Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, The Song of Achilles is an attempt to construct, in novel form, the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. As you may recall, Achilles is the hero of the Trojan war, presumably an unstoppable demigod, but is eventually killed when Paris shoots an arrow into the heel of the great warrior. Today, the phrase Achilles’ heel is used to represent one’s weakness.
In Miller’s retelling, she leaves out the heel altogether, and rather portrays Patroclus as Achilles’ weakness. As a youngster, Patroclus is exiled from his father for killing another boy and sent to live with King Peleus of Phthia. There he befriends the king’s son, Achilles, and the two become close companions.
Here, like some other Greek scholars, Miller takes license to presume a homosexual relationship between the two, and explores the life of Achilles in the context of his love for Patroclus.
It was definitely well-thought out, and well-written, although I wonder about Miller’s portrayal of this relationship as a monogamous one. When Achilles takes a beautiful slave girl as his war prize, he does not take advantage of her sexually. I was under the impression that in ancient Greece, it was common take lovers of both sexes and at the same time. In fact, many writings of Achilles claim that he did just that. Well, it is Miller’s story, but given her classical education, I would have thought she’d want to be as historically accurate has possible.
Years ago, I studied Greek drama in college. It was one of my favorite classes, and thanks to Madeline Miller, I have been reunited with some wonderful characters again.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2011