I have been interested in Greek mythology ever since I wrote about it for a work assignment. I read somewhere that it is connected to Indian mythology in some way. I purchased a book based on the same topic but was highly disappointed with the content that did not satisfy my quench for the connection between the two mythologies. Then I came across ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller. I liked the sample so much that I did some more research about the author and found out about ‘The Song of Achilles’ (TSoA) that is a recipient of the Orange Prize for Fiction (2012). And just like that, on a whim, I purchased both Circe and TSoA. And I regret buying neither.
The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
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Patroclus, son of Menoetius commits a grave sin. His father takes him to Phthia to live in exile. In Phthia, Patroclus comes in contact with King Peleus’ son Achilles. Achilles, who is sought after by every boy in the kingdom takes a special interest in Patroclus and they become thick friends. As they grow up together, they realise the true bond that they share and overcome all obstacles to be together. But then comes the Trojan war that sees the two boys grow into men. They were destined to be a part of this war. And this war is supposed to etch their names down in history.
I LIKE The Song Of Achilles Because,
…it was an eye-opener for me. Before reading this book, I had very limited knowledge of Greek mythology especially that involving the warrior prince Achilles. My only reference point for Achilles was the movie ‘Troy’ starring Brad Pitt.
In that movie, Achilles is an indomitable force whose fame precedes him. He is this heterosexual guy, an epitome of manhood whose smouldering gaze got women pregnant. The Achilles in the book also is similar except that he is homosexual and has no interest in women.
I had absolutely no inkling of Achilles’ sexuality. I learnt about it only after the two boys got intimate in the story. I bought this book to know more about him and the Trojan war. Though the book does deal with the Trojan war, it focuses mainly on Achilles’ relationship with his lover Patroclus who is also the narrator of the story. It shows how their relationship evolves with time. We see Achilles and his life through Patroclus’ eyes and what we see is something so unexpected especially for a novice in Greek mythology.
I have a friend who is a Greek native and I asked her if the movie Troy was correct or is it the book that is more accurate. She told me that it is the book that shows the real picture. However, the closeness of the two boys should not be seen from just the physical aspect. In the olden days, men used to be at war several miles away from their families and over many years. Back then, it was very common for men to have a male companion who is more than just a pal. These men would share a bed with women only to procreate and there would be no ‘feelings’ involved as their true mate would be a man. I assume homosexuality was not frowned upon in those days as it is today.
Also, what TSoA shows that even though Achilles was considered a God he was still very much human because he loved like a human, hated like a human and grieved like a human. Patroclus is aware of Achilles’ greatness and so is Achilles but that never comes in between them. Achilles may be grumpy and stubborn like a little child but when it comes to Patroclus he is more protective than a mother. I haven’t read the Iliad yet, but this book has shown me that side of Achilles which I had not even known of.
In the movie Troy, Patroclus is shown to be Achilles’ beloved cousin. Whereas, most Greeks believe him to be Achilles’ companion. Since Patroclus narrates the story in this book, we learn a lot about him and his relationship with Achilles. Additionally, we get to see glimpses of war veterans such as Odysseus, Agamemnon and Menelaus.
…Madeline Millers writing had me hooked to the book. When you know the outcome of the story the only thread that keeps you tied to the book is the author’s imaginative writing. Miller’s writing is like a butter knife, smooth and sharp. All the praise you read about her prose is well-deserved. Readers get to see not only what Achilles looks like but also what Patroclus feels when he sees him. The hostility that Achilles’ mother Thetis exudes is almost tangible because that is how articulately descriptive Miller gets in this book.
I Do NOT Like The Song Of Achilles Because,
…whaaaaaaaaat? I didn’t say ‘I didn’t like it’. I really really liked TSoA.
Favourite Quotes in 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.”
“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”
“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”
“Odysseus inclines his head. “True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” He spread his broad hands. “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?” He smiles. “Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”
Final View: If you have read or not read the Iliad, reading The Song of Achilles is a MUST. Read it for Miller’s exceptional writing. Read for a different and detailed take on Achilles’ life. And finally, read it because this book is worth reading.
You can check out Amazon.in for a discount on this book.