The Song of Achilles

Song of Achilles coverThe Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
Ecco (March 6, 2012), 389 pages
Kindle edition $9.74, Amazon paperback $9.98

In The Iliad Achilles feels slighted by Agamemnon and withdraws from the battle against the Trojans. The tide turns against the Greeks and his companion Patroclus puts on Achilles’s armor and leads the Greeks to a rout of the Trojans. He is, however, killed by the Trojan Hector. Achilles, enraged, returns to the battle and kills Hector. Though not in the Iliad, other sources say Achilles was killed either by the Trojan Paris, or by the god Apollo disguised as Paris.

It is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus that is the basis of Madeline Miller’s novel. Patroclus is a very minor character in The Iliad. All we know is that he is the companion of Achilles. We know nothing of the nature of their relationship. While remaining true to the mythology that has survived, Miller fills in the gaps with a well-written and evocative tale of an intense homoerotic relationship between the two that begins in childhood.

Miller brings to life other characters of The Iliad as well, including Odysseus, Agamemnon, Achilles’s mother, the minor goddess and sea nymph Thetis, and a range of others. The writing is brisk and engaging. The novel moves forward quickly. There are explicit scenes of both homosexual and heterosexual lovemaking, as well as of injuries and death on the battlefield.

If you enjoy mythology and value good writing this novel is worth your attention.

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