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The Song of Achilles: A Novel by Madeline…

The Song of Achilles: A Novel (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Madeline Miller

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1,7691573,979 (4.11)3 / 650
I knew this book would become one of my favorites almost immediately. In just a few pages, I was completely immersed in the story, and found myself picking up the book anytime I had a minute to spare. And it's unusual for a book to bring real, honest-to-goodness tears to my eyes, but this one most certainly did.

The Song of Achilles provides back story to one aspect of the Trojan War: the relationship between Achilles and his close friend, Patroclus. As author Madeline Miller wrote in her Reader's Guide,
I found myself particularly moved by his [Achilles'] desperate grief over the loss of his companion Patroclus. Patroclus is no more than a minor character in the Iliad, yet Achilles mourns him with a shocking intensity, unlike anything else in the entire work. Why? Who is this man whose death could undo the mighty Achilles?

Achilles is a mythological figure, son of the goddess Thetis, a sea-nymph, and the mortal Peleus. At the age of 9, he hand-picks the exiled prince Patroclus as his constant companion. Patroclus gains status and privilege, and as the boys grow their relationship strengthens into love. Thetis is displeased and tries to separate them, but their love is too powerful. When armies are assembled to do battle with Troy, Patroclus is there at Achilles' side. Achilles has known for years that he will become the Greeks' greatest warrior; the siege of Troy is his chance to shine. But there are other prophecies that weigh heavily on Achilles and Patroclus, not to mention the reader.

Madeline Miller breathes such life and emotion into her characters. Thetis is frightening; King Agamemnon is arrogant and cold-hearted; Odysseus is crafty. Achilles is beautiful, and the love between him and Patroclus is simultaneously intense and sweet. It's heartbreaking to watch the prophecies be fulfilled, and yet Miller offers an ingenious denouement that is wholly satisfying.

This 2012 Orange Prize winner is my best book of the year so far. ( )
8 vote lauralkeet | Jul 8, 2012 |
Showing 1-25 of 153 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this one. I wasn't sure what to expect, given the red and gold cover, complete with a manly breastplate. I was a bit worried it might be a love story about gentleman, for ladies! It was not.It was a cracking re-telling of a classic love story. Some of the characters were excellent, I was a big fan of Chiron, Patroclus and Achilles. Achilles was a fully rounded complex sort of chap, torn between wanting to live and love Patroclus,and wanting to become a god/legend. It's got good pacing as well, there is no dragging even though it takes a while to even get to Troy. The book managed to maintain intrigue, even though I kinda knew where we were heading all along.

I've always been a big fan of the Greek legends, and this book really made one of them spring to life. ( )
  fothpaul | Apr 12, 2016 |
Wow. This made me cry. I loved it despite the bad sex scene writing. The first time I read The Iliad, I had to write about it in college. I came across that essay later and was surprised to find that I had made an argument in favor of Paris and Helen. When I read The Iliad later, several years ago as a book club selection, I hated those two and fell head over heals for Hector, what a man! I can't say that this book made me fall for Achilles, but it helped me see a few things from the Greek side, and I loved Patroclus and even understood Thetis better (his goddess mom). I think I have some friends with hearts as big as Patroclus. This book embodies the magic of The Iliad, with its larger than life, complicated characters.

Here is a short quote that could sum up The Song of Achilles:

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”

Miller is absolutely believable in her mythology writing. Also, the audio is a real masterpiece. However, I stick by my opinion that she can get better on the sex scenes, or figure out how much is actually better just hinted at with a work like this. ( )
  sydsavvy | Apr 8, 2016 |
A great adaptation of the Iliad. Pretty much unforgettable. However, any future reader should know there is nudity and sex, because I didn't know until I read it. ( )
  ElizabethJoseph | Feb 10, 2016 |
Well...I really wanted to like this book a lot. While I feel like I have a somewhat better/different sense of the events of The Iliad, I found it very difficult to become particularly attached the characters in Song of Achilles. Until close to the end when he started to find something really useful to do with himself Patroclus, our narrator, seemed to just be hanging around to see what Achilles was going to do. I think if that character had been a woman, a lot of people's heads would have exploded because she was so passive.

Achilles on the other hand was apparently great because he was Achilles. Well trained and there was The Prophecy or prophecies I guess, but nothing much else to recommend him that I could see.

Those who have been better students of the Classics than I have might appreciate this book a bit more, and it certainly is well written. ( )
  CydMelcher | Feb 5, 2016 |
Well...I really wanted to like this book a lot. While I feel like I have a somewhat better/different sense of the events of The Iliad, I found it very difficult to become particularly attached the characters in Song of Achilles. Until close to the end when he started to find something really useful to do with himself Patroclus, our narrator, seemed to just be hanging around to see what Achilles was going to do. I think if that character had been a woman, a lot of people's heads would have exploded because she was so passive.

