CIRCE’S CIRCLE OF OAKS

AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

                   

By Tracy Boyd

© 2004

RE-WEAVING THE SACRED THREADS: WRITINGS BY TRACY BOYD © 2004-2018

 

Circe transforming Odysseus’s men into pigs.

Gustave Doré (?) Mid-19th Cent. Engraving.

In all of the world’s stories that recount the trials and tribulations of the sacred rites of initiation, there is, invariably, the requisite journey to an otherworldly realm.  The Medieval Welsh poets sang of Annwn, “the Not-world,” (1) a place

“lying beneath the mortal world . . . [from which] man had received certain of the gifts of civilization, . . . [one of the most prized of which was] the pig.” (2) 


In both the Celtic and the Greek religious traditions, the pig was said to dwell with

the spirits of the dead in the realm beneath the earth.  This is the place, also, for the initiate who dwells in darkness, or sleeps for a while in the underworld realm, until the goddess or god has shown him the light or set him on the right path.  There is, then, a natural equation in the very ancient association of the initiate and the pig, even to the extent that the two are sometimes indistinguishable.  Such was the case with the Celts, whose “bardic initiates were frequently addressed or known as ‘pigs’.” (3) As we shall see, this title is not unique to the Celts.


This same linking of archaic archetypal equivalences is vividly portrayed in Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, an ancient collection of bardic lays celebrating the journey of a man who courts death throughout the entire telling of his wanderings.  Our interest focuses on the action centered in Aiaia, an island in the sea which derives its name from a poetic form of Gaia, or ‘Earth’. (4)  Its exact location is believed to be “near the edge of the world, one day’s journey on this side of the outermost location, from Oceanus, from eternal Night, from the House of Hades.” (5)  Odysseus and his crew have sailed “due East” to arrive here at the place of the rising sun. (6) 


This journey to the limits of the earth, “the perimeter of the chthonic,” (7) is a tale of initiation that describes numerous crossings of sacred thresholds along the path.  There is concealed within the telling of this sacred epic an underlying story of navigational chartings, the surveying of vast geographical boundaries, and the obtaining of other measurements pertaining to the location of bearing points.  It is a virtual Survey of Boundaries, a compendium of border crossings in which every thread in the complex weaving of pathway, and enclosure, and the setting of limitations and boundaries between worlds, is here measured and explored.  Even Hermes, the god of boundaries, makes a brief appearance.  The adventure is a veritable textbook for those seeking initiation.


As the story begins, Odysseus and his companions arrive “in silence” (8) on the secluded shores of the island of the Earth.  They collapse into sleep “for two days and two nights.” (9)  “On the third day” (10) Odysseus, venturing forth alone, ascends to a high “lookout place,” (11) or “point of observation,” (12) to survey the land.  Although he has both sighted and sited, or we should say, found, the center of the heavily forested island, he has lost his bearings and is completely disoriented.  As he descends from the high hills, “a great stag with towering antlers,” (13) the favored animal of Diana, suddenly emerges into the bright sunlight of a clearing in the woods and crosses Odysseus’s “very path.” (14)  After his ritually-detailed killing of the sacred beast, he returns to his companions on the shore below to prepare “a communal high feast.” (15) 


At the dawning of the fourth day, Odysseus informs his companions, in so many words, that they are in the middle of nowhere and turns to them to set the right course: 

   

        . . . we do not know where the darkness is nor the sunrise,

        nor where the Sun who shines upon people rises, nor where

        he sets, then let us hasten our minds and think, whether there is

        any course left open to us. But I think there is none.

        For I climbed to a rocky place of observation and looked at

        the island, and the endless sea lies all in a circle

        around it, but the island itself lies low, and my eyes saw

        smoke rising in the middle through the undergrowth and the forest.

        (16)


His speech becomes intelligible only if we look to the underlying concept of ‘orientation’ in its most sacred sense.

  

          The word ‘orientation’ comes from the classical Latin ‘oriri’, meaning to

        rise. In its original meaning with regard to direction, it meant the rising of

        the sun. The medieval Latin word, ‘orientare’, was more specific, meaning

        the placement or alignment of something towards the east. . . . Orientation

        implies a recognition of direction which, in turn, needs an awareness of

        place. (17)


This is the precise context in which Homer operates, intending to convey the humorous situation of being so disoriented that, even knowing that one has arrived at the easternmost limits of the world, one cannot find the rising sun.  Such “geo-graphical disorientation” (18) has dire consequences for Homeric man for whom there are only two “expressions of direction, [which] influence every aspect, every gesture, . . . of human life . . . [and which define absolutely] man’s relationship to his universe.” (19)  These are the points of the rising and setting sun: Eos, that place of beginnings, of life, from which emerges the personified light of ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’; and Zophos, an amorphous region of darkness and doom, endings and death.  Without the sun as “his most definitive guide . . . his great measuring rod whose course measures time and divides space,” (20) Odysseus and his crew are truly nowhere.


