The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasur...

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Title:The Song of Achilles
Author:Madeline Miller
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Song of Achilles Reviews

  • Victoria Schwab

    Epic.

  • Rick Riordan

    A new take on the Iliad, written by a high school classics teacher -- how could I not read this? The Song of Achilles retells the story of Greece's greatest hero from the point of view of his best friend Patroclus. The big twist: Madeline Miller casts the story as a romance between Achilles and Patroclus. While staying true to Greek legends and the works of Homer, Miller creatively and convincingly fills in the blanks, giving Patroclus a back story that makes perfect sense, and tracing the frie

    A new take on the Iliad, written by a high school classics teacher -- how could I not read this? The Song of Achilles retells the story of Greece's greatest hero from the point of view of his best friend Patroclus. The big twist: Madeline Miller casts the story as a romance between Achilles and Patroclus. While staying true to Greek legends and the works of Homer, Miller creatively and convincingly fills in the blanks, giving Patroclus a back story that makes perfect sense, and tracing the friendship, and eventual romance, between the two young men in a way that casts a new light on the human side of the Trojan War.

    I always found Achilles to be an unsympathetic character -- a brat, a bully, a big-headed jerk who knows he's the star player on the team and throws a tantrum if he gets put on the bench. Miller shows his unattractive qualities, but she also shows that Achilles is human. He's capable of love. He's deeply conflicted. He has a sense of humor and a gentle side. We see him through Patroclus's eyes, growing from a privileged child to a sensitive teen to a young man struggling to balance his personal feelings with the expectations of an entire country. If you've read the Iliad, you know that the story will have a tragic end, but it's also strangely uplifting and hopeful. I'll never be able to read about these characters the same way again, and that's a good thing. Reading The Song of Achilles put a new light on this ancient story. It was like watching a really good interpretation of a Shakespeare play. You think you know the story, but you're surprised to find how many layers of new meaning can be brought out by a smart production.

    The book is certainly appropriate for YA and up. The prose is elegant in its simplicity. Miller gives Patroclus a Hemmingway-like directness. I read a New York Times review of this book which I thought patently unfair, complaining that the style made the book seem like a fast-food version of the Iliad. I think this misses the whole point of the story. Patroclus's mission in The Song of Achilles is to cut through the legend of the hero and show us the mortal side of demigod. He doesn't want the pompous metaphors and flowery hyperbole of a war epic to bury Achilles's other qualities -- his tenderness, his insecurity, his honesty and lack of guile. The Song of Achilles can serve as an excellent introduction or counterpoint to the study of the Iliad. It certainly made the story new and vibrant for me, despite how many times I've read Homer.

  • Navessa

    Reading this is like reading Romeo and Juliet. We all know the story. We all know the outcome. We all know that our desperate prayers for someone,

    to step in and save these characters from themselves will fall on deaf ears.

    Gods. What a bloody trainwreck. Even though I knew how it was going to end, I was not prepared for how much I

    .

    This is the story of the fall of Troy. Or rather, a part of

    Reading this is like reading Romeo and Juliet. We all know the story. We all know the outcome. We all know that our desperate prayers for someone,

    to step in and save these characters from themselves will fall on deaf ears.

    Gods. What a bloody trainwreck. Even though I knew how it was going to end, I was not prepared for how much I

    .

    This is the story of the fall of Troy. Or rather, a part of it. More specifically, this is the tale of Achilles and Patroclus. Of their undying love for each other. Of the lives they sacrifice on the altar of that love. Of desperate men and petty gods. Of a proud, greedy people engaged in a prolonged, bloody war.

    So often in historical fiction from this time period I see the sharp edges of the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures smoothed away. I see slaves treated well and women given a voice. I'm happy to say there was none of that bullshittery here. Miller paints the pages of this book in blood and suffering. It is awash with pain and brutality. As it should be. Because historical accuracy.

