The Song of Achilles
“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.”
Once in a while a book comes along that leaves you utterly speechless. The Song of Achilles – an epic retelling of the Iliad by a classics high school teacher – was everything I never knew I needed, and I will be singing its praises until the end of time.
I can’t bring myself to write coherent words to describe this book or describe how it made me feel. I just know that from page 33, I was doomed; from the moment Patroclus joins Achilles for a lyre lesson, I was a goner. I knew where the story was going, I knew how it would end, I knew, but I must be a masochist because I surrendered myself to the pain anyway and I let it rip me apart. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more stunning book and no words I write on here will ever come close to doing this story justice. But I will try because it’s the least I could do for Patroclus.
The Song of Achilles retells the story of Achilles, the best of the Greeks, from the point of view of his most beloved *cries* Patroclus. At the tender age of eight, Patroclus has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his demigod son, Achilles. The two young boys strike a friendship that eventually develops into something more profound. But when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Patroclus follows Achilles to Troy, not knowing that the next ten years will be the most trying of times. Profoundly poignant and impressively imaginative, this grandiose retelling of the Trojan War is just perfect.
Madeline Miller stays true to Greek mythology and pays a beautiful homage to the homosexuality of Homer’s Iliad. She brilliantly fills in the gaps of Achilles and Patroclus’ epic love story and gives Patroclus, the underdog, a backstory and a lovely voice. We get to see Achilles through a different lens, through the eyes of Patroclus. She takes us back to the beginning, to their unlikely friendship, and builds on that. Their love grows slowly, and it is conveyed delicately and tenderly. Two friends from childhood that grow together, learn together, battle together, and develop together. Their sexual relationship evolves from a beautiful friendship and it is the most natural, effortless thing in the world.
“He is half of my soul, as the poets say.”
With sharp, moving, and descriptive prose, Miller brought to life an ancient tale that is heart-wrenchingly lyrical and feels so exquisitely new. The prose alone deserves all the glory and applause possible – I mean, it’s absolutely beautiful and hopeful. I wanted to savor every pretty word – sometimes I’d re-read passages or close the book and just let the words sink in. I couldn’t believe the beauty of the words I was reading, only one other book has ever made me feel this way, and they both now occupy the position of ‘my favorite book ever!’
Achilles and Patroclus have finally been given the love story they deserve. Some may call it Homeric fan fiction, but Miller said, “If it’s fan fiction, it’s fan fiction. I’m still going to write it.” And thank the gods that she did write it because it’s an epic modern classic, one that will forever live on in my heart. To me, this is literature at its best. If when I read the closing paragraph, I want to pick that book back up again and start over… THAT. IS. LITERATURE.
“In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”
Publication Date: Sept 2011
Date Read: Feb 11 — Feb 14, 2021
CW: murder, death, war themes, human sacrifice, slavery, animal sacrifice, period typical sexism, misogyny, violence, bloodshed, and mention of rape