In Greek mythology, the earliest mention of one practicing the art of magic can be found in The Odyssey, written in the late 8th century BC and attributed to Homer. It is Circe (Kirke) , the Titan minor goddess, who has the distinction of being the first to use magic as a way to control the secret forces of the world.
Homer described Circe as the most lovely of all the immortals. She had great knowledge of magic and all herbs. With her wand and herbal potions, she could transform enemies into animals. Circe was a sorceress, skilled in powers of illusion, metamorphosis and other dark arts, such as necromancy.
In both the Odyssey by Homer and Hesiod's Theogony, the parents of Circe were Helios, the sun god, and Perseis the nymph, daughter of Oceanus. Perseis and Helios had four offspring. Their daughters, Circe and Pasiphae were witches, or sorceresses. The sons, Aeetes and Perses were magicians.
Circe was sent to live on the island of Aeaea by her father, after she had murdered her own husband, the prince of Colchis. In Homer's time, Aeaea was most likely an island with a long peninsula. Later classical Roman scholars placed the island about sixty-two miles south of Rome. The scholars believed that Aeaea was actually Mount Circeo on Cape Circeo on the western coast of Italy. A cave on Cape Circeo was named "Grotta della Maga Circe" (the cave of Circe) by archeologists.
Circe's abode was a stone house in the middle of a dense forest on the island. All throughout the forest roamed lions and wolves -- once men, these animals were the result of the magic of metamorphosis by Circe. None of the lions or wolves harmed Circe. They followed their mistress around in hopes that one day she would reverse the spell on them. Circe would gather herbs and make potions, practice her magical arts, and watch for ships to approach.
Circe was a powerful sorceress -- she used her magic for good or evil, depending on her whims. Medea, another sorceress and niece of Circe, had murdered her own brother, Apsyrtus, to escape with Jason and the Argonauts with the Golden Fleece. Zeus punished them by sending a great system of storms to blow the Argo, Jason's shIp, off course. The Argo guided them to the island of Circe. After their story was told, Circe performed a spiritual purification on them for the murder of Apsyrtus, so they could return home safely.
Odysseus, King of Ithaca, fought ten years in the Trojan War. After the war ended, he and his men set sail for home. Their food supply was running very low and the men were tired and hungry. Finally, land was spotted and Odysseus headed for it. As his men rested, Odysseus went in search of wild game. As he carried the stag he had killed back to the ship, he noticed smoke rising from the forest -- it looked like it might be coming from a cottage or fire pit.That night the men ate their fill and slept on the ship.
In the morning, Odysseus sent out a party to find the source of the smoke he had seen. Eurylochus, who was second in command, led the search party. They found the large house and Circe invited them in for a meal and rest. Eurylochus, always suspicious, waited outside. When he learned that after the men ate they had turned into swine, he ran back to the ship and warned Odysseus.
On his way to rescue his men, Odysseus was stopped by Hermes, his great grandfather. Hermes was a son of Zeus -- he was an emissary of the gods and intercessor between mortals and the divine. Hermes warned Odysseus of Circe's powers and what to expect from the sorceress. He told Odysseus to take of the holy herb, moly, which would protect him from Circe's spells and potions, then act as if to kill her if she did not reverse the spell on his men. Odysseus did as Hermes said and the swine were turned back to his men.
Hermes also had warned Odysseus of the beauty of Circe and that she was a seductive temptress. He said Circe would take his manhood unless she could be forced to swear by the gods that she would not. Once one swears to the gods, it is binding. Circe made the oath and Odysseus and his men stayed on her island for one year. Circe and Odysseus had a son, Telegonus.
Odysseus returned to Ithaca and to his wife, Penelope, and their son, Telemachus.
The Telegony is an ancient Greek epic poem that was lost. It contained the story of Telegonus. It supposedly followed The Odyssey in chronological order. The epic is attributed to the poet Eugammon in the 6th century BCE. Even though the work was lost, it survived by oral tradition.
In the Telegony, the goddess Athena advises Circe to tell her son who his father is. When Telegonus had become a young man, Circe tells him about his father, Odysseus. Telegonus wanted to find his father. Circe gave Telegonus a magical spear for protection on his voyage. The spear had the poisonous tip of the stingray. On the voyage, Telegonus' ship was thrown off course and he lost his bearings. Not knowing he had landed at Ithaca, Telegonus decides to raid some farms for cattle. The land he chose for this belonged to Odysseus.
Odysseus and his men rode out to defend the land and cattle. In the battle, Telegonus kills Odysseus with the poisoned spear. When Telegonus learned that he had killed his own father, his remorse was deep, his lament inconsolable. He returns to the island of Aeaea and his mother, Circe, with the body of Odysseus. Feeling deeply duty-bound, he also took with him, Penelope and Telemachus, Odysseus' other son. Circe bestows immortality on Penelope and Telemachus, and Odysseus is buried on the island.
The four stay together on the island of Aeaea -- Telegonus married Penelope, and Telemachus married Circe.