    But, it means that this book is not for everyone. There is a lot of sexism, misogyny, violence, bloodshed, and rape, mentioned almost offhand, because, to these characters, this behavior is commonplace. Expected. I didn't like a single one of them. And not just because of their worldviews. There was Achilles and his hubris. Patroclus and his uselessness. Thetis and her coldness. I didn't even like Odysseus and his famous wit, for there was an edge to it in this book that made him seem less charming and more manipulative than I remember.

    That said, as much as I disliked these characters, I loved their stories. Miller took gods and legends and brought them to life within the pages of this book. She humanized these mythical beings in a way that made them seem real, fallible.

    I just...I cannot say enough about this book. To me, this is literature at its finest. A beautifully written, masterfully crafted story capable of transporting readers within its pages, so enchanting them with what they find within that they forget that the real world lurks without, waiting for their return.

  • Lucía

    Mi reacción al terminar el libro:

  • Clau R.

    Pa-tro-clus.

    This and this and this.

    HOW CAN MY HEART BE MENDED AFTER THIS!????

    Sólo edito esto para decirles que TIENEN QUE LEER ESTE LIBRO OMG. Favorito del año hasta ahora. Lo amo lo amo lo amo y no hago más que pensar en él. Definitivamente lo voy a releer.

  • Will Byrnes

    I feel a bit silly doing this, but I have put a spoiler alert on this review, just in case there are folks out there who might not be versed in the classics.

    In a nutshell, Boy meet demi-god. Boy gets demi-god. Boy loses demi-god. Wait, demi-god loses

    , goes a bit funny in the head and behaves badly. Greece loses demi-god, the happy couple wind up sharing an afterlife.

    - image from her site

    You might want to dust off your Iliad, as this is a retelling of the story of Achilles,

    I feel a bit silly doing this, but I have put a spoiler alert on this review, just in case there are folks out there who might not be versed in the classics.

    In a nutshell, Boy meet demi-god. Boy gets demi-god. Boy loses demi-god. Wait, demi-god loses

    , goes a bit funny in the head and behaves badly. Greece loses demi-god, the happy couple wind up sharing an afterlife.

    - image from her site

    You might want to dust off your Iliad, as this is a retelling of the story of Achilles, you know, the greatest warrior of his time, from that slightly older work. It is impressive, when looking up details from Miller’s novel, how directly her version corresponds to that of Homer.

    Patroclus is a twelve-year-old prince down on his luck. Born of a damaged mother and possessed of none of the obvious gifts that make fathers proud, he defends himself against a bully. The bully slips, falls, coshes his deserving skull on a rock and the planet is one bully lighter. Oops, sorry. But since the bully was a royal, Pops exiles Patroclus to the island of Phthia. (Go ahead, try to say it out loud, five times fast, or at all. You know you want to. Sounds like Parseltongue to me.) Luckily for him, the island’s king, Peleus, is kind and receptive. In fact he seems to have made a business of re-treading unwanted, or in-need-of-training blue-bloods, running a sort of island of lost royalty, a military training camp for boys. He is also father to the luminous Achilles. The questionably-heeled one (BTW, the heel never enters the story here. As Miller explains on her website, it was added to the myth of Achilles way later, by the Romans) is presented in such glowing terms that we are uncertain if the author is elevating him to the level of Homeric perfection, or we are seeing the externalization of the smitten Patroclus’ achy smitten-ness. In any case, Achilles turns out to be a pretty decent sort, and takes Patroclus under his wing, even inviting him to share his room. In time it gets steamy. Boys have, well, needs, and their inclinations, it turns out, are in synch. Thankfully the soft-core element of this story cools down enough to give us a look at the times, the idiocy of the Trojan War, and the ridiculousness of leadership, which does not seem to have changed all that much over the millennia. While some physical intimacy is noted, the author very much focuses on the

    between the two as a moving force.

