(Review) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

Publisher and Publication Date: Ecco. An imprint of HarperCollins Publisher. 2011. 2012 for paperback.
Genre: Greek mythology. A retelling of The Iliad.
Pages: 378.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of Greek mythology.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble link

Further links of interest:
Greek Mythology 
Britannica
Ancient History Encyclopedia

Patroclus: GreekMythology.com – Dec 17, 2019

I’ve read The Odyssey by Homer.
I’ve read two spinoff stories about Odysseus.
The Oracles of Troy by Glyn Iliffe
The Voyage of Odysseus by Glyn Iliffe

The Iliad is free on Kindle Unlimited. In this program you actually borrow the book. I plan to read this story soon.
There are several choices at Amazon to read Homer’s works for free or inexpensive.

I found The Song of Achilles on a table at Barnes and Noble just before heading to the check out line. I love Greek mythology. It’s rare to find spin-off books in this genre. I didn’t understand too much about the book before purchase. After I got home, I read a few reviews. After reading some of the reviews (that were harsh), and then reading the book, I believe it’s unfair to identify it as a book about a sexual relationship between two men. This book is so much more.
Madeline Miller has knowledge about the subject of Greek mythology. The following is a bio. from Goodreads:
“Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.”

I don’t usually write a review that gives away spoilers. I’m hoping to write a thorough review that will still hold surprises for a future reader of the book.

Summary:
The Song of Achilles is a retelling of The Iliad; and, it’s the story of Patroclus and Achilles’ told by Patroclus.
Patroclus, according to Greek mythology was the companion, close friend, and a valiant warrior of Achilles. It is unknown if they were lovers. In The Iliad they had a close bond. Homer didn’t define that love as being sexual. Of course all these stories are works of fiction.
The Iliad is the story of the Trojan War. The ten year siege against Troy. Multiple Greek states converged in order to fight against Troy, because a son of the Troy king, Paris, had taken Helen. Helen was the wife of Menelaus who was the brother of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. Agamemnon was one of the leaders in the Trojan War.
Several years before, before Helen and Menelaus married, males (various ages) who had met to possibly win the hand of Helen, promised on oath to uphold and defend her husband. Achilles and Patroclus were at this meeting and swore oaths.
The Song of Achilles began by telling the life story of Patroclus, the events surrounding his birth, parentage, early childhood. Further, the incident that led him to exile in Phthia; the relationship with Achilles; Achilles’ biography; and ending with the ten years in the Trojan War. I’m amazed all of this was told in one volume of 369 pages.

My Thoughts:
I read the first 200 pages and then returned to page one to begin again. Why? I wanted to have a discerning eye on the story and not just read for entertainment. I took 13 pages of notes!
I want to get “two” things out of the way before proceeding.
1. If you love Greek mythology, I recommend this book.
2. If you are a reader who doesn’t want to read a love scene between two men, skip page 100. This is the only page that has detail about their physical relationship.

What I love about this story:
•Miller showed me the transformation of Patroclus, Achilles, and their relationship. It is Patroclus who tells the story. He is a young boy at the beginning, later a teenager, and then a man. His personality, reasonings, feelings, impulsiveness, temperament is all described at each age level.
•Patroclus is a child that was not wanted. His mother is considered “simple.” He never lived up to the expectations of his father, the king. He’s an only child. He had no other family. He didn’t have friends. He was unwanted and unloved. Tragic. And through another tragedy he is moved away to be in exile with other exiled boys. He sees himself as unattractive, awkward, thin, and simple. (There is that word simple again.) Then, Patroclus sees the golden child. The word golden or similar type words will be used often in the story. Achilles is golden. He is bright like the sun. He is noticed and admired by everyone, including Patroclus’ father. His father remarked that Achilles was “what a prince should be.” He is beautiful, strong, and fast. Achilles chose Patroclus to be his companion and friend. Patroclus is wanted, admired, trusted, and grows to love Achilles. They are at first closer than friends, more like brothers. They are a family unit. Later when they are in the mid teenage years they become lovers.
•Achilles was the only child of a king. His mother was a sea-nymph creature. She was a goddess. Achilles was swift and fast. This was his god-like power. In his life, even as a boy, he stood out as bright as a star. He was always noticed by others. In this story, The Song of Achilles, Achilles and Patroclus are opposites. It is a writing feature used sometimes, to make one character the opposite of the other, it makes the differences appear crisp and dramatic.
•The relationship of Achilles and Patroclus changed or transformed through the years. All long-term relationships go through changes, because the people who are in the relationship grow, develop, and change. Patroclus realized Achilles was destined to be great. Patroclus made the decision (shown in his behavior) to be the supportive and caregiver partner. All through their years together Patroclus is devoted, adores, and worships Achilles.
The Song of Achilles doesn’t just focus on the last few years of the Trojan War, but touches on all the ten years. Miller has the characters discuss the long-term affects of the war on them. They blame Achilles for the lengthy war.
•The gods are shown as devious, calculating entities not to be trusted. However, the word god is often used with how mortals see life and themselves, and what they hope to become.
•Through this story, I saw the cultures and standards for men and women. Especially how women were treated. Females were treated as property to be exploited, abused, traded, and sacrificed. Men were seen in how masculine they were. How they fought in battle.
•Odysseus is a favorite character of mine, and not just in Greek mythology. I was happy he had a strong role in the book. He’s still my hero.
•One of my favorite parts of the book is the description of Hector. Fantastic description of his body, clothing, and mannerism; and, most important his affect on people watching!
•An interesting mystery. Helen is remarked on, talked about, and referred to. Helen has a brief scene in the book. Even though she doesn’t have a strong dialogue, her presence in the room is palpable. The few words she says creates energy.
•From what I understand, The Song of Achilles is close to being true to Homer’s story. I saw a few exceptions. For example, a goat is sacrificed instead of a horse.
•The battle scenes are violent and dramatic. How a person is dressed for battle is described-this includes the layers of clothing and weaponry.
•The last part of the book is important. It holds the list of characters. Information about gods and humans. Two essays—my favorite is “Stealing Hercules’ Club.”

The Song of Achilles is a book that I could gush on for a very long time. It is powerful. It is sweeping. The characters are memorable. This is true to Homer’s books. If the characters and story in The Song of Achilles were not true to Homer’s books (or even close), it would fall flat.

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