The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, the bestselling author of Circe, is a breathtakingly beautiful, enchanting, and heart wrenching book. It unfolds a dazzling, profoundly moving and utterly unique retelling of the legend of the Greek demi-god Achilles and the Trojan War. Out of very ancient stories, Miller’s book presents a modern work of literature bringing forth an action-packed adventure bursting palpable emotions. A devastating love story and an almighty battle between Greek gods and kings, immortal fame and the human heart, peace and glory—The Song of Achilles is, indeed, a amazing literary feat.
Although the book is titled The Song of Achilles, it does not merely belong to Achilles at all. The entire novel is narrated exclusively through the first perspective of a character who is both central to the action of Homer’s “Iliad” and curiously shadowy: Patroclus, Achilles’ highborn companion. This fact sets Miller’s retelling apart from several other media.
1. The Song of Achilles: Basic Information
Released on September 20, 2011
Suitable for Age Group: 14 and above.
My Rating for The Song of Achilles: 4.9 / 5
The Song of Achilles Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Summary
The Song of Achilles begins with Patroclus, an awkward Greek prince who, due to his mediocrity, is a disappointment to his father, King Menoetius. When he is nine, Menoetius takes him to Sparta as a suitor for Helen’s hand in marriage. Patroclus’s suit is inevitably rejected and Helen chooses her husband, Menelaus. The rest of the suitors are obliged to take an oath pledging to protect Helen’s marriage.
When Patroclus accidentally kills a boy of noble birth, his father exiles him to Phthia where he begins living in the court of King Peleus. There he befriends and falls in love with Peleus’ son, the superhuman Achilles. Astonishingly to Patroclus’s eyes, Achilles returns his love and the two boys grow together into skilled young men having passionate love for each other.
Then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been abducted. Patroclus remembers the pledge to defend Helen’s marriage. He also knows the prophecy stating that Achilles will never return from Troy: he is fated to die there. Patroclus dreads the horror of life after Achilles’s death:
Patroclus, torn between love and fear for his friend, still journeys with Achilles to Troy. Upon joining the Greek forces, conflicts escalate between Achilles and Agamemnon. As a result Achilles withdraws himself and his forces. Distraught at the subsequent losses of Greeks, the tender-hearted Patroclus, contrives to impersonate Achilles by wearing his armor and takes his place in the war. He kills one of the strongest Trojan warriors, but is soon thereafter killed by Hector.
After Patroclus’ death, Achilles, mad with grief, returns to war and eventually kills Hector mercilessly. As the war continues, Achilles kills several notable Trojans until he is finally killed by Paris. The novel concludes with Patroclus looking at his and Achilles’ grave, and reuniting with Achilles in the underworld.
3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Review
Beautifully heartbreaking and tragic, Madeline Miller’s first novel The Song of Achilles is a brilliant telling of a mythical friendship. The book doesn’t merely retell Homer’s Iliad. Instead, it looks at the Iliad from a new perspective: that of Patroclus, the closest companion of Achilles. Miller has magnificently explained Achilles’ skills for devastation by humanizing him through Patroclus’ eyes. She starts the story from Patroclus’ and Achilles’ childhood, and successfully shows the genuine development in their characterizations and relationship that the passage of time can’t prevent. Thus, in Miller’s novel, the Greek demi-god Achilles emerges for the first time as a passionate lover besides being a great fighter.
Since The Song of Achilles is a retelling of a classic story, we already know what’s going to happen further. We know Agamemnon will steal a slave girl claimed by Achilles, leading to Achilles’ refusal to fight for the Greeks and Patroclus impersonating Achilles in the war and being slain by Hector of Troy. And only once Patroclus is dead, does the truly terrifying aspect of Achilles’s nature come to the fore. Merciless in his revenge upon Hector, Achilles kills him and drags his corpse around the walls of his city, only to be killed himself by an arrow from Hector’s brother Paris. What’s different in Miller’s story is what actually comes before and between.
3.1. What is the difference between Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and Homer’s The Iliad?
In Homer’s Iliad, an omniscient narrator gives insight into the thoughts and feelings of each character, even the minor ones. Whereas, in The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller has assigned Patroclus, the lesser known hero, as the protagonist who narrates the story of Achilles from a very unique standpoint. By doing so, she rebuilds an already well-established narrative with a new structure. This fact qualifies Miller’s The Song of Achilles as a stand-alone work from the Iliad, both intrinsically and extrinsically. Patroclus narrates his life from discontented childhood to becoming Achilles’ constant companion and eventually participating in the Trojan War. Miller presents an interpretation of Patroclus in The Song of Achilles that differs significantly from the image found in the Iliad.
The major focus of Miller’s book is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Through Patroculs’s unwavering attention and the close romantic relationship he shares with Achilles, we see Achilles grow and change from an impressive, kind child to the greatest of the Greek warriors—a legend. But at the same time he also appears as a proud and broken man. So, The Song of Achilles doesn’t merely retail the Iliad. However, it’s really about the blossoming love bond between Achilles and Patroculs that goes deeper and deeper as they grow into adulthood. The Trojan war and ”the wrath of Achilles” Homer sang for in his Iliad have become the background material in Miller’s book, surrounding the friendship and romance of Achilles and Patroculs.