    What one gets here is a touch and feel (go ahead and snicker) of what life might have been like at the time of the Trojan War. And it sounds like they could have used a few of the more contemporary Trojans, what with unintended pregnancies and all. Patroclus is our eyes and ears, but he is not merely a plot device. He is a fleshed-out character with significant conflicts to resolve, and growth to endure. Miller says,

    You will have to suspend your disbelief a bit, as magical things do happen. Just as Homer included magical elements in his epic, so Miller follows. Gods do indeed engage themselves in human affairs. Achilles is the product of a human father and a fishy-dearest sea nymph of a mother. The lads are trained by a centaur, Chiron, who is a pretty cool character, (fans of Harry Potter will recognize in Chiron the source for Hogwarts’ own Firenze, also a teacher of medicine, and overall good guy) and of course the gods can’t help but interfere with the doings of men, like early-version Koch Brothers with training in the Dark Arts. Miller takes the odd liberty here and there. Patroclus, for example, was older than Achilles in the Iliad. They are the same age here. But

    a novel.

    Miller gets her important

    right. Of course, the facts have to do with re-creating the story told by the great Greek poet, not, you know, actual facts. Unless of course you are one of those who believes that Achilles’ mother, Thetis, really was a sea nymph, or that the actual Greek gods personally interfered with the goings on down below. There are plenty of people who believe stranger things. In fact, the clearly homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is sure to raise the hackles of folks who hold beliefs of a more contemporary theistic bent. Expect to see calls for this book to be banned in the usual places. But really, it’s the 21st century. Get over it. If it was good enough for the Iliad…

    Miller is a classics scholar and teacher and knows her stuff. What she has done here is take the eternal tale and re-tell it in a manner that is easy to read. In fact it is so easy to read that it felt like a YA title to me. Maybe too easy? She does teach high-schoolers, so I expect that was her target demographic, but it still seemed a bit young to me.

    While I have no philosophical issue with the same-sex element of the tale, I found the youthful pining and sex scenes mushy and maybe gag-worthy, but once the pairing is secured, the story is free to flow back to Homer’s tale. It does so smoothly and well.

    One benefit of this book is that it offers young readers an entrée to one of the great works of literature in a more accessible form. I expect that Miller will eventually get around to producing another modern interpretation from the classics. In the meantime, if you are a student, seek this lady out and take her classes. She seems to me like the sort of teacher we all dreamed of having and rarely got, in love with her material and able to communicate it well.

    =============================

    Definitely check out

    , one of the better author sites I have seen. She is on

    and

    too.

    May 30, 2012 - The Song of Achilles

  • Whitaker

    *This review is dedicated to Kelly without whose question I would not have thought so hard about why I loved this book.

    Miller has called this book “The Song of Achilles”. The title could refer to a song sung by Achilles. It could also refer to a song sung about Achilles. This double meaning is significant as the book retells the story of the

    but with a very different focus. The title is significant too because it deliberately recalls the start of the

    : “Sing, goddess, of the wrath

    *This review is dedicated to Kelly without whose question I would not have thought so hard about why I loved this book.

    Miller has called this book “The Song of Achilles”. The title could refer to a song sung by Achilles. It could also refer to a song sung about Achilles. This double meaning is significant as the book retells the story of the

    but with a very different focus. The title is significant too because it deliberately recalls the start of the

    : “Sing, goddess, of the wrath of Achilles Peleus’ son”. However, instead of telling us of the wrath of Achilles, it tells us of his softer side: his love or rather his loves—Patroclus and music.

    To call the story “The Song of Achilles” is, to some extent, misleading, because it is also the song of Patroclus with the same double meaning: a song sung by Patroclus and a song about Patroclus. For the very heart of the book is the love between Patroclus and Achilles. Told by Patroclus from the first person perspective, the question that haunts us right from the start is, “How is Miller going to be able to keep this up once Patroclus dies?” She does, and impressively, presents not simply a perfectly good way to explain that but to make that explanation a crucial part of her story.

