The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller)

It’s been a, quite frankly, manic few weeks. I am very much looking forward to reading and crafting my way through the long weekend. And I have started with the Song of Achilles. I spent ages trying to get this through the library, but I am very glad I bought it instead, because now it can sit all shiny on my shelf. The Song Of Achilles caught my eye absolutely ages ago, but as I have a TBR list to see me through to next Spring, I didn’t decide to read it until I saw that Circe is coming out soon, and I wanted to get a feel for the authors style. Long story short, I am hella excited.

We all know the story of Achilles – how he fought at the Battle of Troy, and died with an arrow shot. The Song Of Achilles is about how he lived to become the greatest hero the gods could produce, re-imagining the Illiad from the perspective of Patroclus, the exiled young prince living in the court of King Peleus and his perfect son, Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles and Patroclus become friends, studying together under Chiron, and over the years, a fearless friendship develops into something more despite Achilles’s sea-goddess mother’s disapproval. Then, Helen of Sparta is taken to Troy, and the warring nations of Greece must put aside their difference to fight side by side. And hither go Achilles and Patroclus, one skilled in the art of war, the other medicine. They don’t know then, that everything they hold dear is to be put to the test.

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”

The Song of Achilles: Madeline Miller

This book is incredibly lyrical, and vivid. I’ve never read the Illiad (it’s on my list!) but I know the story of Achilles, and I think this is a really beautifully re-imagined book about Achilles part, and the friendship and love that develops in his life and not his death. Patroclus is incredibly shy and awkward, and Achilles is incredibly sure and certain, and together they are balanced and a beautiful love story.

Now, they are irritating as well – Patroclus questions everything, and Achilles has enough pride to rival the Gods. Also, Patroclus seems to defer to Achilles a lot, but Achilles listens to him when advice is called for (most of the time) and I think Patroclus reminds Achilles that he is mortal too. Thetis (Achilles’ sea-goddess mother) despises Patroclus and all he stands for – mortal lover of her godlike son. Theirs is a fractious relationship over the years. But it seems to work, all of it, slotting into the superstitions of an Ancient Greek world, observing feast days and prophecies.

I also really love how the other characters don’t really judge, Achilles comes with Patroclus, they know this, they accept this, and they disapprove of others disapproving. My criticism of this book is that the focus on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus can sometimes be at the expense of the other characters, and Patroclus is considered to be there as Achilles lover, but the Greeks don’t think of him in his own right for quite a long time. Achilles is who they want, he comes with Patroclus. This did annoy me a bit, but the story is told from Patroclus’s point of view, and his world is focused on them, with others playing bit parts in their relationship…so I sorta get it?

Also, some solid social criticism from the centaur:

Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.

The Song of Achilles: Madeline Miller

Despite knowing how it was going to end, and being reminded of it the whole way through, it really hit me, and I got very emotional at the end. The characters were beautifully created, leaping off the page with a spear in their hand. I thought it excellent, and I am now really looking forward to Circe.

What did you think of Song Of Achilles? 

Bea

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