Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, Retelling
Date published: August 28th 2012
Page Count: 378
Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Greek Mythologies and retellings, but Madeline Miller has truly succeeded in breaking my heart and piecing it together a hundred times over.
The Song of Achilles is told through the eyes of Patroclus, Achilles dearest friend and spans from his childhood together with Achilles to their battle together at Troy. Despite recognizing himself as the side character of the story, Patroclus plays a prominent role as Achille’s lover and dearest friend. Through describing to us his world and his story, we grow fond of him, feeling his emotions as well as his pain. Although Achilles is one of the main characters in the Trojan war and the Iliad, Patroclus truly takes up a greater part of the readers’ hearts in The Song of Achilles.
Madeline Miller stays true to the story of the Iliad as much as possible, while interweaving her own plots in the childhood of Achilles and Patroclus and the Trojan War. She also captures the full power of story retellings; rather than trying to shy away from revealing the plot, she fully embraces the inevitable tragedy of the story. With the nuanced foreshadowing comes the feeling of powerlessness in us readers, as we watch Achilles fulfill more and more of his destiny and run closer and closer towards his impending death.
Having watched Troy the movie and read The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, I found that Miller’s take on the story was extraordinarily poignant in the way she reveals the more human-side of Achilles; his naivety, joyful spirit, and his enduring love for Patroclus. Miller grasps this larger-than-life hero and peels away the layers to show us a boy who simply wanted a happy ending with the boy he loved.
The Song of Achilles revisits a well-known legend, sharing the story about the tragic hero and the boy who loved him with all his heart. The ending is heart wrenching and cathartic all at once.