Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

Hardcover, 2024

Status

Available

Call number

813.6

Publication

Folio Society (2024)

Description

Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML: "At once a scholar's homage to The Iliad and startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist....A book I could not put down." �Ann Patchett "Mary Renault lives again!" declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room, referring to The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller's thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer's enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller's monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction's brightest lights�and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes..… (more)

Media reviews

That The Song of Achilles offers a different take on the epic story of Achilles and the Trojan War is not, in itself, anything particularly out of the ordinary. People have been putting their own spins on The Iliad from the instant Homer finished reciting it. What's startling about this sharply
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written, cleverly re-imagined, enormously promising debut novel from Madeline Miller is how fresh and moving her take on the tale is — how she has managed to bring Achilles and his companion Patroclus to life in our time without removing them from their own.
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But in the case of Miller, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in classics at Brown, the epic reach exceeds her technical grasp. The result is a book that has the head of a young adult novel, the body of the “Iliad” and the hindquarters of Barbara Cartland.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
…and all along I was wondering will the prophecy come true? And will Achilles kill Hector? And will the sea goddess Thetis destroy Patroclus? And oh that Agamemnon makes me so mad! And poor Briseis!...Oh, sorry, but I was so completely caught up with this heart pounding story (when it wasn’t a
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love story) that I’m not sure exactly when I will recover from its telling.

How does one go about rewriting the greatest story ever told? Well, Madeline Miller decided to research the back story of the Trojan War and particularly, the history of a rather minor character in Homer’s poem, Patroclus. Born to royalty, and then exiled, he becomes the boyhood friend of Achilles, golden haired son of the King Peleus. Achilles is the assured, admired, strong, “greatest of all Greeks,” and Patroclus is awkward, and lacking all the wonderful attributes that Achilles possesses. But their bond is great and endures as they grow up, first in King Peleus’ palace and then on a hilltop, being taught by the centaur Chiron. When word comes that the beautiful Helen of Troy has been kidnapped, all are called to war and the fates intervene with a deadly prophecy that will forever affect Achilles and Patroclus.

What made this book so appealing was not just Miller’s brilliant storytelling. To say that she makes you feel as if you are right there, in Troy, during the battles, would be underestimating the quality of the storytelling. But I can’t think of a better way of putting it. I actually felt their pain when a spear tore through their skin and ripped apart their legs, leaving young Greek soldiers to bleed to death on the battlefield. She was able to convey the feelings among the warring factions that were actually on the same side. But honor is a mighty foe and proves to be Achilles downfall.

Another appealing factor: Miller’s spare and poetic prose. For example:

”It was a strange war. No territory was gained, no prisoners were taken. It was for honor only, man against man. With time, a mutual rhythm emerged: we fought a civilized seven days out of ten, with time off for festivals and funerals. No raids, no surprise attacks. The leaders, once buoyant with hopes of swift victory, grew resigned to a lengthy engagement. The armies were remarkably well-matched, could tussle on the field day after day with no side discernibly stronger. This was due in part to the soldiers who poured in from all over Anatolia to help the Trojans and make their names. Our people are not the only ones greedy for glory.”

Miller manages to concoct a narrative that maintains a steady increase in tempo until, at the height of the action during the war, we are careening forward at breakneck speed. I could not stop reading. Every emotion available is drawn from the reader until you find yourself feeling totally spent. Such excellent storytelling is rare indeed.

I should not have liked this book and would never have picked it up had it not been for some very enticing reviews proffered on LT. But stories about gods and goddesses, sea nymphs and mortals smacks of an early version of science fiction, another genre that doesn’t speak to me. But like it I did. A lot.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 5* of five

The Book Report: Here I am faced with a conundrum: What can I say here? This is The Iliad, told from Patroclus's point of view. Miller starts the story with Patroclus's memories of his father, King Menoitius, whose unloving, unforgiving horridness blighted Patroclus's childhood.
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When Patroclus causes the death of a bully who happens to be a powerful noble's son, the boy's family gives the king what he wants: An excuse to rid himself of unpromising Patroclus. He is exiled (a nine year old boy) to Phthia, and the court of King Peleus.

Father of Achilles. Born to the sea-nymph Thetis. Best of all the Greeks...Aristos Achaion...in each and every thing, yet mortal and so consigned to our world.