3.2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Prose Style & Plot Movement
Compared to any translation of Homer, Miller’s prose is more poetic and evocative. It also possesses an enchanting quality. The author has so well-conveyed the feelings of the characters and the plot truly captures the everlasting brilliance of the horror and tragedy. The flow of the story is quite gentle, even during the war at Troy. Miller’s poetic and compelling style makes the story seem very interesting.
The plot of The Song of Achilles revolves around the great Trojan war and the moments before and after where Patroclus meets and falls in love with Achilles and later awaits him. However, even though we know Patroclus must die before Achilles, still the death scenes of the lovers strike hard and make us cry. However, the comfort that love provides amidst blood and death is deeply profound.
3.3. The Ending of The Song of Achilles
The end of The Song of Achilles is as emotional and beautiful as it could be. Miller’s book has done justice to Patroclus perfectly. Her objective in narrating the story is never to portray the greatness of Achilles. Rather, her aim is to portray the cruelty of men and war and how that impacts so many others. Her book tells a story of love, friendship, and honor, and what it means to sacrifice everything for those very things.
“I would know him in death, at the end of the world.” ― Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
3.4. What do I like and feel about The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller?
There is no doubt that Miller’s writing is wonderful. Although at some places in The Song of Achilles, she has compared things to somewhat unrelated things. For instance, the plumpness of lips to that of a bee. Regardless, her writing style enticed me. Madeline Miller has created a book so magnificent both in style and story that it truly transcends words. She hasn’t put any modern lens onto the story. She just tells it. Though some bits of the story are difficult as there’s human sacrifice and slavery, including sexual slavery, but nothing is gratuitous or too graphic.
I really enjoyed reading this reimagining of Homer’s enduring masterwork, the Iliad. Though I’m least interested in Greek mythology, I still adore The Song of Achilles. Undoubtedly, this book has appealed to Greek myth fans over the past several years. But prior knowledge of the Trojan War and Greek mythology is not necessary to enjoy this story. When I started reading the book, I initially crept through the pages. The first half of the book didn’t feel impressive or anything new but a regular romance stuff. It’s the second half of this book that held my breath. My memory of the events was strong enough to know what had to happen, but that simply doesn’t spoil a thing. As I finished through the last chapters, the first half of the book deepened my emotions profoundly.
Madeline Miller’s book manages to take everything we know of the story from the existing texts and builds a world that is thoroughly absorbing, dazzling, and charming. Thus, in my view, The Song of Achilles is, no doubt, a story of epic soul binding love, so beautifully rendered. Just read it. The never-ending ache of love and sorrow is heart-wrenching but amazingly beautiful.
I highly recommend The Song of Achilles.
Go and grab this book if you haven’t already thought of doing so! But if you have already read this book, tell me what you think about it?
If you want to witness more of Miller’s talent, read Circe. It’s another rare masterpiece.
4. Some FAQs About The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
1. What kind of book is The Song of Achilles / What is The song of Achilles about?
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is an ancient Greek fiction book that describes the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War with a modern twist. The book is full of action, thrill, and romance.
2. Is The Song of Achilles historically accurate?
Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles retells the story of Achilles, the greatest of all the Greek warriors, through the eyes and voice of his lover Patroclus. Though Miller contributes her own insights in the story, still she stays true to the events and characters portrayed in Homer’s Iliad.
3. Is Patroclus in The Song of Achilles a girl?
Patroclus’ gender is never specified in the story. He describes himself in the following words:
“I became a disappointment: small, slight. ( . . .) not fast (. . .) not strong. I could not sing. The best that could be said of me was that I was not sickly.”
We are given just his physical description. We further learn about him that he is kind hearted, modest, passionate, and honest. By profession, he is a healer as well as a soldier. However, it is also inferred from the story that Patroclus is a gay.
4. How long does it take to read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller?
It will take 6 hours and 41 minutes for an average reader to read The Song of Achilles at 250 WPM (words per minute).
5. Where does The Song of Achilles take place?
The Song of Achilles takes place in Greece which is officially known as the Hellenic Republic. It is a country located in Southeast Europe.
6. Is Circe a sequel to The Song of Achilles?
No, The Song of Achilles is a stand alone book, and so is Circe.
7. Should I read The Song of Achilles or Circe first?
You can read any of the two books first as there is no logical connection between them. But technically, The Song of Achilles comes first, so it deserves to be read first. Otherwise choice is yours. Here is the Set of 2 Books Collection:
8. Do I need to read The Iliad before The Song of Achilles?
I think it is not necessary. You can enjoy reading The Song of Achilles even without any prior knowledge of the Iliad.
9. Why should I read The Song of Achilles?
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a moving story of friendship, love, and honor. It also unfolds the cruelty of men and war and how it affects so many others. The book explicitly tells a story about how sometimes a person can become what is not expected of him. And, in some cases, the expectations are impossible to hide from.
The book is unique from Iliad as it is essentially the story of how the two Greek heroes, Achilles and Patroclus, meet and fall in love. Yes, two men! In love!