In response to this dilemma, “they wept loud and shrill, letting the big tears fall.” (21) Odysseus’s men cry a lot, but their heavy tears are a reminder to Odysseus of where they are.  The word for a wailing cry, or lament, is formed from the same root (aia) as the name for the island itself, Aiaia, which means ‘wailing’. (22)  The pun reorients Odysseus, who quickly pulls himself together to find the solution: a mathematically calculated journey to the spiritual center of the circular island.  He divides his men in half.  After the drawing of lots, he and his group of twenty-two, who are still weeping, stay behind.  The lot falls to Eurylochos, who “then went on his way, and with him two-and-twenty companions, weeping.” (23)


The richly-layered nuances of sacred language conceal within the name of Eurylochos, both a description of the place where they have landed, and a prophetic announcement of what is to befall the group that he leads “through undergrowth and forest” (24) to the center.  The foremost interpreter of bardic language, Robert Graves, suggests that his name means “extensive ambush.” (25)  This is but a clue.  The word lochos describes ‘a place for lying in wait, ambush, ambuscade’, as for example, ‘the lair of wild beasts’.  In all languages in which forms of the word for ambush are found, it quite literally means, ‘contained or enclosed by a wood, or woodland’, which in its passive sense, suggests ‘to be caught in an ambush: to be ensnared’.  Mention must also be made of a secondary meaning, which in this other sense is a term used only in reference to awaiting the birth of a child: ‘a lying in’; lochos being related to locheia, the word for childbirth, which in its form as Lochia, is an epithet of the woodland goddess Artemis, or Diana, in her aspect as goddess of childbirth.


Through a confluence of interwoven words, we are able to perceive that which is hidden in plain sight: that Diana, Goddess of the Woodlands, Queen of the Oak, Mistress of Wild Things, is the goddess whom they seek.  She is here disguised as Circe: a weaver of spells, the enchantress who sits enthroned at her loom at the absolute center of a magical circle surrounded by forests of oak and bounded on its circumference by the sea.  It is she who lies in wait for Eurylochos and his initiates, ready to ensnare them in her tangled skeins.  When they come upon the lair of the Dianic sorceress in a round clearing in the wood, her tamed beasts await them at the gates.  The wild and primitive otherworldliness is palpable.  It has the ring of a near-death experience.


       . . . all about it there were lions, and wolves of the mountains,

        whom the goddess had given evil drugs and enchanted,

        and these made no attack on the men, but came up thronging

        about them, waving their long tails and fawning, in the way

        that dogs go fawning about their master, when he comes home . . . (26)


As they stood in the forecourt of the palace, they heard within the walls a “woman or goddess” (27) “singing in a sweet voice as she went up and down a great design on a loom.” (28)  The unearthly voice wafted through the air, weaving in and out between the pounding rhythm of the loom, reverberating back and forth, back and forth, like waves against the walls of polished stone, until “the whole place mur-mur[ed] to the echo of it.” (29)  The sailors, entranced by the eerie mantra, could not resist the lure of this “goddess with the glorious hair.” (30)  With one voice, together they called to her.


. . . and at once she opened the shining doors, and came out, and invited

      them in; and all in their innocence entered; only

      Eurylochos waited outside, for he suspected treachery.

      She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches,

      and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey

      added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture

      malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country.

      When she had given them this and they had drunk it down, next thing

      she struck them with her wand and drove them into her pig pens,

      and they took on the look of pigs, with the heads and voices

      and bristles of pigs, but the minds within them stayed as they had been

      before. So crying they went in, and before them Circe

      threw down acorns for them to eat, and ilex and cornel

      buds, such food as pigs who sleep on the ground always feed on. (31)