Patroclus and Achilles find each other, and Achilles chooses the unpromising boy to be his companion. Peleus says, when the choice is made, are you sure about this, son? This boy will add nothing to your lustre. Achilles responds, without rancor or boastfulness, “I don't need him to.” This being self-evident and inarguable, Peleus shrugs and life goes on. The boys spend a golden childhood as best friends, a golden adolescence as lovers, and, after being outed by Odysseus in Scyros where Thetis was trying to hide Achilles from the Trojan War where he is fated to die, a long (for the times) manhood as husbands. Everyone knows what time it is. No one says boo about it, except Thetis who LOATHES Patroclus because he's not good enough for her little boy. Who would dare? Achilles is a killing machine. He is the Aristos Achaion for a reason.

And now we rejoin the mainstream of The Iliad for the remainder of the plot, with only a slight change in angle of view.


My Review: I think I wrote three heart-felt appreciations of this book. It is strong, and beautiful, and passionate. It is tough, and cruel, and inevitably sad. It is tender, and loving, and generous. It is indeed the Song of Achilles, sung by Patroclus, and it is a fitting funerary offering to them both.

But let me get out of the story's way. It speaks for itself.

”I will go,” he said. “I will go to Troy.”
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whipsered. “Yes.
Relief broke in his face, and he reached for me. I let him hold me, let him press us length to length so close that nothing might fit between us.
Tears came, and fell. Above us, the constellations spun and the moon paced her weary course. We lay stricken and sleepless as the hours passed. --pp167-168

I can't make any stronger a case for the book than this. I hope you will read it.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I didn't expect to care much for this book as I'm not all that interested in Greek myths and heroes--but what an unexpected surprise! I am so glad that I listened to the recommendation of other LTers and decided to give The Song of Achilles a go. Once I started, it was impossible to put it aside--a
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rare enough occurence, but rarer still when you already know how the story will end. That can only be attributed to Madeline Miller's gift for storytelling. Gone are the sometimes stilted characterizations of the original (due in part, no doubt, to weak translations). While the heroes here remain monumental, they are also complex men whose thoughts and emotions are all too human. Miller never lets us forget that Achilles himself is the son of a goddess, but we also see within him the vulnerability of the human condition.

The familiar story is narrated by Patroclus, Achilles's best loved companion. The son of a king sent into exile for making a tragic but shameful mistake, Patroclus befreinds the admired Achilles at the age of twelve. Miller takes us through their upbringing at the court of Peleus and their training with the centaur Chieron and on through the Trojan War, where both eventually meet their final fates. She fleshes out not only the shadowy character of Patroclus but also Thetis, Achilles's goddess-mother, his father Peleus, Chieron, Odysseus, Menalaus, Briseis, and others; and she even manages to make the exhausting battle scenes thrilling.

Perhaps the best compliment I can give to The Song of Achilles is that it has made me want to reread The Iliad. A truly remarkable read, well worth five stars and more.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
I am in love with this book. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again - that or read The Iliad again. This is a retelling of the story of Achilles told from the point of view of Patroclus. In The Iliad, Patroclus is Achilles' companion and his death at the hands of Hector spurs Achilles
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into a violent killing spree that ultimately ends in his death. In the Iliad, Patroclus is a relatively minor character, but in this retelling, he is central to Achilles' life and his motivations.

Miller does a beautiful job of telling a modern love story while seamlessly weaving mythology into her book. It's a stunning mix and works so effortlessly. You feel like you're right there with the ancients, but somehow don't feel alienated by their customs and gods at all because the love story is so strong. I loved how she weaves in the prophecies as well. You are never allowed to forget that fate rules the lives of these characters.

Seeing Achilles through Patroclus' eyes humanizes him in a way that reading The Iliad never did for me. It brought up so many questions and thoughts in my mind about his decisions and motivations and themes that go along with them. I know I will never be able to read the Iliad or any other re-telling of Achilles's story without thinking that this novel's new take on his story is the absolute right one. That's a pretty big feat for a story that's been told for 2800 years.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
Madeline Miller grew up in Philadelphia, received her bachelor's and master's degrees in Classics from Brown, and spent the past 10 years, using her knowledge and love of [The Iliad] and the Trojan War, in writing this captivating novel, as narrated by Achilles' best friend and closest confidant
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Patroclus.

As the story opens, Patroclus, the son of Menoitius, King of Opus, describes his early years in his father's kingdom. He is an embarrassment to his father, as he is simple minded and slow of foot, particularly in comparison to the fleet-footed Achilles, son of Peleus, King of the Myrmidons, and Thetis, a lesser but still powerful sea-goddess. Patroclus admires and is attracted to this impossibly handsome and gifted young man after he wins a race in his father's kingdom.

