Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller
Completed 6/2/2018, Reviewed 6/2/2018
4 stars

I tried to read the Iliad on my own in high school but was bogged down by its heaviness.  I never saw the movie Troy.  However, I am familiar with some of the Greek Myths surrounding Troy and Achilles.  This book opened my eyes to how dramatic this particular story could be, despite it being a retelling.  It is primarily a book about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion.  It assumes it was a gay relationship, which was only hinted at in the Iliad, with Patroclus being a secondary character.  Here, Patroclus is the narrator, telling the heartbreaking tale of the relationship between himself and Achilles. 

Patroclus is a Greek prince who is exiled from his kingdom for accidently killing another noble’s son.  He goes to Phthia to be fostered by Achilles father.  Through a strange bit of circumstance, Achilles and Patroclus meet and become friends.  This turns to love, though it is not consummated until both are sixteen.  At this time however, the Trojan War begins.  Both boys go to war even though Patroclus is not a warrior and Achilles death there is foretold by his sea goddess mother. 

Miller builds the story mostly from the Iliad.  She tells how Achilles and Patroclus are tutored by Chiron the satyr.  She also tells of how Achilles is whisked away by his mother to a distant isle and hidden as a girl to keep him from going to Troy.  She does not tell the Achilles’ heel story since that is a later addition to the mythology.  Instead Achilles is simply the greatest warrior, the Best of the Greeks. 

The prose is glorious.  It flowed brilliantly with excellent but modest word choices.  There was nothing self-conscious or show-offish in its presentation.  It was a joy to read.  Sometimes I have a hard time reading dialogue that’s interrupted by prose, but I did not have that problem here. 

The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was beautiful.  They were in love, but they also had their problems.  Achilles mother Thetis hated Patroclus and that was a source of endless grief.  She even tricked her son into having sex with a girl who would become pregnant with his only heir.  Needless to say, this caused some problems, though none as great as the Trojan War itself.  Still, their love remained true to the end. 

Speaking of the end, most people know that the ending is tragic.  I won’t give it away, but it is both devastating and beautiful.

I give the book four out of five stars.  It’s an excellent read and very powerful.  There are lots of reviews where people said they cried at the end.  While I did find it profound, I wasn’t moved to tears.  I think that basically knowing how it was going to end kept me emotionally on guard.  That’s the only thing that kept me from awarding it five stars. 

No comments:

Post a Comment