They are confined by the goddess of the illuminating sun who weaves men’s destinies on her loom.  They “wallow in the mud” (32) in a Fool’s Paradise, existing for the moment in a fluid state, floating in a realm of possibility.  But their condition is not permanent, their deaths, not imminent.  They are in no man’s land, neither here nor there, a state of limbo which, centuries later, became a condition so commonplace that it was given a name.  It was called Limbus Fatuorum, or “The Limbus of Fools, or Fool’s Paradise.” (33)  The meaning of the Latin word limbus describes ‘the edge’, (34) whether it be ‘a border’, ‘hem’, or ‘fringe’. (35)  In some usages it means ‘an ornamental border to a robe’ and in others, an ensnaring ‘rope bordering a hunting-net’.  In the sense that it is a band or girdle, limbus refers to the circle of the Zodiac. (36) 


In later Christian usage, the magical thinking behind the nomenclature of this central place and the condition of being in limbo has to do with a kind of holding pen for outsiders.  Limbo becomes

   

           a waste-basket; a place where things are stowed, too good to destroy but

        not good enough to use. . . . unbaptised infants and good heathens go to

        Limbo. . . . They cannot go to heaven, because they are not baptised, and

        they cannot go to the place of torment, because they have not committed

        sin at all, or because their good preponderates. (37)


This prison, or place of containment, is especially reserved for fools, who are forever, and always, circumferential outsiders living on the edge.  Limbus Fatuorum, then, is the only natural home of the wandering fool, whose fringed and tattered motley belies a permanent condition of being nowhere.  Even the theologians of the church recognized the circumstance and place of the sacred fool, and so they determined that “As fools are not responsible for their works, they are not punished in Purgatory; but cannot be received into Heaven; so they go to a place called the Paradise of Fools.” (38)


And in such a place of liminality, (39) that threshold territory of neither here nor there, we should be surprised not to find Hermes Propylaios, or Hermes ‘Before the Gate’, for this is exactly his domain.  Homer does not disappoint.  Odysseus tells us that as he was nearing “the great house of Circe, skilled in medicines,” (40) to rescue his men from their state of suspension, there, as he “came up to the house, Hermes, of the golden staff, met me on my way.” (41)  Their place of meeting is an amorphous border-crossing that wavers between life and death.  Hermes is the guardian of this “middle realm between being and non-being . . .

he stands on ground that is no ground, and there he creates the way . . . out of a trackless world – unrestricted, flowing, ghostlike – . . . .” (42)  This god of boundaries knows no bounds, for he is the aggelos, the ‘angel’, or messenger of the gods, who moves freely between the upper and lower worlds.  Calling him by name, Hermes ridicules Odysseus for being “ignorant of the land-lay,” (43) a subject about which this deity knows much, and gently chastises him for thinking that he could survive “the malevolent guiles of Circe” (44) without the aid of an equally cunning sorcerer, such as himself.


If we had any doubts as to the state of initiatory death in which all of these char-acters float, we should look to the implements carried by the two great warring magician-healers of the story.  We have seen the results of Circe’s wand in action, but the god of the Way, who is rarely seen without his ancient double-serpent-wreathed kerykeion, or herald’s staff, known to us by the more familiar Latin name as the caduceus, also carries a magic rod.  The wands of both deities are called r(h)abdos in Greek, the literal translation of which is ‘rod’, or ‘wand’, with specific reference to its use as an instrument of magic. (45)  It is with this golden wand, the “implement of a necromancer,” (46) that Hermes Psycho-pompos, the “Escorter of Souls” (47) and “conjurer of the spirits of the dead,” (48) gently “mazes the eyes of those mortals whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again the sleepers.” (49)  One is reminded of the soothing words, addressed to the Lord of the Hebrews as shepherd in Psalm 23, that are often recited at funerals:


        Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

        I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;

        thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (50)


The distinction between the rod and the staff of Hermes, which at some point “became [so] contaminated” (51) that they were indistinguishable, is elucidated by Jane Ellen Harrison in her prodigious study of the chthonic elements of Greek religion.  She authoritatively states that:


        The kerykeion or herald’s staff is in intent a king’s sceptre held by the

        herald as deputy; it is a staff, a walking stick . . . by which you are sup-

        ported; the rhabdos is a simple rod, even a pliable twig, a thing not by

        which you are supported but with which you sway others.  It is in a word

        the enchanter’s wand. It is with a rhabdos that Circe transforms the com-

        rades of Odysseus into swine. . . .  This magic wand became the attribute

        of all who hold sway over the dead.  It is the wand, not the sceptre, that is

        the token of life or death . . . . (52)


It is understandable that the magic rhabdos and snaky kerykeion of Hermes should become so entwined in their symbolism, for they are mutually specific to the finding – and binding – of serpent paths in the earth, as well as the healing effects derived from the control of this energy.  The kerykeion, or later Roman caduceus, which Harrison tells us “contains elements drawn from both sceptre and rhabdos,” (53) is but a formalized embodiment of the more animistic rhabdos.  This primitive wand, she explains,

   

        is sometimes forked like a divining rod: the forks were entwined in vari-

        ous shapes. Round the rhabdos a snake, symbol of the underworld, was

        sometimes curled as the snake is curled round the staff of Aesculapius.

