The Song Of Achilles

A review of the book by Madeline Miller.

Set in a time of gods and demons, myth and legend, monsters and heroes, Madeline presents us with the story of not one hero but two. One, Achilles of legend, is bread to be a warrior, the other, Patroclus, through a twist of fate, becomes his unlikely companion and an equally unlikely hero.

In the original Greek mythology Achilles is the child of minor god Thetis and the human king of the Myrmidons, Peleus. He was considered to be a great warrior, having slain the Trojans’ hero, Hector, at Troy. Achilles was later killed by Paris, with an arrow to his heel. Even if you don’t know the legend of Achilles, I expect you have heard the name, and the term Achilles heel, a euphemism for a weak spot in a human.

Madeline weaves a story spanning the formative years of the boys to full grown manhood, going to a war that was to last more than ten years. In that time they form a bond of love that is to make them inseparable, even in war, a bond that is not approved by Achilles mother, Thetis, who comes to hate his companion, Patroclus, and tries to separate the companions. This love is handled deftly in the storytelling. Even when describing passionate love scenes, the author directs our imagination sensitively, without resorting to explicit, graphic description.

Achilles still has his ‘heel’ in Madeline’s tale, but not his physical heel. Madeline uses his ‘heel’ as we use it today, euphemistically. Achilles weak spot in her story is something quite different.

The story is told in the first person, from Patroclus point of view. In an interesting, inventive twist of plot in the closing chapters of the book while not changing the storyteller, she does shift the perspective from which the story is told.

The Song Of Achilles is a new, fresh look at an old, familiar tale from Greek mythology. Lovers of historical fiction, mythology and fantasy writing will probably enjoy this tale. As for me, yes I liked it but it’s not going to be added to my favourites.

“I did not know what I expected the centaur to say. But it was
not what followed. ‘There is nothing I can teach you’.”


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