Achilles on the other hand was apparently great because he was Achilles. Well trained and there was The Prophecy or prophecies I guess, but nothing much else to recommend him that I could see.

Those who have been better students of the Classics than I have might appreciate this book a bit more, and it certainly is well written. ( )
  CydMelcher | Feb 5, 2016 |
Well...I really wanted to like this book a lot. While I feel like I have a somewhat better/different sense of the events of The Iliad, I found it very difficult to become particularly attached the characters in Song of Achilles. Until close to the end when he started to find something really useful to do with himself Patroclus, our narrator, seemed to just be hanging around to see what Achilles was going to do. I think if that character had been a woman, a lot of people's heads would have exploded because she was so passive.

Achilles on the other hand was apparently great because he was Achilles. Well trained and there was The Prophecy or prophecies I guess, but nothing much else to recommend him that I could see.

Those who have been better students of the Classics than I have might appreciate this book a bit more, and it certainly is well written. ( )
  CydMelcher | Feb 5, 2016 |
‘Song of Achilles’ is so enjoyable- mystical and poignant. The story flows so naturally, breathing a very modern life into the legend. This was one of my great joys in reading this year. There is a lightness and tenderness to the love story between Patroclus and Achilles that is achingly beautiful. While a myth retold, this story is all too human. I loved this book. There is such innocence and glory in the tale, which I found very moving. ( )
  Alidawn | Jan 29, 2016 |
Reminiscent of Mary Renault’s _ Persian Boy_, this book retells the story of Homer’s _Iliad_ from the point of view of Achilles’ best friend and lover Patroclus. There are also some glimmerings of T.H. White’s _Once and Future King_, with a reluctant hero, trained to be a soldier/leader, who knows his fate and characters who dream of a world without boundaries, without war. Chock full of mythological figures, the book nevertheless seems imbued with a strangely relentless realism. This is a charming and poetically rendered story of timeless love. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
I loved this book so much I didn't want it to end! Favourite book of the year... so far!

At school I had a 'classical education'. Whilst I only did one year of Ancient History, I studied Latin for 5 years and did a term or two of Ancient Greek. I was always totally obsessed with Troy, the place (which I've since visited), the history, the myths, legends and stories. I read the Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid in English and some of it in Latin - loved it all. This book fits perfectly into that niche. It gives the Greek characters a back story and is written in a similar style too.

It's centred on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and the author has an interesting spin on what that relationship was. Other stories have them as friends, comrades even cousins - who knows what Homer was really suggesting in his writing? It's not as if any of them are really historical characters (although Alexander the Great claimed to be descended from Achilles via Neoptolemus - solely to add to his legend I suspect). The stories the author weaves in this book give some context to the events as described by Homer: Achilles' relationship with the other Kings & Princes; why he was so upset about the taking of briseis, why he was so enraged by the death of Patroclus, etc. etc.

All beautifully done.

Oh and don't think that you need to have read all the epics to be able to enjoy this book. It works perfectly as a stand alone story, you don't need to know all the myths and legends to be able to enjoy a swords & sandals romp.

A worthy winner of this years Orange Prize for fiction. ( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
I greatly enjoyed this take on The Illiad and the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. It was well written, very well paced, and had just the right amount of intimacy. There was a fair amount of mythology woven in, which I appreciated, giving the story a connection to the original work. This book seemed like it was written by Patroclus, and then by his ghost, and was wonderfully sad. ( )
  SiempreBailando | Jan 9, 2016 |
A wonderful retelling of the story of the Trojan War, with emphasis on the life of Achilles before he went to battle, and his love of Patroclus, an exiled prince who became his life's companion from childhood. I'm no classicist, and only know the iconic bits of this story, so you won't hear any quibbles from me about ways in which Miller may have played fast and loose with the canon. I just loved it as an engrossing story with bigger than life characters and a tear-jerking scene or two. Especially fine appearances by Chiron the wise centaur, and Thetis, Achilles's haughty hellcat mother.