        Ultimately the twisted ends of the rhabdos crystallized into curled decora-

        tive snakes. (54)


Forked rods are still in common use by dowsers as conductors for the location of underground water and minerals and as a means of identifying “geopathic zones” for the purpose of neutralizing their bad energy. (55)  In this connection it is worth mentioning that at the end of the Greek lunar month, when the houses were swept clean, and offerings made to Hekate and her dogs at the crossroads, Hermes’s  kerykeion, which “was also called pompos, conductor, . . . was carried in the hands of those who performed [such] ceremonies of purification.” (56)  Harrison remarks that:


        The object of the whole ceremony is ‘to send out polluted things.’ It is,

        I think, significant that the kerykeion, or rather to be strictly accurate,

        the rhabdos, was carried in apotropaic ceremonies, presumably with a

        view to exorcise bad spirits, which . . . were regarded as the source of

        all impurities. (57)


This is the very premise upon which the contemporary geomancer performs rites of purification of the earth: for the exorcism of negative energy.  According to the highly regarded British geomancer Nigel Pennick, 

   

        There are various methods, traditional and modern, of neutralizing areas

        which have a bad influence upon people. Dowsers . . . have different

        names and explanations for these places–geopathic zones, black streams,

        ‘ley lines’, noxious earth rays, etc. . . . yet the methods used to prevent or

        neutralize them are similar. . . . These involve hammering copper or other

        metal stakes into the ground, iron rods, even nails. These items, known as

        interrupters are thrust into the ground at places where ‘black streams’ run

        or geopathic zones begin. (58)


Of the two examples he provides as typical of the interrupters in common use, one is a First Century C.E. stave of bronze wire twisted into the shape of the caduceus in its earliest known form that was found in a sacred spring at Finthen in Germany.  The other, an iron stake used by the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, is an exact image of the astrological symbol for the planet Mercury, the Roman name for Hermes. (59)


The fleeting appearance of Hermes in his role as guardian of boundaries on Circe’s island, becomes all the more important in the light of this knowledge, for it is believed “that Hermes was the first road-maker.” (60)  In the very earliest aniconic period of Greek religion, attempts were made to avert the ghosts, or evil spirits, who were believed to haunt the crossroads, by the placement of stones and, later, of stone images, of Hekate and Hermes on those spots.  While Hekate re-mained at the dangerous crossroads, Hermes’s apotropaic presence expanded to all roads.  From the simple heaps of stones laid down “at regular intervals along the road” (61) as “way-markers set up by the travelers before there was any well-defined road,” (62)  Hermes’s protective stones evolved into the more sophisticated ithyphallic pillars, or Herms of classical times, and then to the Roman milestone called Hermaioi Lophoi, or Hermes’s Stones. (63)  As the god whose icon marks “the boundaries of land . . . establishing a tapu that secures the place from viola-tion,” (64) he is called “Epitermios, ‘the god at the boundaries,’ a Greek equiva-

lent of the Latin ‘Terminus’.” (65)  


It is this same Hermes, wand in hand, whom we find stationed outside the gates of the “sacred dwelling” (66) of the magical sorceress whom Odysseus is about to encounter once he crosses the threshold of her shining doors.  This “god of ways” (67) and friend to all journeyers, from whom Odysseus is descended on the mater-nal side, (68) takes the ill-prepared candidate for initiation by the hand and sets this lost soul on the right path by providing him with “good medicine” (69) to counter-act the noxious potion that Circe will prepare for his enchantment.  The antidote supplied by Hermes is a plant of the garlic family, the moly; “black at the root, but with a milky flower . . . hard for mortal men to dig up.” (70)


Beneath the apparent good will of Hermes, there is an unspoken contest between magicians, one that is reminiscent of the elaborate displays of the Druidical competitors of Celtic myth.  It would seem that this wizard has selected just the appropriate remedy to defeat his opponent who waits inside the gates, for garlic is still hung on doors in Greece as a bane against witchcraft and evil-doers.  The magician-healer who stands at the “pivot-point of human existence” (71) on the threshold between life and death, then instructs Odysseus in the methods of geomantic exorcism.  Odysseus quotes Hermes directly:


        As soon as Circe with her long wand strikes you,

        then drawing from beside your thigh your sharp sword, rush

        forward against Circe, as if you were raging to kill her,

        and she will be afraid, and invite you to go to bed with her.

