The Song Of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Image Credits: Ecco

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

The Song of Achilles is American writer Madeline Miller’s debut novel and it was firstly published in 2011.

I studied The Iliad and The Odyssey during my high school years, so I was familiar with the story, even though Miller puts a different spin on it and she entrusts the narration to Patroclus, Achilles’ kind and loyal friend since childhood.

Madeline Miller stays true to the homosexuality of Homer’s Iliad instead of telling a censored version of the story; in this book Achilles and Patroclus are madly in love with each other, they are soulmates, unlike what is told in the Iliad movie version Troy, where they are shown as cousins and man at arms. The attraction between them is slowly built up, even though Patroclus is struck by Achilles’ beauty after seeing him for the first time.

We get to see how they grow up together, learn together and fight together. They become inseparable and the sexual part in their relationship is something that matures alongside them in a very natural way (they still have some issues because their personalities tend to clash at times, as it may happen with all relationships).

No prior knowledge of Homer is required going into this, even though it is adapted from the Iliad. The story is set in Ancient Greece, has a great aesthetic and is told through a simple, elegant prose. As the narrator, Patroclus becomes the main character of the book, letting us see and perceive through his eyes every emotion, feeling and event that characterizes his life at Achilles’ side.

It all begins with Patroclus as a child who gets exiled to Phtia at the court of Peleus, Achilles’ father (he was being punished for an accidental murder). From this moment on, we readers see the two boys grow up; we are shown a different side of Achilles, who is presented more as a human being and less as a warrior. Even though he is deeply conflicted, Achilles is capable of love and has a gentle side to his personality. He is honest, he loves playing the lyre and being surrounded by nature. He goes from being a privileged child, son of a king and a sea goddess, to a young man struggling to find a balance between his feelings and the expectations other people put upon him.

Patroclus and Achilles get to spend a lot of time together on Mount Pelion, where they train with Centaur Chiron, who famously trained Hercules before them.

The innocence and carelessness of this warless time is perfectly described by Miller in these pages; the plot then leaves room to prophecies and a series of events that are anticipating a destiny to be fulfilled.

Other characters from the Iliad who make an appearance in the novel are Agamemnon, Menelaus and Odysseus, even though we see more of secondary characters like Briseis, Apollo’s priestess to whom Patroclus teaches Greek after she’s enslaved by the Greeks.

As I previously mentioned, I knew the plot thanks to my high school studies and I really enjoyed the story. I already knew it had a tragic ending, but this made it nonetheless riveting and in a way uplifting. Madeline Miller gives a new look to the Trojan War; it is not merely about violence and death, but also about a great love story and a deep, sincere friendship between two young Greeks.

I recommend this novel to learn about the Iliad heroes, not only the ones involved in the war, and to delve deep into the character of Achilles, in order to better understand its psychology and the roots of Achilles’ wrath. This is a perfect novel for people who are passionate about Greek mythology and have loved reading the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid.

However, people who are not familiar with the subject can enjoy it too, because it has a modern take on the original story.

SIMILAR BOOKS: the Iliad (if you are interested in the primary source), the Odyssey and the Aeneid (to find out more about Greek mythology in general).

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (about Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, after his return from the Trojan War) and Lore by Alexandra Bracken (this belongs to the YA genre and it is about the Greek gods and the cult of the Agon).

MOVIE ADAPTATIONS: there is no real adaptation of the book but probably the Troy movie with Brad Pitt is an enjoyable one (I saw it twice at the movie theatre when I was eleven), even though it is quite different from the book. It is not about Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship, but more about the Trojan War and the motives behind it.



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