    The other question that is asked, not just by us but by the characters as well, is, “Why Patroclus?” Why of all the young men that Achilles has around him does he choose the awkward, weak exile? The most moving thing about this book is that it proceeds to show us why.

    Achilles’ answer, almost too glib, is, “Because he’s surprising.” But the real answer, or at least the answer that Miller gives us, is that Patroclus cares, and cares deeply, about other people. It is this that makes him surprising: a man who cares about others in a world of greed and realpolitik where men are, first and foremost, killing machines, and Achilles the best of them all. And it is this care for other people that ultimately triggers the story’s denouement: Achilles' selecting of Breisis, the theft of Breisis by Agamemnon, Achilles’ sulking, Patroclus’ going to war in Achilles’ armour are all explained within that context, arising from and connected to this deep sense of love and responsibility that Patroclus feels for other people’s suffering and his desire to ease it.

    It is significant that the only other show of love by a man in this book is that of Odysseus for Penelope. His love for her is presented to us several times throughout the book and at a crucial scene at the end. Odysseus, of course, leaves the tale of the

    and becomes the hero of his own story,

    . That tale is, in its own way, a story of love as Odysseus struggles to return home to Ithaca and to Penelope. And through Miller’s tale, so too does the

    become—finally—a story of love: the love of Achilles and Patroclus and how they each struggled to keep that love alive. For that, her story deserves to be read and loved too in its turn.

  • Bookdragon Sean

    Madeline Miller did what the movie producers of the film Troy (2004) were too cowardly to do; she stayed true to the homosexuality of Homer’s

    rather than writing a censored version of the story which stank of homophobia. Achilles and Patroclus were passionately in love, which resulted in their respective destructions. They were not cousins or man at arms, but soul mates. The watering down of this in the film Troy was an insult to the LGBT community. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    The attract

    Madeline Miller did what the movie producers of the film Troy (2004) were too cowardly to do; she stayed true to the homosexuality of Homer’s

    rather than writing a censored version of the story which stank of homophobia. Achilles and Patroclus were passionately in love, which resulted in their respective destructions. They were not cousins or man at arms, but soul mates. The watering down of this in the film Troy was an insult to the LGBT community. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    The attraction between these two men wasn’t something that was rushed and squandered. It was built up, ever so slowly, and delivered eloquently. The two were friends from boyhood, and Patroclus was enamoured by Achilles after just one glance. He didn’t want to be parted from him. The two grew up together, they fought together, they learnt together and they developed together. They became inseparable and reliant on each other. Their sexual relationship just matured as they did it; it was the most natural thing in the world.

    Like all relationships, there were issues. The two weren’t without their differences. They clashed and quarrelled but only because they truly cared for each other. Patroclus wanted to end the war, and Achilles didn’t think the fight was worthy of his name: he wanted a bigger war to fight in. So, Patroclus, in his most bravest and stupid move goes against his lover’s wish and tries to end the war with a stroke of his sword. But he is no Achilles: he is not a god of war. He was out of his depth, outmatched and doomed.

    I’ve not included a spoiler warning because everybody knows the story of Homer’s

    Well, at least, I hope they do! Following the traditional narrative arc, Achilles goes on a mad rampage to avenge the death of his beloved. In the process he simultaneously destroys and immortalises himself. He got what he wanted, but not in the way he wanted it. I love the way the author wrote this, I could really feel the desperate rage of an Achilles who had lost the only thing that mattered to him in the world.

    I’m so glad the author didn’t deviate from the suggestions of homosexuality that were present in Homer’s writing. This would have failed dramatically had she done so. There would have been no power, and, again, like the film Troy it would have been abysmal. The romance plot in here is one of the truest and believable I’ve read to date: it was strong and real. However, this is not to downplay the other aspects of the story. It is driven by romance, but it is not defined by it. There is also a story of growth, and the story of warrior who is out to prove his strength and honour in a world driven by war. He just happens to like guys.

    p.s- I’ve purposely avoided images of the movie Troy in this review. Anybody who has seen it and read this book really shouldn’t be putting the two side by side, at least, not if they want to make their review fair. One is an insult to the story, the other a novelisation of a timeless classic.

