“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller— Back to Greece

Miller, Madeline. “Song of Achilles: A Novel”, Ecco, 2012.

Back to Greece

Amos Lassen

Let’s go back to the age of heroes in ancient Greece. Patroclus is a prince but he has been exiled to Phthia to be raised by King Peleus and is son, the beautiful Achilles. Achilles represented the best in all en—good looking, strong, honest with a mother who is a goddess. In simple terms, he is everything that Patroclus is not. The two boys become close friends despite the differences and they become even closer as they mature and learn how to wage war and practice medicine. Achilles’s mother Thetis, goddess of the sea is not pleased with them but then she hates mortals anyway. With the kidnapping of Helen of Troy, the men of the country go into battle and set out to put Troy under siege. Achilles who is an adventurer joins the Greek soldiers but he worries about his “friend”, Patroclus who follows him to war.

Miller skillfully uses “The Iliad” as her source and she gives us a wonderful historical novel. She focuses on the themes of love, war, betrayal and prophecies and we get a different look at the Trojan War as seen through the eyes of Achilles and Patroclus. The two are total opposites. Patroclus is a mortal shamefully sent into exile while Achilles is a god who is loved by everyone. They love each other—the star-crossed lovers are the epitome of Greek historical fiction. Reading about them at war is akin to being there with them and it is Miller’s lush prose that allows us to feel that way. She favors the underdog Patroclus and she gives him a voice that makes us want to root for him and we do. Achilles who has always been a major character in fiction and in history now takes a back seat to Patroclus. Patroclus cannot believe his good luck of being with Achilles. He is but an ordinary person who becomes the lover of a god and because of his love for him, he finds himself on the battlefield.

I absolutely fell in love with the book and its characters but again that is because of the way the writer created her characters. One cannot help but think of the wonderful contributions made by Mary Renault to our literature and finally there is someone to carry on her tradition. The story is not a happy one but then neither is life always happy. We know how it will end if we have done any reading about the period. We first meet Patroclus as an insecure boy who begins to change when he meets Achilles. As the two learn together, their friendship turns into love and they soon understand their feelings for each other.

Miller takes a story that was tucked away somewhere and breathes life into it and gives us a love story as well as some minor love stories. It is because of her wonderfully drawn characters and great details that she gives us a chance to know them and to a degree feel what they feel. I think what makes the book so special is the quality of the writing. This is not “The Iliad” that we studied at school and this book will send you rushing to review the original. Miller’s story is about the love between the two males and their affection for each other pushes the Trojan War into the background even if it serves as a catalyst for the two to fall in love.

One thought on ““The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller— Back to Greece

  1. jpbowie

    I liked this ‘alternate’ story of the siege of Troy very much. Miller does an excellent job of bringing these legendary characters to blazing life – and you’re right – there is a definite tribute to Mary Renault here.


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