of - and willing to - rip your hearts out and stamp them in the dirt.

9 ripostes:

  1. Yes. Yes you are. There was a point when I almost stopped reading cause I wanted it to stop hurting. But I kept on and I'm glad I did.

  2. Quite right, the Pre-Raphaelites were particularly obsessed with this dual nature of beauty. Your post makes me think of J.W. Waterhouse's painting "Circe Invidiosa" which is one of my favorite paintings. Also, it's not very nice to rip people's hearts out and stomp on them. I would almost think you're gloating. :D

  3. P.S. Who is the digital painting by in this post?

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  5. A post where I understand what you write with chilling precision, though the reference is rather lost to me. I agree with Anne-girl, there was that point wherein I felt I wanted to lay aside The Shadow Things because it hurt me and wrung me, until I was actually shaking and holding my breathe. But, it is worth it at the end :). May I ask who is that particular lady of such charming/enchanting qualities in Adamantine or am I not allowed to inquire? Is it hush-hush for now?

    There is a scene I wrote in The Crown of Life between two heart-wrenching characters, Anthea and Flavius, and though I fear it is a bit (melo)dramatic, I like it for all its worth and it seems to echo a bit of what you wrote in this post!

    'You are cruel,' he laughed at her and the caustic tone dripped from his voice as undisguised as a rag flung over scarlet and purple raiment '...beautiful and cruel as a flaming goddess of old, daughter of Gallus...

    The beautiful and the cruel come into play there as it does in Kirke... but I hold no grudge against Anthea. Not in the least, when Flavius is involved.

  6. Wow. This was such a wonderful post. I never really did think about it, but you're so right: beauty is a very very hard thing to resist and to keep one's wits. I like your point about the beautiful not always been the happy. I think it's very true...

  7. Minor detail: Kirke could be seen more properly as accurate than Circe, since the former is a transliteration from the Greek, while the second is the common but Latinized form- too much predilection toward Latin in all things classical anyway. :) I am happy to see it more "Greek-like.

    I think the concept of this post is relevant but could be more precisely put: humans are easily tricked by curb-appeal, but I don't call that beauty, I call that Beauty's shadow, no more and no less real than the mythical gods. But this can be said of more than what the eye calls beauty. Anything good or holy or splendorous; anything or anyone we love; when he or she dethrones the Most High King in our hearts (by accident or design), then they become also to us poison and sin and death. "In Him we live and move and have our Being." To attempt to divorce the glory of God from admiration for His creatures is first to destroy ourselves and then even our love for the object of this admiration... an idea Lewis explored often and eloquently!

  8. Ania - Amendments made in the text! I don't have a history in classical languages, but what little I had picked up told me the K is used in Greek. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a language reference for Kirke. Thanks for clearing that up!

  9. i have read the shadow things. o.o
    i know your terrible cruelty all too well.
    Hey! If my friends call me Morganna of Writecraft then you,
    my dear, are The Writerly Circe.