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Pig Human Transformations In The Odyssey English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1812 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the Circe episode of the Odyssey, Odysseus’ crew are transformed by Circe into pigs and then returned into their human form. … Here is the Circe passage summarised in brief. The goddess invites a portion of Odysseus’ crew into her home and while she is feeding them she gives them drugs to forget their homecoming. Circe then transforms the crew and drives them into pens (10.233ff). Significantly, while the men take on the shape of pigs, their minds remain human minds; they have forgotten their homecoming, but they still suffer from the awareness that they are not in their proper form (10.240). A few lines later, as Odysseus travels up to Circe’s house, he is reminded by Hermes that his crew are transformed into pigs and trapped in pens (10.283).

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After copulating with Circe (10.347), but not eating with her – for how can he, with a clear conscience, eat while his men are transformed (10.385) – Odysseus compels the goddess to set his men free. The men come out of the pens, looking “like nine year old porkers” (10.390) and Circe touches each in turn with her wand, transforming them again into men (10.391). Finally, in this section, while Odysseus attempts to convince Eurylochos and other members of his crew that the goddess is now a friend and that they ought to stay as her guests for a while, Eurylochos blurts out that he fears that returning to Circe’s house will cause all of the men to be transformed into “pigs, wolves, or lions…” (10.434), who will then be compelled to guard the goddess’s house [1] (10.435). Eurylochos’ fears are not unreasonable; he was the only one to escape the initial transformation of the crew (10.230) and, furthermore, the crew on the way to this initial transformation did encounter a number of enchant wolves and lions who, most suspiciously, fawned on them like dogs (10.212).


Other Works on the Subject

Horkheimer and Adorno, in discussing this scene, describe Circe as a goddess with a dual nature. To them, she is both a “corrupter and helper” for she is daughter of both the ocean and of Helios, water and fire, and they regard her as a prototype of the courtesan (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 69). Once she has been tamed by Odysseus she reverts to the figure of the “bourgeois woman” – she is infinitely desirable and in this she has power (she does after all hold Odysseus on her island for a year with her sexual charms), but is (necessarily) helpless (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 72). Odysseus and Circe then form a kind of pseudo-marriage (anticipating the eventual true marriage of Odysseus and Penelope and recalling, too, the pseudo-marriage of Odysseus and Kalypso) (Horkeimer and Adorno 1972, 73).

Warner, too, sees Circe as a figure with two functions. When she is first encountered she is a witch, but once Odysseus has disarmed her, by consuming the drug moly and then sleeping with her, she becomes a storyteller and a guide [2] (Warner 1997, 6). Warner also sees in Circe the possibility for both the comic (seen in the choice of pigs as a beast of transformation) and the terrible (represented generally by the fact that being changed to a non-human form and being outcast is a frightening possibility) (Warner 1998, 263). Thus, even as the crew are transformed, the goddess herself is transformed, and perhaps it might be said that as one bridges the gap between humanity and animality one’s entire perspective of the world becomes different.

Warner describes Circe as the polypharmakon, a woman of many drugs, a perfect counterpoint to Odyssues the polymetis, a man of man tricks (Warner 1997, 1). Her weapons are drugs, a wand and her enchanting voice, which is heard from within her house before the crew even see her (Warner 1997, 5). Woodhouse, also discussing Circe, notes that she is not a god in the same way as Athene. Although she is immortal, she is partially human as well (Woodhouse 1930, 47). Woodhouse notes that Circe is called a “goddess of human speech” (10.135, Woodhouse 1930, 47). This idea of a part god, part human character makes her a good character to use in a passage where the lines between human and animal become blurred. It is as though the process of transformation at this point both in Odysseus’ wanderings and in the narrative is at its most powerful here and it should indicate to the audience that the things that are occurring are of great significant.

