Last night I finished a wonderful book by Madeline Miller, Song of Achilles. I guess I didn’t read the synopsis correctly because I thought the novel was primarily about the Trojan War told through Patroclus’ eyes. It was, in part, but not completely.
At the heart of the story is the love story between Patroclus and Achilles. Two men who never should have become friends, but due to unlikely circumstances form a relationship based on mutual love, respect, and friendship. This relationship is tested by occurrences outside their control. Most importantly Achilles’ destiny to become one of the greatest warriors to have ever lived. In the synopsis according to Goodreads:
Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.
What I loved the most about this book was how Miller made an ancient story fresh again by providing more detail to the characters, and the time in which the novel is set. Miller takes a character like Achilles- strong, proud, and god-like, and makes him relatable. In the year 2012, we don’t live in an age of heroes, myths, and legends like the Greek people did back then. Often stories about legendary characters keep the modern man from relating to the tales on a basic level. Miller fashioned Achilles (as well as the other legendary characters) in such a way that it was often easy to forget one of the main characters is a demi-god.
Throughout history classical scholars have long debated whether or not Patroclus and Achilles had a romantic relationship. Miller takes the stance that they did, and many of the actions of both men in The Illiad make more sense when seen from this point of view. Aside from the love affair at the heart of the story, the reader really gets a sense what life was like during this time. Especially for men engaged in a homosexual romance.
What I found bizarre was acceptable in Greek culture at that time for young men to engage in this sort of relationship, but once they reached adulthood at 15-16 years-old, then it was suddenly considered to be taboo. Sadly, not to give anything away, times haven’t changed much. Though Achilles was considered to be ‘Best of all the Greeks,’ his enemies attempted to use his personal life as a weapon against him.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book immensely, and found it incredibly hard to put down. The depictions of life, and battle were intriguing. Having been a fan of Greek myths and legends for many years, it was nice to see familiar names shown in a different light. I also loved how Miller showed Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship in a respectful way, and didn’t alter it for shock value. In the age of 50 Shades of Grey, this was appreciated indeed.