The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Greek mythology, character-driven narrative with an epic story, a heartbreaking love story, these are a few of my favorite things all piled into one beautiful book. I couldn’t put it down; I didn’t want it to end. I finally started reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to slow my reading of this one.
Between The Odyssey, The Iliad, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and a college course on classical mythology, my knowledge of the Trojan War and the Greek heroes has been shaped and reshaped with different versions. Building on that base is this book, telling the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Throughout those other sources the pair has been painted as friends, brothers, lovers, etc. but one thing never changes: they are inseparable. They are dearer to each other than their own lives.
The first half of the book is the story of how they meet and the beginning of their friendship. The second half is the well-known story of the Trojan War. It’s retold through Patroclus’ eyes, which gives the whole tale a very different spin. All the familiar faces are there: Agamemnon, Odyssey, Hector, Paris, Zeus, Athena, etc., but many of them feel slightly different in this version.
Patroclus himself is a thoughtful, sensitive boy. He’s so unlike the other Greek warriors when it comes to brute strength, but his strength comes in a very different form. He’s willing to love against all odds, even when he knows it will end in a broken heart.
The reason this retelling resonated with me in such a powerful way is because of the characters themselves. Miller makes them so relatable. You feel for them in a way that you usually don't when you read books on classical mythology.
Chiron and Briseis particularly stood out for me. Chiron is a centaur who trains both Achilles and Patroclus for years in his rose-colored cave on a mountain-side. He is wise and kind and his home is a peaceful one, a complete change from the battle driven world they had become accustomed to. Briseis on the other hand is brought into Patroclus’ world in the midst of a bloody war. She is a prize from battle, but their friendship blossoms despite the circumstances and we see the best of Patroclus because of her.
BOTTOM LINE: I loved it. Sometimes a book lives up to the hype and this one did for me. I can’t say that you’d feel the same if you don’t already like Greek Mythology, but it was an absolute treat for me.
“Did he know, or only guess at Achilles’ destiny? Perhaps he simply assumed: a bitterness of habit, of boy after boy trained for music and medicine, and unleashed for murder.”
**One quick note about the kindle version. There was one incredibly helpful feature that really enhanced my reading experience. The character’s name were highlighted and when you clicked on them it took you to a screen with a drawing (see above) and a summary of the character’s part in Greek mythology.