Rating: 5 out of 5
I really hope you’re paying attention right now, because this book just became one of my favorites of all time. Of. All. Time. No novel has blown my mind this hard since 1984, and honestly, I doubt that I will read another book this year that can top this one. It’s THAT good.
That being said, not everyone will feel the same way. You have to be a die-hard fan of Homer’s Iliad and Ancient Greek literature in general to truly appreciate Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I reviewed the Iliad a couple weeks ago, and when I found out that Miller was garnering a ton of great press for this adaptation, I was hooked.
Miller deserves every fabulous review, because she has the credentials. With a BA and MA in Classics and a current position teaching Latin and Ancient Greek, needless to say, she knows her stuff. And as someone who also minored in Classics and spent two years studying Latin, I believe that I have the right to say that she knows her stuff.
The Song of Achilles is told from Patroclus’ perspective. Patroclus was a Greek prince who was a suitor of Helen’s as a young boy. After he unintentionally murders a bully, he is exiled to Phthia, King Peleus’ domain. Peleus is Achilles’ mortal father, and the sea-nymph goddess Thetis is his immortal mother. Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship progresses over time from best friends to lovers.
Yes, if you are uncomfortable reading about homosexual relationships, then this book is not for you. However, if you love Ancient Greek literature, then this interpretation of the Iliad will not surprise you.
In the Iliad, Achilles is aware that he will die in the war, due to his mother’s knowledge of prophecy. After his slave-girl Briseis is stolen from him by King Agamemnon, Achilles refuses to fight. After many Greeks die, Patroclus agrees to fight in Achilles’ armor to trick the Trojans into submission.
Tragically, he is killed by Trojan prince Hector, and Patroclus’ death is the reason why Achilles resumes fighting. In his fiery rage, Achilles murders Hector and drags his body from his chariot around Troy. Hector’s brother Paris ends up killing Achilles, and his ashes are mixed and buried with those of Patroclus.
The 2004 movie “Troy” avoids offending conservative viewers by portraying the two men as cousins, and Briseis as Achilles’ love interest. Miller’s interpretation is much more plausible, given what other Ancient Greek writers like Plato and Aeschylus have expressed. Again, sexuality back then was nothing like it is now: it was typical for Greek men to take both male lovers and female wives.
I would encourage anyone who has an open mind to read this book, as it is one of the best love stories I’ve ever read. It was even more heart-breaking, because I knew how it all would end. As much I wanted to keep reading, I didn’t want these two characters to meet their doom–and I couldn’t help but cry when they did.
The writing is superb, reflecting the poetry of the Iliad. Character development was perfect, as I fell in love with Achilles and Patroclus as they were falling in love with each other. And other than a couple anachronisms, I loved how Miller inserted tidbits of Greek vocabulary and other myths to appeal to Iliad fans and educate those unfamiliar with the tale.
I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. I imagine one day college students will be reading The Song of Achilles right along with the Iliad in their Classics courses. And if it were up to me, Miller’s next book should be an adaptation of Homer’s equally famous sequel Odyssey. One can hope!