Miller’s The Song of Achilles shines in updating Greek hero’s story

“Sing, O goddess, the love of Patroclus.”

The Song of Achilles, published in 2012 by Madeline Miller, is a YA retelling of The Iliad that focuses on Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship from the POV of Patroclus. The Song of Achilles chronicles Patroclus’ life with him starting with the first time they saw each other to their deaths from Achilles’ wrath that brought their downfalls. 

If you are not familiar with The Iliad, it’s a Greek epic poem by Homer that embellished the real Trojan War with gods and heroes. It focuses on the demi-god warrior Achilles whose wrath destroyed everything in his path, whether it was his enemies or his relationships. 

The original poem doesn’t explicitly state that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, but it was implied due to the softness that Achilles expresses toward Patroclus compared to others, showing that he has the greatest bond with him and the magnitude of the grief and rage he had when Patroclus died. 

Even in its era, people were debating if the relationship was platonic or romantic with philosophers like Aeschineas arguing that although the relationship isn’t explicitly stated, it should be obvious to the educated who can read between the lines.

The Song of Achilles explores the romantic interpretation of their relationship along with exploring Patroclus’ character. This story excels at immersing the reader in the unfamiliar world of mythical Greece and at writing a tender coming-of-age romance that warms the heart. Though many may dismiss it as a YA romance, the book is as much of a commentary on the poem as the words of Aeschines. 

Readers may already know the fate of Achilles and Patroclus from pop culture osmosis, but Miller still makes the story feel new and makes people contemplate the legacy of the two characters. The audience thinks about how Achilles is remembered for his wrath, and only through his love for Patroclus is he remembered for any softer traits: how they were always remembered as two halves of a whole rather than separate stories.

An issue with the story is how it omits certain parts of The Iliad and then includes other parts in a way that is confusing. The main example was the addition of Achilles’ marriage to Deimaida. “Achilles On Skyros” is a myth within the canon of Achilles life but not a part of The Iliad where Achilles disguises himself as a woman and marries the princess of an island called Skyros, and conceives a child. In the original myth, Achilles rapes Deimaida, and it doesn’t include Patroclus, but In The Song of Achilles, Patroclus is trying to be with Achilles, and Deimaida does rape both of them. 

“Achilles on Skyros” has been used to discuss rape in Greek mythos for many years, so flipping it to discuss rape of males would’ve been interesting, but afterward, Patroclus and Achilles ignore it. Yes, rape victims may start out in denial about what happened, but without the characters talking about it, there is no character or relationship development, and it just feels like a thing that could’ve been cut out. It could’ve been a chance to make their relationship stronger and give us hope that despite the troubles on Skyros, their relationship will persevere in hard times. Without the development, it’s just a thing that may trigger readers who have been sexually abused with no warning and no payoff.

But overall, The Song of Achilles is heart-warming and heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. I would highly recommend it to fans of Greek mythology and/or people looking for queer male representation. It is available in the historical fiction section of the high school’s library.

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

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