when i was 10 years old, i discovered the lightning thief by rick riordan. and that’s when i fell in love with greek mythology and the fantastic tales of heroes, gods and monsters. i voraciously devoured every book in the percy jackson series and eagerly waited year after year for the heroes of olympus books to be released.
seven years later, i am standing here slack-jawed in absolute admiration of madeline miller’s first novel, the song of achilles. i don’t care that some call it ‘homeric fan fiction,’ but hell, this is GOOD homeric fan fiction. i’ve officially found my new favourite historical fiction novel. (sorry salt to the sea, you’ve been dethroned!)
achilles, the demigod son of king peleus and the sea nymph thetis, is famed for his unparalleled skills in combat and prowess in battle. he is known as the greatest warrior of his generation, destined to defeat and kill the mighty hector at troy. even more well-known is his fated death at troy caused by a single arrow through his left heel, and thus giving rise to the idiom “achilles’ heel.” there is, however, so much more to the epic myth surrounding perhaps the greatest, or one of the greatest of the legendary greek heroes…
this book does not center on achilles’ extraordinary skills on the battlefield, nor does it focus on the way he died. despite the title, the protagonist is clearly patroclus, an exiled prince and the friend and beloved companion of achilles. though homer’s iliad never really clarifies the nature of the relationship between achilles and patroclus, miller directly addresses this in the most beautiful way possible. patroclus is privy to achilles’ deepest secrets and thoughts. they are friends. they are companions. they are lovers.
the song of achilles gives patroclus a voice he never had in the iliad as a secondary character. i was able to see and understand achilles through patroclus’ point of view, rather than bask in the glory of the war epic that highlights the hero’s strength and hubris. i appreciated that despite his god-given skills in battle, achilles still proved himself to be wholly human. he feels deeply. he loves deeply. he is just as human as the rest of us, growing up from childhood to adulthood. through patroclus, i watched achilles transition from a privileged child of mischief to a more sensitive teen to an adult who continues to struggle deeply from within, especially in terms of his fate.
i loved this book beyond words. (i know, quite ironic, since i’m trying, kind of, to put my feelings about this amazing novel into words.) having read homer, i knew how the book would conclude, but the song of achilles really put a different spin on a classical greek myth. as patroclus tells thetis from the grave, “let the stories of him be something more.”