Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release Date: September 20th 2011
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfil his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
I finished this book last week and I still don’t think I’m completely over it. Going into The Song of Achilles I knew how the story would end, despite not having read The Iliad or The Odyssey I knew a little background on the story of Troy and the war that occurred there. I knew how things would end for Patroclus and Achilles but I still hoped for a different ending for them both. By the time I was two third of the way through this book it had already ripped out my heart and crushed it beneath its feet.
Patroclus has been a disappointment to his father since his birth, and when he kills the son of a nobleman Menoitius seizes the opportunity to exile his son and send him to the court of King Peleus. This is where Patroclus meets Achilles and where his story begins.
The two boys become fast friends, they spend all their time with one another and despite all the other boys King Peleus fosters it’s Patroclus Achilles makes his companion. When Achilles goes to Chiron to train Patroclus follows, despite being left behind and despite the warning from Achilles’ mother. The two boys spend years in the mountains learning from Chiron, but when Helen is stolen from her bed and from her husband a war is started, and everyone who was a suitor for her hand is being called to fight. Patroclus was one of Helen’s suitors, and as a great hero Achilles is called on to lead the delegation of men from Phthia.
Despite his mother’s desire to keep him from the war when Odysseus and Diomedes find him on Scyros where his mother hid him Achilles agrees to fight. Before long both Achilles and Patroclus find themselves outside the walls of Troy laying way for a siege. Years pass and Troy still holds. Patroclus makes a name for himself as a talented healer while Achilles makes his name on the battlefield but he still refuses to go after Hector; after all, what has Hector done to him.
The story follows both Achilles and Patroclus through their childhoods; we see them grow up in the home of King Peleus and later in the mountains with Chiron. We see the two go from friends to brothers-in-arms to something more. We see them shaped by the war, see Achilles change as his hubris gets the better of him, and see Patroclus stand by Achilles no matter what until he can’t anymore. We see all the actions which shape their fate even when we wish we didn’t.
Patroclus is our narrator for this whole story and it’s through his eyes we see both Achilles and the siege of Troy. Patroclus has never been strong and never been a warrior. When he lived with his father he was seen as weak, and when he kills that boy it’s by accident not intentional. Even living with Chiron and fighting at the siege Patroclus is still not a warrior. He leaves that to Achilles and the other heroes instead focusing his energy on the camp itself. He heals the warriors when they’re injured and takes care of the people who are seen as nothing more than war prizes.
Above all else Patroclus is kind. He cares about people in a way Achilles and the other heroes just can’t; in the end it’s the kindness that’s his downfall.
Achilles is Greece’s greatest hero. He is fast and strong, noble and somehow apart from normal humans. We see him solely through Patroclus’s eyes, and as such we see him as more of a God than anything else, but we aren’t blinded to his flaws either. As Achilles is changed by the war his hubris and his desire for honour above all else changes him. He seems uncaring of the suffering his people experience when his honour is insulted.
The way Madeline Miller portrays the heroes in her story seems to highlight their flaws as well as their strengths. Everyone from Odysseus to Achilles to Pyrrhus aren’t seen only as Gods on earth but also as humans with flaws that present them in a negative light.
The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is heartbreaking as well as beautiful. The two are drawn to one another from the start, and when Achilles makes Patroclus his brother-in-arms the two become so much closer. The feelings that build from their initial friendship are strong and unending. The two are always honest with each other and always drawn back to one another. Achilles makes Patroclus strong, he makes Patroclus feel like he is worth something and has something to offer. Patroclus makes Achilles human, he gives him something to fight for other than glory. The two practically have one soul, which makes what happens to them all the more heartbreaking.
The same way Madeline Miller made the Greek heroes flawed is the same as what she does to the country and the times. She doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh realities of the war that’s raged; the plague that spreads through the camp, the war prizes bartered and won, the death both on the Greek’s and the Trojan’s sides. It’s all shown, not in graphic detail but enough so you get the sense that honour is a hard thing to fight for when men are dying from plagues and women are being taken from their homes after their fathers and brothers are killed and given to the victors. However in contrast to the war fought the mountains where Achilles and Patroclus live with Chiron and the court of King Peleus seem shrouded in sunshine in Patroclus’s memories. In spite of all the hardships and horror at the battle camps where the Greeks lay siege against Troy there is still some beauty to be found in ancient Greece.
I went into this book expecting a story, albeit a sad one, about the like of Achilles, but what I got was so much more than that. The Song of Achilles had me in tears, and even now I still don’t think I’m fully over what happened. There are no words to properly describe how much I loved this book so instead I’m going to recommend it to everyone. It will tear your heart out but you will love it in spite of the pain.
What did you think of The Song of Achilles? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.