Foley regards the drugging and transformation as part of the female influence on males in the poem. Not all the drugging is done by females, of course, Hermes and the Lotus-Eaters being exceptions, but Helen, Kalyso, Circe, Penelope, the Sirens and Athene are all female. Foley believes that in contrast to the forward action of the males in the book (Odysseus trying to get home, for example), females suspend action and preserve the present (Foley 1978, 10). Helen uses her drugs to wash away bad memories of the past, Kalypso offers immortality to Odyssues so that he will not age – i.e., move forward in time (Foley 1978, 10). Penelope, through her weaving, actually suspends the suitors in time – they can not get married and become husbands, as they sit and feast all the time they can not go and be warriors; it is as though Penelope has suspended time on Ithaka [3] (Foley 1978, 10). Circe, similarly, has preserved her house by turning fierce beasts into tame ones; the transformation for her is a matter of protecting her house, just as Penelope protects the house for Odysseus while he is away [4] (Foley 1978, 11).

Pedrick, picking up on Foley’s idea of the female as the preserver of the household (sometimes by employing the loss of memory) notes that the difference between Circe and Penelope is that while Penelope as a married woman is simply a preserver of home, Circe, as an unmarried woman, uses the same tricks to turn her bed into a trap (Pedrick 1988, 86). Pedrick notes that the duty of any woman whop welcomes a guest is to bathe him, offer him a bed and then give him clothing as a gift (Pedrick 1988, 85). When the matron of the house is a wife then the foot and bath argument the husband’s hospitality and the clothing carries the fame of that particular oikos far and wide on the shoulders of the receiver [5] (Pedrick 1988, 85, 90). When the hostess is single, however, as Circe is, the bath becomes a means of exposing the man, the bed becomes a sexual trap to make him forget home and the clothing becomes a way of transforming or shaping the man to her desires [6] (Pedrick 1988, 86). It might be said, then, that while Circe does not transform Odysseus outright at their first meeting, she still takes the year that they are together to shape him a little bit and to make him something different than he was when he arrived. The focus in both Foley and Pedrick is on the dynamic between Circe and Odysseus and so in this regard the crew and their transformation become a secondary concern to the main action, cannon fodder in the exchange between the two main players.

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Comay, finally, notes that Kalypso (5.62), Circe (10.222) and Penelope (19.137) all work looms [7] (Comay 2000, 44n108). Comay also points out that just as Circe calls the crew to her home, so Penelope calls the suitors to hers with her “words of honey” (18.283) (recalling Circe’s intoxicating song), he ability to “fan and inflame passion” (18.212), and of course her trick of undoing the woven loom each night to keep them waiting (2.89) (Cornay 2000, 44). Comay, too, believes that the simile describing the dead suitors being like a fish in a net is a nice way of describing how the woven loom (or net) has resulted in their demise (Comay 2000, 44).


Warner has slightly more to say on the subject, claiming that the Circe episode is a good starting point for a discussion about the human state versus the animal state and ultimately concludes that being turned into a pig is a comical turn for the story because seeing men as pigs highlights the human shortcomings and the follies of the crew (Warner 1997, 2). Warner also believes that Circe is aware of her comic role and that as she delights in changing the men she “mocks human littleness and vanity with her transmutation of men into beasts” (Warner 1998, 264). When Warner considers the broader possibilities for transformation she concludes that changes in shape may have been explanations for mysterious phenomena in the universe and ways of telling stories of origin in a time before the human race began to rely on rational explanations for such things (Warner 1998, 262). Warner, however, only uses the episode as a starting point and the rest of her paper deals primarily with perceptions of the pig in later Greek thought and on through Medieval Renaissance periods in Europe.


Horkheimer and Adorno do note a number of things about the pig/human transformation. First, once the men have been wild creatures and returned to the state of nature it is impossible for them to return to the state of humanity (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 70). This certainly makes sense when one considers the Lotus-Eaters or the Sirens. The danger of these adventures is that the enchanted person loses their sense of self and desires no more to come home. Circe, too, drugs the men so that they forget their homecoming. It is perhaps not only a loss of homecoming that is the issue here, but a loss of the sense of being human.

Second, the pigs in the Circe episode may be a recollection of the rites of Demeter, a goddess of fertility (Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, 70). The pig takes on extra symbolism through its sacrifice as an aspect of fertility and that the sacrifice of the pig could be used as a necessary aspect of the completion of the marriage.


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