Mini Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles slipped through the cracks of my To-Be-Reviewed list a few months ago. I lent it to a friend (who loved it – even more than I did, actually), which delayed me, and by the time I got it back, other reads were fresher in my mind…

Excuses aside, I really liked this book, and I still want to share it – so here’s a quick review of what sticks with me!

About

  • Title: The Song of Achilles
  • Author: Madeline Miller
  • Published: 2011, Bloomsbury

Blurb

In the age of ancient heroes in Greece, 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.

Highlights

  • Historical LGBT+ rep; it’s funny how people might think this pairing revisionist or a reach now, but it totally wasn’t in Ancient Greece
  • Lovely prose
  • Retells a well-known story (Homer’s The Iliad) through a lesser-known interpretation/from the perspective of a lesser-known character
  • Poignantly and relevantly questions how far one will go and how much damage one will do to preserve/promote one’s ego

Favourite Character

Patroclus. Maybe it’s a cop out to choose the narrator, but I loved his thoughtful, steadfast, and kind nature. I also found his character arc the most relatable – particularly his need to reconcile what he loves and what he wants to be true with what is right and what he knows to be true.

Most Memorable Scene

The scene that resonated with me most ties directly into that arc. Patroclus witnesses an injustice that Achilles has the power to make right, but Achilles refuses to act, prioritizing his own agenda. Patroclus wrestles with his rage towards and his love for Achilles, all while working out how he can take matters into his own hands and make a difference.

A tilting vertigo, as if I were drunk. I could not speak, or think. I had never been angry with him before; I did not know how… My mind is filled with catacylsm and apocalypse: I wish for earthquakes, eruptions, flood. Only that seems large enough to hold all of my rage and grief. I want the world overturned like a bowl of eggs, smashed at my feet.

Rec it or Forget it: Rec it!

4.5/5 stars. (What does this mean?)


Have you read The Song of Achilles yet? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments! 


This review has been cross-posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing.

 

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3 thoughts on “Mini Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller”

  1. Interesting review! I hadn’t heard of this one before. And thank you for pointing out that today’s conventional pairings aren’t the same as they were in Ancient Greece. Too many people read historical fiction and expect the people in them to behave (an all aspects of life) the way people do today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You should definitely check it out 🙂

      And yeah, I find the different ways in which Achilles and Patroclus have been understood over the years interesting. The debate is ancient history – quite literally. Some ancient Greeks like Plato and Aeschines claimed it was a romantic relationship, while others, like Xenophon, claimed it was just a very devoted friendship. In periods where homosexuality was more taboo (most of modern history), the romantic interpretation fell out of fashion. And now, it’s something academics are arguing about all over again!

      In the end, it’s a myth; there’s no right answer. People just like to pick apart Homer’s intentions. And like you say, we’re all blinded by a modern bias – we assume ancient humans thought like us. But ancient Greeks didn’t seem to view sexuality as a basis for identity the same way we do today – if they had any concept of sexuality at all. As far as we know, they didn’t have words for ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’ – so discussions about whether they viewed Achilles as gay or bi or straight are sort of inherently faulty.

      Apologies for the mini rant – I’m just a bit of a history/lit nerd! Anyway, if you happen to read TSOA, please let me know what you think of it!

      Like

      1. Oh, interesting. I knew that Ancient Greeks didn’t have the same taboos we’ve been dealing with, but I didn’t know that they likely didn’t differentiate sexuality at all. Fascinating. And certainly not the stuff I was taught in school when we studied Homer. All the more reason to re-read it as an adult!

        TSOA is going on my to-read list, though it’s a long list and I can’t promise when I’ll get to it. 😉

        Like

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