        Do not then resist and refuse the bed of the goddess,

        for so she will set free your companions, and care for you also;

        but bid her swear the great oath of the blessed gods, that she

        has no other evil hurt that she is devising against you,

        so she will not make you weak and unmanned, once you are naked.

        (72)


When her enchantment fails, Circe recalls the frequently repeated prognostications of Hermes that the day would come when her negative powers would be quelled. (73)  She is stunned by the force of his countermeasured magic.  Lamenting her defeat, in a state of shock, she confesses her disbelief to Odysseus:


        The wonder is on me that you drank my drugs and have not been

        enchanted, for no other man beside could have stood up

        under my drugs, once he drank and they passed the barrier

        of his teeth. There is a mind in you no magic will work on. (74)


So Odysseus, with the aid of the boundary-marking god, has staked the goddess-queen of the island of the Earth and simultaneously pierced the veil of her mys-teries by the insertion of his sword into the magic circle of her world.  This is an act that only a magician could perform.  Of this act, Karl Kerenyi has observed, “the circles of her magical power have been broken through and she has only herself left.” (75)  It would be more accurate to say that, like her wild animals who fawn before her gates, she has been tamed, or neutralized, but she is not herself as we know her.  And we may never know her, because, like the sun, her circle is endlessly moving and therefore cannot be pinned down.


Although Circe’s magical palace lies at the very heart of her woodland island in the sea, the island itself lies at the outer limits of the world.  “The dread goddess who talks with mortals,” (76) as Homer calls her before the intrusion, lives “on the periphery of the real.” (77)  She is everywhere and nowhere.  She is “not of this world,” (78) but dwells within circles, within circles, within circles, which she herself conjures and creates, weaving the world at the absolute center of the innermost circle, “at a point of beginning.” (79)  Odysseus’s companions, outsiders whose only place is at the fringes of the circle’s edge, have dared to enter this magical circle, a dangerous sacred landscape, a sanctuary veiled in mystery.  Theirs is a serious transgression.  And so, with the stroke of her wand, the “primal sorceress” (80) puts them in their proper place at the edge of her circle where, as outsiders, they belong.  Circe owns that circle and is that circle.  Her identity is so bound up with it that she is actually named for it.


The Greek word Kirke literally means ‘circle’.  Words from this same root encompass only things of a circular nature, as for example, the kirkos, a falcon hawk identified with Circe.  Even in bird form, she maintains her unbounded circularity, flying, as falcons do, in a circle, “turning and turning in the widening gyre,” as the poet Yeats has described. (81)  Another word inspired from its originally circular form, but which is thought to be of entirely separate origin, is that derived from the Middle English kirke and the Anglo Saxon circe, which are the base forms for the Scottish word kirk, meaning ‘church’.  These base forms, in turn, are believed to have derived from the Greek word for ‘the Lord’s house’, kyriakon.  This, from kyrios, ‘master’, ‘lord’; kyria being ‘mistress’, ‘lady’, in its feminine form; and from Kyriaki, the Greek word for ‘Sunday’.  All are formed from kyros, meaning ‘power’ and ‘might’.  One has to listen very carefully to decipher the most imperceptibly minute, closely-woven subtleties of differentiation and intent.  Such are the “coincidences” of the sacred.


Circe’s entire being, then, is one of circularity, and circularity itself is a reflection of wholeness. (82)  If the circle defines God, which is “an all-embracing totality, which, like the definition of Godhead, is expressed iconographically by the circle or mandala,” (83) then we can define this goddess, who actually bears the name Circle, as ‘God’.  The earliest version of a well known definition of an ethereal God is: “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.” (84)


With this definition in mind, the true esoteric purpose of Odysseus’s visit is revealed.  As with all things of a magical nature, there is more here than meets the eye.  One of the not so secret, but difficult to detect, missions in the story of Circe is to obtain the circumference (the outside edge, or perimeter) of the circular island of the goddess of the Sun.  But it is she, herself, who is the object of measurement.  Odysseus uses pi to find God.  Once he has determined that the center is not everywhere, that it can be pinned down to a specific location, and that the circumference is not nowhere, that it can be measured from this central point of reference, the power of Kirke has been parsed, and definitions of God fail.


