This book expands on the story told in Homer’s poetic Iliad about the final years of the Trojan War, creating a compelling narrative form that looks at the life of Achilles from boyhood onward. It is narrated from the perspective of Patroclus, an exiled prince who becomes Achilles’ companion.
During the Q&A from a very engaged audience (and thoughtful responses from the author), Ms. Miller indicated something of the extent of the research she did in expanding the story (simply put, exhaustive!). While she didn’t take major liberties with Homer’s tale, she did make hard-line decisions about her characters. For example, while most interpretations put Patroclus as older than Achilles, she has made them the same age; scholars dispute the intensity of the relationship between the two – Miller makes them lovers, supported by Achilles’ deep grieving for Patroclus.
This is a story of gods and mortals, love and animosity, peace and war, family feuds, and national and personal pride. Key characters and the reader will ponder “which life is more important?” and “in what will any one man be remembered when he’s gone?”
Ms. Miller, a teacher and tutor of Latin, Greek and Shakespeare in the Boston area, received both her Bachelor and Master of Arts in the classics from Brown University. She has also studied at the Yale School of Drama, where she focused on adapting classical texts to modern forms – a skill that shines in The Song of Achilles.
All readers, whether or not familiar with the Iliad and the history of the battle for Helen, will find Madeline Miller’s epic The Song of Achilles to be a true page-turner.
Here’s the publisher’s synopsis:
The legend begins…
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.