Book Review: Miller’s Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller

If you’ve read the Iliad (and you really should read the Iliad) you know the basic outlines of Achilles life and, if you really paid attention, you remember Patroclus, his friend and consort whose death finally brings Achilles out of his moping to wage war on the Trojans.

Miller’s book, a retelling of sorts of the life of Achilles takes as its central idea that Achilles and Patroclus were not just friends, but lovers, and she then reinterprets all the events of their lives based on this fact. In a reworking of one of the central plot points of the Iliad, for instance, Achilles isn’t upset because he lost a slave girl he wanted to rape, rather he is upset because he was protecting said slave girl (and using her as a beard of sorts).

This kind of “shipping” (to borrow a term from science fiction fan fiction) is common. Too often, it’s also poorly done. But here, Miller knows her original sources intimately (she has an MA in classics after all), and gracefully re-reads them to tell her story. I found myself not only impressed with the ingenuity of her reworking of the well known stories of the life of Achilles, but also genuinely moved by the love story she develops between Achilles and Patroclus.

A clever book, a joy to read, especially if, like me, you’re a bit obsessed with the Homeric epics.


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