What if there were more to the story of The Iliad? What if the companionship between Achilles and Patroclus was much deeper and more visceral than detailed in Homer’s epic? This is what Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles sets out to expound upon in her retelling of the story of the Trojan War – this time, from the perspective of the underdog: Patroclus.
When Prince Patroclus is exiled from his land and sent to live with King Peleus, he quickly – and surprisingly – forms a friendship with Peleus’s son, Achilles. Not only is Achilles a prince, but he’s also on his way to become the greatest warrior in all of Greece, while Patroclus is, in the eyes of many, no one of consequence. As men all across the land vie for power and fame, neither Patroclus nor Achilles care much for such treasures. Their lives are braided together through the power of love. Of course, when the gods involve themselves in the lives of humans – which they often do – love will find itself caught in the midst of a fierce and epic clash between choice and fate.
“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”
The Song of Achilles is a love story in the truest sense of the genre. Following the formative, adolescent, and young adult years in the intertwining lives of Patroclus and Achilles, Miller is able to seamlessly and beautifully build the relationship between the two heroes from its very early stages into something spectacular. There is a comfortability between Patroclus and Achilles even in their first meeting that grows into a profound, selfless love. They know each other like no one else could and would do anything for the other.
Miller’s intricate weaving together of the mythological tale with her own take on the love of Achilles and Patroclus is magnified through prophecy. The gods have fated Achilles to die in the war, and in so doing, have ultimately sealed Patroclus’s fate as well. Both Patroclus and Achilles begin to make choices that not only impact themselves, but their lover as well. These choices, when made in harmony with one another, typically bring triumph; however, as the story progresses, and fame and pride sift through the ever-so tiny cracks of their relationship, their choices are inevitably accompanied by tragedy.
“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
Lyrical prose, piercing dialogue, and relatable characters are expertly crafted together to present the story of the Trojan War (and the years leading up to it) as it has never been presented before. Following Patroclus and Achilles on their day-to-day journey through life allows for a captivating and deeply personal reading experience. Don’t let petty gods meddle in your reading affairs, preventing you from immersing yourself in a true epic; journey through life with Patroclus and read The Song of Achilles now!