Review written December 2013 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Dec 26, 2015 |
A tender love story set in a violent time in which even the victors are victims. Achilles fought for fame; he won, but anger destroys his judgment and his humanity..
  ritaer | Dec 24, 2015 |
I thought this was a lovely book. It tells the story of Achilles, famous Greek hero and demi-god, and Patroclus, exiled prince and love of his life. We follow them from when they first meet as boys, as they train with the centaur Chiron, and finally through the 10 years of the Trojan War. Throughout all of this, they remain devoted to each other; but Achilles' quest for fame and glory in battle inevitably leads to his downfall (ummm, thousand-year-old spoiler?). The passages depicting Achilles' grief over the death of Patroclus are devastating, and the beautiful moments between them before that tragedy, were wonderful to read. I blazed right through this book, and it seemed to grow in my mind and heart after I finished reading it; I stayed up thinking about the story way past my bedtime. ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Dec 2, 2015 |
Well thought out retelling of the story Achilles, hero of the Trojan war, and he the originator of the concept of an Achilles Heel. Only in this case, Achilles' true weakness, his "heel", is Patroclus. Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction.
  bookczuk | Nov 10, 2015 |
THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller won the 2012 Orange Prize for ‘fiction written by a woman’...but this novel told through the eyes of a man; a gay man; a gay man living over 3000 years ago. Patroclus doesn’t have a large role in the Iliad, but he is a large part of its story. His death at the hands of Hector, the Trojan hero, sparks his friend Achilles into action after months of refusing to fight in the war. He steps out from the Greek camp and slaughters the prince of Troy, then drags Hector’s body behind his chariot in triumph. The second half of story of the Iliad is mostly centred on Priam’s need to get his son’s body back from the Greeks and give it a proper burial. In the Iliad, Patroclus and Achilles are described as good friends – it is never actually stated they are lovers – but how far does one usually go for a drinking buddy? The rage Achilles clearly feels at Patroclus’ death explodes from the pages of the Iliad...the first ‘written’ piece of ‘fiction’ (or rather, life writing in storytelling form). Partly, this anger is related to who is to blame for his death...is it Hector...or is it Achilles, who unwittingly pushed Patroclus into going out to battle in his friend’s armour, representing Achilles in a bid to strengthen the moral of the Greek side?

Miller tells the story through the eyes of Patroclus, rather than any of the big guns of the Iliad. This has been done before, Mary Renault uses the device in her tales of Alexander the Great, which are narrated by Bagoas, his catamite. Starting when Patroclus is nine years old and finishing long after the Iliad finishes, Miller uses an intimate first-person present tense narrative, and fair rips along, making it an extremely easy read for such a long book. A young reviewer for the Guardian Kids’ Fiction pages said she’d finished it in a matter of hours.It is without doubt my favourite read this year; it feels a long time since I so enjoyed a book; was so unable to put it down. I loved the way Miller plays with the solid classical pedigree of these Greek stories, how she builds figures that long ago became archetypal into real characters, and how she re-imagines the world of bronze-aged Greece and Turkey. However she does have her critics. The Telegraph describes her narrative as... swoony soft-porn prose...Patroclus’ early years are a bit Judy Blume-ish ...The Guardian seems to agree...Miller’s book is unashamed to be a - not a bodice-ripping, so let’s call it a breastplate-ripping – romp...The Telegraph points out that...Miller’s book doesn’t swell or ripen into a meaningful engagement with the ancient literary tradition, as any serious attempt to appropriate the classics... I have to say that I didn’t think Miller was trying to do so, although she is a classics scholar. However, the Guardian goes on to admire, as I do, the clever twist at the end (I’d been wondering how she’d end it, as Patroclus dies some time before Achilles), But, as the Guardian review says...The book reaches a more thoughtful level when it continues to give Patroclus a voice after he is killed. Here it creates its own beauty, and achieves a sense of the uncanny which is otherwise lacking.
This is Madeline Miller’s debut novel, the second debut to win the Orange Prize in that number of years. In 2011 it was Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife which I enjoyed but have to say didn’t rate all that highly. I thought this was far better; better plotted, better structured, better researched with stronger characters. And it saw off
off strong competition: I’ve also read the short-listed Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick, and Ann Patchett’s slick State of Wonder, which I have to say I enjoyed equally, but The Song of Achilles won the prize and it seems more than a little churlish to moan at it, when it truly is such a remarkable feat. One thing the reviews seem to have bypassed is the title. The story isn’t about Achilles as much as it’s Patroclus’ autobiography, but the haunting title comes straight from the writer’s first source; The Iliad’s subtitle is Song of Ilium. ( )
1 vote ninahare | Oct 27, 2015 |
A vibrant reimagining of Homer's Iliad told from the perspective of Achilles' partner Patroclus. The book fuses a sympathetic understanding of the characters and their motivations with fantastic legendary elements such as the vengeful sea god Thetis and the centaur Chiron. Fantasy has never been a favourite genre for me, but we can forgive the traditions of ancient legends and enjoy being transported by the always readable plot. I'm not an expert on Homer or the classics, and have never read the Iliad, so I can't comment on what is added or left out. ( )
  bodachliath | Sep 25, 2015 |
The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the story of Troy as told through the eyes of Patroclus, the companion of Achilles, the greatest warrior of the legends. The author, a scholar in Greek History from Brown, made the familiar more realistic by using the first person narration. This way the reader sees Achilles the way Patroclus did. It seemed interesting at first, but I admit being a little disappointed by the love interest aspect of the companionship. I have since read that this relationship was implied in the original works, but most retellings don't include this. Still the characterization of Achilles, his graceful skills, his ego, and his fierceness were nicely drawn. The novel was an easy read and provided interesting interludes with the gods, especially Thetis, Achilles' mother. The novel details the legend of Helen, her beauty and how her kidnaping ignited the war with Troy. I was disappointed that the Trojan Horse scene is merely glossed over at the end, but to be fair the author had finished what she set out to tell, the story of Achilles and Patroclus. ( )
  novelcommentary | Aug 23, 2015 |
excellant. will read again. ( )
  jllady8 | Aug 14, 2015 |
Mary Renault set the rules for Ancient Greek historical fiction, and at least in the first part of this novel, Miller is a dutiful pupil, writing essentially the Achilles-and-Patroclus novel that Renault might have written fifty years ago. Take the lesser-known half of the couple as narrator, spend plenty of time on childhood and adolescence, take them up the mountain to study with Chiron, etc.

