The Song of Achilles: A Novel
By Madeline Miller
Achilles crested the rise and came to where I sat. He looked at my face and my bloodied skin. “I heard you talking,” he said.
“It was your mother,” I said.
He knelt and took my foot in his lap. Gently, he picked the fragments of rock from the wounds, brushing off dirt and chalky dust. He tore a strip from his tunic’s hem and pressed it tight to stanch the blood.
My hand closed over his. “You must not kill Hector,” I said.
He looked up, his beautiful face framed by the gold of his hair.
“My mother told you the rest of the prophecy.”
“And you think that no one but me can kill Hector.”
“Yes,” I said.
“And you think to steal time from the Fates?”
“Ah.” A sly smile spread across his face; he had always loved defiance. “Well, why should I kill him? He’s done nothing to me.”
For the first time then, I felt a kind of hope.
The Iliad is one of the oldest stories known to man. Most people are familiar with the story, if not from reading it in school, then from the many adaptations of Homer’s original tale from movies and literature. The Song of Achilles: A Novel is another in this tradition of adaptation, and Madeline Miller has truly out-done herself. Miller has taken the basic story of the Trojan War, with all those characters you remember from literature class—Helen of Troy, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and, of course, Achilles—and turned it into a story of undying love against all odds in the most unlikely of places.
In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles, who is known as the best warrior of all the Greek army, is enraged after the death of his friend, Patroclus. In his grief, he uses his super-human skills to take revenge on the Trojans who killed his friend. Miller took this brief bit from the Iliad and expanded it to explain why such grief overtook Achilles. In order to do this, Miller starts her tale much earlier than the original epic and follows the two companions from the time they are boys learning to be men in the court of Achilles’ father.
Despite being a book named for Achilles, it is Patroclus, who narrates The Song of Achilles. Because of his perspective, Achilles, who is both the best warrior of the Greeks and half god, is easy to understand. He is real. Patroclus’s voice allows us to see the love between the two men as it flowers while they are young and growing up in court, and we get to see that love grow into something only the luckiest people get to experience.
Patroclus follows his companion over the sea and into war, after a prophecy warns that Achilles will gain great fame in the war but never return home. Patroclus knows that if he doesn’t go to war, he will never see his beloved Achilles again.
The Song of Achilles delves into the intimacy between the greatest Greek of his time and the man he loved. Miller’s tale, while not new material, is one of the sweetest stories of the Trojan War that I have ever experienced. Miller expertly weaves her new story into the already existing tapestry of the mythology of the Trojan War, and she turned a story that I could barely make myself read in college into a wonderful novel that I could barely stand to set down. I found myself flying through the sentences and rapidly flipping the pages to find out just what would happen next.
By the end of The Song of Achilles, I had tears in my eyes for the beauty of the love between these two men. There is nothing sweeter than true love, and there is nothing more beautiful than when that love exists in the midst of a bitter war. Patroclus will make you love Achilles, because his love is the kind of love that will last forever. Madeline Miller has taken her place in a long line of Homeric storytellers, and her adaptation of this classic is wonderfully and beautifully written.
Buy It: RIGHT NOW. Don’t be surprised when you love it, and don’t discount it because you think the story of the Iliad is only for college professors and geeky boys.
The Song of Achilles: A Novel
$14.99 (Paperback), 416 pages