THE SONG OF ACHILLES

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller(Source)

What can I say, to convey how wonderful The Song of Achilles was?  “This and this and this!”

The Song of Achilles stars Patroclus, a peripheral character in The Iliad.  When the story opens, Patroclus is an unhappy, shy young prince.  His father feels nothing but scorn and disappointment toward him, his mother barely knows him, and the sons of the nobles of his father’s court bully him.  Patroclus’s only joy comes from wandering alone and playing with a pair of dice – until he accidentally kills one of the boys that bully him, and he is exiled to King Peleus’ court in the land of Phthia, and his life really begins.  The prince of Phthia is a young boy, about the same age as Patroclus, but who represents everything Patroclus knows he will never be – golden, handsome, gifted, athletic, popular, son of a goddess.  Even Patroclus’s own father says that the prince of Phthia is “what a son should be.”  So when golden Prince Achilles notices Patroclus, befriends him, and makes him a constant companion, Patroclus is – at first – overawed.  Still, he soon learns to see Achilles for what he truly is – a kind, unassuming boy who loves music, who won’t fight in front of other people because he’s too good.  Patroclus and Achilles become best friends and, eventually, they become lovers.  But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been snatched from her husband by the impudent Prince Paris of Troy, and the kingdoms of Greece must unite to bring her back.  This is Achilles’ moment, as Aristos Achaion – the “best of the Greeks” – he is to play the starring role in this war that he didn’t start and with which he wants nothing to do.  And of course, Patroclus goes with him.

I’ve never read The Iliad, but I understand that the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, who is only a peripheral character is Homer’s text, has been a source of speculation and questioning for centuries.  My sister-in-law read The Iliad for an English class and the theory that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers was mentioned, but not explored.  This is the theory that Madeline Miller takes on in The Song of Achilles, because it is Patroclus who sets in motion the events that bring about the beginning of the end of the Trojan War – and why Patroclus?  What was it about Patroclus that spurred Achilles to the climax of his own story?  It’s never explained in The Iliad, but Miller’s take that the two were lovers rings very true, perhaps thanks to the internal logic of the story or perhaps thanks to her lovely writing.

Yes, the writing is superb.  The Song of Achilles reads like a classic of ages, even thought it was only published last year.  There are parts that are more like poetry than a novel.  “This and this and this!”  I could taste the figs, feel the sand of the Trojan beach under my feet, smell the cooking fires in the Myrmidons’ camp, hear the jangling of Briseis’ bracelets and the screams of dying men on the battlefield.  Miller makes you believe every word.  She makes you buy in, wholly and completely, to Achilles and Patroclus and their love.  She tugs at your heartstrings and she astounds you with beautiful, perfectly-crafted sentences and a plot that marches inexorably forward toward destruction and tragedy.

It was all just so beautiful.  That’s all I can say.  “This and this and this!”  And now I’m going to have to read The Iliad.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller – buy it here(Not an affiliate link.)

2 thoughts on “THE SONG OF ACHILLES

  1. It sounds wonderful, as reluctant as I am to read a tragedy! I love Greek mythology, and I’ve been planning to re-read the Iliad, which I read at a time when I was probably too young to speculate much about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus.

  2. Pingback: Beachy Beach Reads | Covered In Flour

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