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Portrait of Emma Hamilton as Circe. This image was popular in illustrations for numerous books referring to Circe. (Public Domain) Circe’s cave is located at Mount Circeo, in Italy. Source: Association of Speleo-Archeological Research, Rome Sotterranea

Seductress’ Cave of Depravity from Homer’s Odyssey Found?

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Italy's Mount Circeo or Cape Circeo is located about 60 miles (97 km) south of Rome and this promontory marks the southwestern limit of the former Pontine Marshes. This famous geological feature is named after a goddess called Circe whom the Ancient Greek writer Homer described as a temptress with the power to transform men into pigs. Deep within this mountain peninsula, scientists might have discovered her grotto along the torn coastline.

The mythological Circe featured in Homer’s epic poem ‘ Odyssey and this sexually charged enchantress was fathered by the god Helios, with her mother being either the nymph Perse or the goddess Hecate. According to the 3,000-year-old tale, Circe was a master of potions, herbs, and sorcery and with her magic staff she was renowned for transforming her victims into animals and in this instance - pigs.

Wright Barker's 1889 ‘Circe’. (Public Domain)

Wright Barker's 1889 ‘Circe’. ( Public Domain )

Breadcrumbs Lead to the Witch’s Home

Based on clues derived from Italian historian Tommaso Lanzuisi's 1972 book ‘ II Circe ’, in May this year, researchers from the Association of Speleo-Archaeology Research in Rome Sotterranea launched an oceanic expedition to the Split Cave of Torre Paola. Their findings have been published in new study and INews says the Italian researchers “claim they've now discovered the cave that inspired Homer's myth.”

The ancient tale stars the hero Odysseus and his men who are enticed into Circe’s den of iniquity for a feast of poisoned food and wine - which turns Odysseus' crew into pigs. If the god Hermes had not offered Odysseus an antidote he might not have avoided Circe's spell, but he managed to free his men, who all decided to remain in the enchanted cave for a year-long ‘witch orgy’!

‘Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus’ (1891) by John William Waterhouse. (Public Domain)

‘Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus’ (1891) by John William Waterhouse. ( Public Domain )

Venturing into what might have been the witch’s mystical cave on sea kayaks, the explorers secured their crafts and ascended the cave wall with ropes. In an article on the discovery in The Sun , discoverer Marco Placido is quoted saying “It looks only about 10m deep, but conceals a surprise.” He also said that features of the Split Cave of Torre Paola “perfectly matched the literary geographical references found in the Homeric narration.” But the real ‘surprise’ was that the deepest part of the ancient witch residence contained “terracotta vases” which confirmed the cave had been occupied by humans.

Inside the cave. (Association of Speleo-Archeological Research, Rome Sotterranea)

Inside the cave. ( Association of Speleo-Archeological Research, Rome Sotterranea )

Scientific Fact or Scientific Fantasy?

The way in which this story is being reported makes it sounds more like a flight of fantasy than a valid scientific discovery and skepticism is being shared among Italian archaeologists, including the author and historian Lanzuisi, who says “Monte Circeo doesn't fit the Homeric description ”. He argues, among several reasons, that the sea levels have significant dropped since Homer's story and that the cave would have been beneath water at the time of the myth 3,000 years ago.

What’s more, the historian insists Homer wrote of Monte Circeo as “an island” and a quick check of Homer’s 8th-century BC ‘ Odyssey confirms that Circe was indeed described as living in an “isolated palace” on her “Island of Aeaea”.

What is not being reported about this story are the wonderful ancient archetypes of mythology associated with the potential discovery of Circe’s residence. Archetypes are universal patterns relating to the cycles of life and used in literature to convey deeper meaning.

Later writers used Circe as the archetypal ‘predatory female’ and her magical skills covey the sexually free woman. Circe turning Odysseus’ men into pigs, by tricking them into drinking her magic soup, is an early version of ‘Snow White' in which an evil queen poisoned Snow White with magic apples.

Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton, as Circe (1782) by George Romney. (National Trust, Waddesdon Manor/CC BY SA 4.0)

Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton, as Circe (1782) by George Romney. (National Trust, Waddesdon Manor/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

Are You a Predatory Female?

While the ‘seductress’ archetype gently lured male victims into trances, had their way with them, and returned them to this world unharmed but smitten, Circe was a classic portal of the ‘Predator’ who used, abused, and turned her victims into pigs, which wholly and totally projects a lack of respect for her male victims.

The sea cave is not currently accessible to the public as scientists are examining a rare species of bat which was found during the expedition. Pretty lucky there. When the scientists are asked to an end of year funding review meeting and their hierarchal masters point out Homer’s myth describes an “island” and they found a cave, they can always say, “found a rare bat though… another grant cheque please?”

The scientists also found a rare species of bat in the cave. (Association of Speleo-Archeological Research, Rome Sotterranea)

The scientists also found a rare species of bat in the cave. ( Association of Speleo-Archeological Research, Rome Sotterranea )

Top Image:   Portrait of Emma Hamilton as Circe. This image was popular in illustrations for numerous books referring to Circe. ( Public Domain ) Circe’s cave is located at Mount Circeo, in Italy. Source: Association of Speleo-Archeological Research, Rome Sotterranea

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Although Mount Circeo it is probably Circe’s island (or at least the place where Homer puts the story of Circe), the Split Cave of Torre Paola cannot be the cave of Circe. At first, Circe was not living in a cave (Calypso lived in a cave) but in a “palace” according to Homer (book 10), and at second the palace was in the woods and not close to the sea.

Below, I copy my comments about Circe from a previous article in A.O. (17 July 2019): “It looks like both Homer and Virgil put Circe’s island at San Felipe Circeo. It is not strange though that Circeo is not an island (not even in the ancient times, as it is least probable the presence of beasts on a small island), because the Greeks didn’t use the term “peninsula” before the 5th ce. BCE, so a real peninsula in Homer’s time was called an “island”. It is also interesting that just about 20 km east of Circeo, in Anxur of Terracina, lays the temple of Feronia, the Roman goddess of fauna and flora.

Matt Kaplan in his article: Slivers of Science in Homer’s “The Odyssey”, published on Discovery in 2015, claims that Circe used Datura Stramonium (Jimson weed) to seduce Odysseus men, but Odysseus used Galanthus (Snowdrop) as antidote to avoid Circe’s spells”. See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVo225pUaSA

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