CIRCEIUSCIRCEIUS or CIRCAEUS MONS, or CIRCAEUM PROMONTORIUM (τὸ Κιρκαῖον ὄρος, Strab.; Κιρκαῖυν ἄκρον, Ptol.: Monte Circeo or Circello), a remarkable mountain promontory of Latium on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is formed by a bold and abrupt mountain mass, which rises precipitously from the sea, and is wholly isolated on the. land side, being separated from the Volscian mountains by the broad level tract of the Pontine marshes while on the NW. a long strip of unbroken sandy. shore extends from thence for 30 miles to the promontory of Antium (Porto d'Anzo). Hence when viewed from any distance it appears altogether detached from the mainland, and has the appearance of a lofty island, rather than a promontory. (Strab. v. p.232; Dionys. A. R. 4.63; Procop. B. G. 1.11.) It was hence supposed by many ancient writers that it had originally been an island. But though the alluvial deposits by which alone it is connected with the continent are in a geological sense of very recent formation, it is certain that these cannot have been formed within the period of historical memory. Pliny has strangely misconceived a passage of Theophrastus to which he refers as asserting that the Circeian promontory was still an island in the days of that author: it is quite clear that Theophrastus describes it as a promontory, and only refers to the local tradition for the fact of its having once been an island. (Theophr. H. Plant. 5.8.3; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9.) We have no explanation of the circumstances: that led the Greeks in very early times to identify this remarkable insulated promontory with the island. of Circe, mentioned in the Odyssey. The latter is called by Homer Aeaea (Αἰαίη), and he describes it as a low island in the midst of a boundless sea, Νῆσον, τὴν πέρι πόντος ἀπείριτος ἐστεφάνωται. Αὐτὴ δὲ χθαμαλὴ κεῖται. Od. 11.135.
The fable of Circe appears indeed to have been connected with the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea as early as the time of Hesiod, who describes Circe as the mother of Agrius and Latinus, “who ruled over the illustrious Tyrrhenians in the far recesses of the sacred islands” (Theog. 1011--1015). But this does not explain why a mountain should have been, selected, which was not an island at all, in preference to any of the numerous small islands in the same sea. Other accounts connected the name of Circa with the voyage of the Argonauts, but Apollonius, who adopts this version, does not describe the abode of Circe as an island: but expressly terms it “a. promontory of the Tyrrhenian mainland” ἀκτὴν ἠπείρου Τυρσηνίδος, 3.312) evidently referring to. the Circeian Promontory. Virgil, as might be expected, has also followed the received tradition, and places the abode of Circe between Cumae and the mouth of the Tiber. (Aen. 7.10--24.) It is possible that the legend of Circe was really of Italian origin, or that some local divinity (resembling the Angitia of the Marsi) was worshipped here, who was identified by the Cumaean Greeks with the Circe of their own mythology. The mountain was said to abound in herbs of a poisonous character (Pseud. Arist. de Mirab.78; Theophr. H. P. 5.8.3; Strab. l.c.); but this statement, as Strabo justly suggests, may very probably have been invented to confirm its claim to be the dwelling of the enchantress. Circe was certainly worshipped there in later times (Cic. de N. D. 3.1. 9), but this of course proves nothing, any more than the alleged tomb of Elpenor, one of the companions of Ulysses, or the cup of the hero, himself, which was still shown by the inhabitants in the days of Strabo. (Strab. l.c.; Theophr. l.c. Scylax. § 8.) Theophrastus (l.c.) describes the Circaean mountain [p. 1.627]as 80 stadia in circumference (which is very near the truth) and covered with wood, consisting of oaks, bay trees and myrtles. It is 10 miles distant from. Tarracina, and forms the NW. limit of a bay, of which the other extremity is constituted by the headland of Caieta: this is evidently the Sinus Amyclanus of Pliny (14.6. s. 8; Mare Amuclanum, Tac. Ann. 4.59), so called from the extinct city of Amyclae. But viewed on a larger scale, the Circaean Promontory is the northern extremity of a great gulf which extends from thence to Cape Misenum, with the adjacent islands of Aenaria and Prochyta, forming an arc of which the chord is about 45 geographical miles in length. In early times this remarkable headland constituted the southern limit of Latium, before the Volscians districts (extending from thence to the Liris) were included under that appellation. (Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9. § 56.) The town of Circeii was situated at the northern foot of the mountain [CIRCEII]: besides this Strabo tells us there was a temple of Circe, which perhaps stood on the highest summit of the mountain, which is still known as the Monte di Circe, and is crowned by the remains of walls and substructions of a massive character. The mountain, which is wholly of a calcarepus rock, contains several caverns, one of which is regarded by popular tradition as the abode of the enchantress Circe. (Brocchi, Viagg. al Capo Circeo, pp. 263, &c.) [E.H.B]