A clue to Kirke’s unravelling is numerically revealed by the presence of the twenty-two men (85) who grovel in her pigsty.  These intrusive outsiders whose true place, as we have seen, is at the circle’s edge, at the circumference, are the geometers, or earth-measurers, who have come to survey those very boundaries which they represent.  They are human symbols of sacred mathematical knowl-edge, representatives of the ancient and mystical proportion known as pi, or 22:7 (the decimal being 3.14159), which is used in the formula for obtaining the circumference, the distance around the outer edges of a circle.  Umberto Eco has said of pi, that it “binds the circumference and diameter of all possible circles.” (86)  The proportion itself possesses the inherent power of the eternity of the circle, for, like the never-ending circularity of that which it measures, pi “goes on without ever ending . . . in a neat recurrent sequence.” (87) 


In another mystical context, the master poet, Robert Graves, has demonstrated that “the secret sense of 22 . . . is that it is the measure of the circumference of the circle when the diameter is 7.” (88)  The number seven is represented by those inside the palace, with Circe as a kind of omphalos at the very center.  Circe is joined by Odysseus, who has “mounted the surpassingly beautiful bed of Circe,” (89) after which they are attended by “four maidservants . . . daughters born of the springs and from the coppices and the sacred rivers which flow down to the sea.” (90) The last member of this sacred grouping is “a grave housekeeper [who] brought in the bread . . . adding many good things to it, generous with her pro-visions . . . .” (91)


Additionally, if one were to interpret this tranquil scene in the context of the geomantic ritual for the creation of sacred space, Circe’s four watery maidservants would thus represent “the underground streams associated with geopathic zones.” (92)  As such, they assume the role of “the four quarters which divide the horizon according to the cardinal points,” (93) and which encompass the neutralized “ser-pent energy” of the central navel.  Relying, once again, on the wisdom of the geomancer, we find in the myths of the dragon-slayers of later times that . . . by altering the conditions at the omphalos, by removal or by spiking the dragon to the ground, the character of the entire country is transformed as if random and harmful forces are harnessed and tamed. (94)


Odysseus has found the absolute center, but he finds himself unable to eat the bounteous spread laid out before him, for his twenty-two earth-measurers have not yet been set free from their muddy existence on the outer edges of this new-found center.  With a stroke of her wand, Circe puts an end to their borderline existence:


    . . . and Circe walked on out through the palace,

    holding her wand in her hand, and opened the doors of the pigsty,

    and drove them out. They looked like nine-year old porkers. They stood

    ranged and facing her, and she, making her way through their

    ranks, anointed each of them with some other medicine,

    and the bristles, grown upon them by the evil medicine Circe

    had bestowed upon them before, now fell away from them,

    and they turned back once more into men, younger than they had been

    and taller for the eye to behold and handsomer by far. (95)


And, after gathering the remaining twenty-two other companions, who have been hiding out with the terrified Eurylochos at the farthest boundaries of Aiaia’s shores, the surveying is completed.  Thus has Odysseus come full circle on the island of the oaks at the place of the rising sun.  He has found his bearings and stands on sacred ground of his own making, on “space which is oriented and subdivided according to a celestial model.” (96)  From this circumscribed vantage point, he can now accurately observe the path of the sun, the changing of the seasons, and all the movements of the heavens.  Here he remains in the embrace of the radiant Circe for the space of a year. (97)  He is, at least for one moment in magical time, at one with the universe.   


When all is said and done, the charting of Kirke’s boundaries does not diminish her central place.  She is most respectfully described by Odysseus throughout the tale’s telling as, “she, shining among goddesses.”  One would expect this appellation for the daughter of the eternally circling sun, Helios.  The “rays of golden light” (98) emanate from her very soul, for as Apollonius of Rhodes tells us, “all those of the race of Helios were plain to discern, since by the far flashing of their eyes they shot in front of them a gleam as of gold.” (99)  But she is an illuminator in her own right.  Odysseus says of her, “the queenly Circe has shown me the way.(100)  His admiration and continuing respect for ‘she whom he has measured’, as we might now call her, are spoken in Odysseus’s final lines as he departs for Hades at the end of his journey with her.  His carefully chosen words show her, still, as the circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere:

   

        “Whose eyes can follow the movement

        of a god passing from place to place, unless the god wishes?” (101)