When we think of Achilles the images of spears, swords, chariots, and Brad Pitt come to mind. A warrior, part god with bronze skin striding across a battlefield smiting people. So much smiting. And it is no surprise we have this image; the opening line of Homer’s the Iliad starts with “Sing, O goddess, the rage of Achilles son of Peleus.”
From the Age of Heroes, Achilles was destined to be the world’s greatest warrior and the Trojan War was the perfect stage to perform. But in The Song of Achilles, a book by Madeline Miller that hit shelves today, we see an Achilles capable of love, inner conflict, and constantly wrestling with his own fate. Because here is not just the story of Achilles, it’s the story of Patroclus, his closest companion.
Patroclus was a young prince, exiled and sent to Peleus to be raised. In the Iliad he makes only a few appearances, but his influence with Achilles changes the fate of the Trojan War. In The Song of Achilles, Patroclus is the relate-able outcast. He is not a loser, but not a warrior; and he is surrounded by a culture that is dominated by the stories of heroes and gods. In fact, they aren’t just stories. Achilles’ mother, the goddess Thetis, plays a major role as does the centaur Chiron and a host of other deities. Their inclusion adds a sense of enchantment to the story but also serves as a reminder that the will of the gods is not to be taken lightly.
But at its heart The Song of Achilles is a love story. Yes, there is fighting, sacrifices, and death. It’s ancient Greece and the Trojan War after all. But it is also a tale of growing up, learning to love, and the willingness to sacrifice for love. The incredible relationship between Achilles and Patroclus sets the story apart from a simple retelling of an old tale. We see life through Patroclus’ eyes as the gods, the promise of war, and Achilles’ prophesied role all conspire to keep them apart.
The author’s knowledge, fascination, and appreciation for the subject is exhibited expertly throughout the story. From rich descriptions of ancient Greek culture, of food and customs; to the addition of specific words from the Greek that have no direct translation—this is a complete world to explore. And don’t worry—this is no classics study, nor do you need to be well-versed in the Iliad or the Odyssey to enjoy it. If you are not an Iliad buff or still thinking of Brad Pitt that’s fine; this story stands on its own and will make you love the Homeric epic in new ways.
So if you like heroic stories with gods and wars this might be for you. If you like love stories that are poignant with a touch of the tragic then this is definitely for you. Ideally you should like both. The book is out today!
Are you a fan of The Odyssey? Will you read The Song of Achilles?