The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)

Our friendship came all at once after that, like spring floods from the mountains. Before, the boys and I had imagined that his days were filled with princely instruction, statecraft and spear. But I had long since learned the truth: other than his lyre lessons and his drills, he had no instruction. One day we might go swimming, another we might climb trees. We made up games for ourselves, of racing and tumbling. We would lie on the warm sand and say, “Guess what I’m thinking about” (p 48).

song-of-achillesThe Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Trojan war from Patroclus’ point of view. Patroclus and Achilles were close friends and companions in the Iliad. Their bosom relationship is often described in later Greek writings as a romantic relationship, though some dismiss this interpretation. Miller takes it and runs with it, framing Achilles and his decisions in light of his sexuality. It also reveals a very human Achilles.

This is a highly readable, enjoyable book, though I expected more literary prose. I’m a glutton for mythology and this certainly satisfied. I appreciated the very godlike qualities Thetis displayed, interactions with Odyssey great Odysseus, and the understated affection between Patroclus and Achilles.

Only occassionally did the narrative faulter and I thought, “Really?” For example, Achilles makes a stunning first kill in the chaos of storming a beach crawling with Trojans firing arrows on the slow moving Greek boats. He throws a spear miraculously far, killing brutally. But in the next chapter, Patroclus states:

In less than an hour the raid would begin. I had fallen asleep thinking of it; I had woken with it. We had discussed, already, that I would not go. Most of the men would not. This was a king’s raid, picked to grant first honors to the best warriors. It would be his first real kill (p 220).

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