Review: The Song of Achilles

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

All his life Patroclus felt like he didn’t belong. Especially not when, at nine years of age, his father takes him to Sparta, as a suitor to the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen. When Helen choses Menelaus as her husband, Odysseus has all his fellow suitors swear a vow that if ever a man were to steal Helen from her husband they would go and return her to him. Patroclus soon forgets this vow when he accidentally kills a noble boy in his kingdom and is exiled to Phthia, to live in King Peleus’ household. Here he meets Achilles, Peleus’ divine son. At first Patroclus  hates and envies Achilles, the son his father always wanted. But soon Patroclus and Achilles become the closets of friends and a love blooms between them that will never diminish.  When Helen is stolen from Menelaus by a prince of Troy, Patroclus and Achilles are called to war. Achilles, eager to prove himself leaps at the chance, despite the reluctance of his mother, the sea nymph Thetis who has heard the prophecy that if Achilles goes to Troy he will die. Not the warrior that his dear friend is, Patroclus is not eager to go but he does so anyway, never to be parted from his beloved. Also, Patroclus wishes to prevent the prophecy from occurring.

Madeline Miller’s retelling of the Iliad was utterly beautiful. Although I approached it with some hesitation I will admit that the ending had me bawling. I had seen it in bookstores for years but never picked it up, my eye always drawn to the name Achilles. As someone with a BA and MA in Classical Studies I am very familiar with the Iliad and although there were a few discrepancies (Patroclus was a warrior in the epic, but quite feeble for most of the novel) I loved it. It was a true to the epic poem and historic views of Bronze Age kings warring for supremacy before the rise of democracy in Athens. I especially loved the characters of Odysseus and Diomedes (my favourites while reading the Iliad the first time and my favourites reading the Song of Achilles). Miller’s blend of myth and history, action and emotion, was perfection. I am inspired to try my own hand at adapting Classical texts for a modern audience. 

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