But then it gets trickier. For one thing, it isn't straightforward to do the Iliad without gods and goddesses sticking their fingers in the pie: the proper Renault way would be to have the mortals believe in them without actually bringing them into the story, but since the interventions here have to be rather concrete, that gets difficult. Miller doesn't bother to find non-supernatural explanations: she brings in Thetis as a major character, and a couple of other divinities make cameo appearances, but the bulk of the Olympian argy-bargy is offstage.

Then you have the problem of Ancient Greek sexuality. Do you follow (as Renault did) the convenient, but possibly not very accurate, mid-20th century convention that the Greeks were thoroughly enlightened chaps who didn't worry very much about who chose to go to bed with whom? Do you try to make up something more historically accurate but less plausible? Or do you do as Miller does and turn the characters into 1980s middle-class Americans? Thetis is the archetypal matriarch concerned that her son will blow his chance of getting the Republican nomination and she will be drummed out of the D.A.R. if it comes out that he has a boyfriend; Briseis is that equally familiar figure, the Ivy League graduate who's fed up with the men she dates and falls in love with her gay best friend. I'm not sure that Miller picked the best approach there...

The biggest problem of all, and probably the real reason why Renault never tackled this story, is that the principal narrative hinge is the death of the person you pretty much have to pick as narrator. So you're faced with either having someone else continue the story or letting Patroclus do it posthumously, both of which seem rather clumsy solutions. I don't think Miller handles this key aspect particularly well, either. The word that comes to mind (Greek is useful for some things, anyway) is bathos. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jul 12, 2015 |
An utterly mesmerizing tale. Of course, this isn't solely a love story but Miller's beautifully woven words very much enriched the chemistry between Achilles and Patroclus - so much so that I was completely enraptured by the story all the way though. I highly recommend this to everyone who has a liking for greek mythology mixed with romance! ( )
  novewong | Jul 8, 2015 |
This fictionalised version of the lives of the Greek hero Achilles and his sworn companion Patroclus won the Orange Prize in 2012. The first third or so deals with the boyhood relationship of Achilles and Patroclus, and was a little slow, though well written. As one would expect, it is when the Trojan war breaks out that the action hots up, and the familiar and not so familiar events take place (though the most famous wooden horse in history is barely mentioned in passing). Achilles and Agamemnon between them do more damage to their own cause than to Troy most of the time through their arrogance, and Achilles's son Neoptolemus is particularly unpleasant. A good read. ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 6, 2015 |
I would like to say in all seriousness: This is now my favourite book.

I've been trying to figure out what to say in this review for a few days now, and I just can't? This book destroyed me.

This book was meant for me.

I remember the first time I ever saw this book was in an airport. It can't have been very long after it was published because this was only about 3-4 years ago, and I was on my way to visit my Father in the UK. I hadn't even read the blurb, but I had decided I wanted this book. I knew I was going to love it. I wanted to buy it! But, as my Mother pointed out, I already had enough books to read whilst I was away - I could get the book when we got back.

I didn't get the book when I got back. I ended up getting it on Kindle years later, and then put off reading it for months.

