The Song of Achilles – by Madeline Miller

SongofAchillesSynopsis: 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 differences, 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’s 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.

Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9781408821985

Rating5stars

I’ve had this book for a while and have hesitated to read it, I kept pushing it down to the bottom of my reading list solely on the premise that I’ve read and watched so many versions of the same story before.  How much more original could you be without diverging too much from the path of ‘The Iliad’? Finally, the friend who lent it to me was itching to read it again and requested it back asap; I was left with no other choice but to push it back to the top of the pile and get reading.

Hand-on-heart, I can honestly say I’m so glad she pushed me to do it (Thanks Camila!). The Song of Achilles is the story of Achilles and The Iliad told through the voice of Patroclus. It is beautiful, lyrical, magical and provides, in my opinion, a completely innovative spin on a story that has been told in a thousand ways.

The story isn’t focused on the power and strength of Achilles, the Aristos Achaion (the best of the Greeks); it’s not about the battle to win back Helen of Troy; it’s not even about the Trojan Horse. This book is about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus; about the human capacity to love.

From what we have seen of the Greek tales, love and honesty feature mostly as a feminine characteristic – a weakness, especially when shown from a man. The attributes Achilles holds: strength, force, and courage are deemed as heroic and are what make him the ‘Best of the Greeks’.

But it is Patroclus’s innate honesty, his capacity for love and his moral sensibilities that make the story what it is. He is a disappointment to his father, and seen as ‘an ordinary man’ in every sense of the word; but he has more power than everyone thinks.  The moments where Patroclus offers what he believes to be his modest assistance are the ones that have enormous positive outcomes.  In a violent world, it is Patroclus’ ethical and moral beliefs that hold the most strength. Most of us can’t be Achilles, but almost everyone can be Patroclus.

Patroclus’s capacity for love is also what attracts Achilles; they almost instantly become best friends as boys, and become even closer as men. Miller approaches their relationship with depth and sensitivity; The Song of Achilles is a devastating love story, with an ending that is inevitable but it still managed to leave me breathless and wanting more.

I read this in a few days – I sped through the first half and then tried to slow down as much as possible to make it last longer. Obviously it didn’t work and I ended up reading faster. This is also the first book in years to make me cry.  Not shed a tear and be done with it type crying either; I’m talking actual emotional agony type tears. And this is an example of why:

The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.”…

Since reading it, I’ve bought my own copy and read it again.  Who can say no to a profound and breath-taking rendition of the battle of gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

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