  • Ana

    {BR with Anne and McKenna}

    Oh cruel, cruel fate! I had found myself thinking why there was so much heartache. Then I remembered this is Greek mythology. Few things interest me more than the monsters, heroes, gods, semi-gods and creatures of the greek myths.

    I easily get caught up in reading the fates of the legendary heroes. Achilles, Heracles, Odysseus, Hector, Per

    {BR with Anne and McKenna}

    Oh cruel, cruel fate! I had found myself thinking why there was so much heartache. Then I remembered this is Greek mythology. Few things interest me more than the monsters, heroes, gods, semi-gods and creatures of the greek myths.

    I easily get caught up in reading the fates of the legendary heroes. Achilles, Heracles, Odysseus, Hector, Perseus, Jason, Orpheus... I refuse to acknowledge Theseus. He freed the citizens of Athens from their blood-tribute to King Minos, but he was still a douche. Just ask Ariadne.

    What can I say about The Song of Achilles? The title of a book sets the tone. Madeline Miller's poetic title is simply beautiful to me, and perfectly captures the dreamy contented feel of the book. I have had virtually no complaints and felt no frustration, thanks to the author's extended research. Ms. Miller has managed to create a compelling story, while always staying true to the spirit of the original myth.

    Odysseus is my favorite character and my alternate universe husband. He has always been my most beloved mythological hero. He may appear to be prideful and arrogant. But he's also super smart and cuddly. He's a cool dork.

    I felt invested in the characters. The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is as complex as it is simple. They have a special bond. They love each other deeply. Yet there was always something keeping them apart.

    There are so many beautiful lines in this book. I thought I'd share a few of them with you here.

    Are you as big of a Greek mythology freak as me? If so then this book might interest you.

  • Lola  Reviewer

    I feel so much. And perhaps my emotions are not my own this time? Madeline Miller for sure implanted them deep inside of me, without my consent, and now I'm urging her to withdraw them, or I will not be able to sleep through the night.

    It took me a month to read this book, as I needed to take multiple breaks during the experience that is ‘‘The Song of Achilles.’’ I was about to curse the lyricism for welling too many emotions inside my body, too often, and therefore thwarting my reaching the endi

    I feel so much. And perhaps my emotions are not my own this time? Madeline Miller for sure implanted them deep inside of me, without my consent, and now I'm urging her to withdraw them, or I will not be able to sleep through the night.

    It took me a month to read this book, as I needed to take multiple breaks during the experience that is ‘‘The Song of Achilles.’’ I was about to curse the lyricism for welling too many emotions inside my body, too often, and therefore thwarting my reaching the ending in less than a month, but then I discovered that it took the author ten years to write this book, so my unreasonable annoyance subsided, ha-ha.

    Dear readers, brace yourself as you open the first page. This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It certainly is grander than I expected it to be, and the love story a thousand times more poignant. Plus, since I had no prior knowledge of Achilles’ bloody story, this was all the more surprising to me. And now I crave mythology like I crave book mail.

    Patroclus deserves to become a Greek god, although that was never his fate. What I mean by that is that he is compassionate, brave, strong, wise and worth hailing – every quality I believe a god should possess. Achilles, on the other hand, however mortal he may be and so prone to weakness of judgement and power, is harder to connect with. But he is impressive and, ultimately, good, that’s for sure.

    I am pleased to have read this book, because now I can discuss about the book and the two very discussable characters – Achilles and Patroclus – that make this story so formidable. I cannot wait to hear the thoughts of everyone in my entourage that has read it.

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