Why? I don't know. I love all things Ancient History - more than anything, the Ancient Greeks. This is exactly my kind of thing. I remember having this same love affair with Mary Renault's The Alexander Trilogy. So I honestly don't know why I waited until now to read this book.

Do I regret that I waited this long? Absolutely not. It might only be a matter of 3-4 years, but I would never have appreciated this book then, the way I do now.

The Song of Achilles is the story of the illustrious Achilles Peleides, Aristos Achaion. More than that, it's the story of what made him human in spite of being half-god. The book is told from the narrative of Patroclus Menotiades, an exiled prince, who comes to the court of King Peleus, and there meets the second half of his soul.

Miller has obviously followed Plato's interpretation of their relationship here. Contrary to major movies starring Brad Pitt, Achilles and Patroclus were not cousins. They were not remotely related. There is no definitive answer to the question of 'were they lovers?' but I like to think they were. There's enough evidence out there for me, and certainly Homer doesn't make it explicit, but you cannot deny the way, aside from it's depth, the way in which Achilles grieves - refusing to burn Patroclus' body, keeping it in his tent and weeping over it - provides pretty compelling evidence.

Anyway ...

What I really love about this book? The fact that it's told from Patroclus' narrative. This was a genius stroke by Miller. It certainly wouldn't have been anywhere near as good if it had been told from an impersonal third person, or even from Achilles point of view. How could you possibly relate to someone who was half-god? But to the poor mortal who loved him? That you can relate to. Almost everyone will have had that experience of thinking someone divine through the force of your feelings for them. The only difference here, is Achilles really is of the divine.

Patroclus is the relateable outcast. He's not a loser by any means, but he's just not a warrior in a culture where the true measure of a man is in his ability to be one, surrounded as they are by stories of heroes and gods. So far in that the divinities are real characters in this book: Thetis, Achilles' mother; Chiron, Centaur and teacher; and cameos by Apollo and minor Gods. The addition of these characters adds a sense of magic, whilst maintaining a sense of realism. You feel that it is quite feasible that they existed once, and that they did play a part in this story.

The Story of Achilles is one that is recognised the world over, and the name of Achilles is synonymous with the name Troy. But that's not what this book is about. This book is a love story. It's the story of two best friends growing up, learning to love each other, discovering their world together and their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of their love.The depth of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is what really sets this book apart from all the other re-tellings of the Illiad.

If you only read one book this year, make it this one. ( )
1 vote LydiaLeigh257 | Apr 29, 2015 |
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
One of the greatest love stories never told…until Miller chose to work with this ancient story.
This is the love song of Patroclus for Achilles, a demi-god who befriends him while they are both young. Their friendship grows into something more, a powerful expression of the heart. But when the winds of war blow over them both, they must bow to Achilles’ fate and join forces fighting Troy to recapture Helen of Sparta.
Told in prose that is spare yet masterful, The Song of Achilles reveals the deeper movements that drive both Patroclus and Achilles forward to their deaths. Told with warmth that lacks any overblown sentimentality, this story is moving and emotionally fulfilling. A must-read for fans of mythology and those who enjoy walking side-by-side with lovers who face destiny with courage.
( )
1 vote Laine-Cunningham | Feb 22, 2015 |
Trojan War/Iliad slash fanfic. All the lead-up was pretty engaging and the prose had a spare but fluid quality to it. The treatment of the actual war felt a bit cursory, though I understood that Miller was more interested in character than in action scenes. Maybe what bothered me was that this was where it felt more like briefly retelling the Iliad than telling her own story, as most of the book had been. ( )
  kleos_aphthiton | Feb 8, 2015 |
I didn't expect to like The Song of Achilles as much as I did. I didn't expect to like it much at all, it being a well-regarded book about a mythological warrior, whose story was already familiar to me in broad strokes, if not in the details. Not only would there be a lot of battle scenes, but I knew how the story ended. But[Madeline Miller tells the familiar story in a fresh way and her love of Greek mythology shows through.

While Achilles himself remains a bit of a cipher, his companion, Patroclus, is vividly real, and it's from his point of view that the story is told. The world Miller writes about is very different from our own, with centaurs and sea-nymphs, myth-makers and men who prefer to die young and violently, but leaving behind a glittering reputation, than to die old and have lived a life of obscure prosperity. But the fears and emotions, Miller tells the reader, were the same, with people struggling to survive and to know what the right thing to do is.

What results is a compelling, unputdownable story. We know the end before we begin, but so does Achilles himself, lending added weight to the decisions he makes. And Patroclus is a worthy narrator, as he changes from an uncertain, tentative boy into a man willing to take risks and make hard decisions. ( )
3 vote RidgewayGirl | Jan 9, 2015 |
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