Patroclus is banished from Opus after an unfortunate accident, and is sent to continue his education and training with Peleus. Patroclus and Achilles are soon attracted to each other, and become inseparable friends and cautious lovers, to the disapproval and dismay of Thetis, who views Patroclus as unsuitable and unworthy of her son. Achilles is prophesied to be the greatest warrior who ever lived, mainly due to his exemplary lineage, and is beloved within and outside of his father's kingdom.

The two young men further their education in life under the tutelage of the centaur Chiron, as they grow to love and respect each other and their inimitable teacher. After several years of training, Achilles is urgently summoned home, to lead the Myrmidons in battle against the Trojans, as Paris, son of the King of Troy, has kidnapped Helen, the Queen of Sparta and the most beautiful woman in the world. Her husband Menelaus and his greedy and power hungry brother, Agamemnon, call on the surrounding kingdoms to honor the oath from Odysseus at the time of her marriage, which compels them to aid him in reclaiming Helen from the Trojans.

Miller skillfully portrays the build up to and the major events in the Trojan War, including the drudgery of warfare and the squabbles between Achilles and Agamemnon and its tragic consequences, ending with the ultimate fates of Patroclus and Achilles.

The Song of Achilles is a remarkable achievement, one which is worthy of this year's Orange Prize, as its author has created a novel that is a beautiful love story and a page turning tale of war, jealousy and friendship. I would imagine that one of Miller's goals in writing this book is to introduce readers like myself who are naïve to [The Iliad] to the beauty and timelessness of this story, and she has succeeded in doing so. I will read Homer's classic works in the near future, and I'll eagerly return to [The Song of Achilles] for a pleasure filled re-read soon afterward.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Good news! You don't have to be an Ancient Greek expert to read The Song of Achilles! For those of you who wondered, rest assured: Madeline Miller maneuvers her readers through Ancient Greek lore like a skilled driver. Having advanced degrees in the Classics certainly does help, but her writing
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style is easy and digestible. I could even keep track of the names (a small miracle for me).

Now for the "meh" news: I wasn't enamored with The Song of Achilles like I thought I would be. I was hoping for a five-star, knock-my-socks off read. (Note to self: Stop reading so many reviews before selecting a book). Why? Because many book-loving friends raved about The Song of Achilles. As a result, I set my expectations too high.

The Song of Achilles focuses on the relationship between Achilles and his lover/soul mate/best friend, Patroclus. Patroclus was exiled from his kingdom as a young boy and sent to live with King Peleus, who was Achilles' father. Eventually, Achilles and Patroclus struck up a friendship, which, over time, turned into a deep romance. The entire story is told through Patroclus' eyes, and through his perspective, we learn about Achilles the boy, the soldier and the man.

I applaud Miller for this ambitious endeavor: to tell the story of Achilles and the Trojan War through a fresh perspective. In my opinion, she accomplished it very well, especially for being a young writer. She made each character come alive - to the point where you love or hate them.

Where I think The Song of Achilles lacked for me was the pace. It dragged in parts. A lot of pages were spent on Achilles growing up, and some of it wasn't that interesting. When we finally arrived at the Trojan War, I just wanted to press the fast-forward button. I realize Miller needed to build up some tension, but I think she lost me along the way. When the prophecy was fulfilled and the inevitable fates occurred, the story still continued! Stick a fork in me: I was done.

In the end, The Song of Achilles was a good book. I would recommend it to readers who love historical fiction, especially ancient history. If you're against same-sex relationships, this is definitely a book to skip. Madeline Miller is a young writing talent, and I hope she continues to hone her craft. I expect we'll see even more brilliant stories coming from this gifted writer.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
Overhyped.
Underwhelming.
Inconsistent.
Unconvincing.

Sorry, guys, I just don't get it. If it took her 10 years to write this, I am going to refuse to read anything written by her in less time... Okay, that may be a little harsh, since I am giving it 3.5 stars. (It probably only deserves 3, but I'm
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feeling generous.) But honestly, while there are some beautiful passages, I just found the whole book inconsistent - a cross between the results of a writing workshop in an MFA program and a Harlequin romance novel. Patroclus and Achilles were two dimensional and shallow, and really kind of annoying. I didn't see how their relationship developed and I didn't buy the supposed depth of it. While Miller didn't commit the sin of telling me too much as a reader, she also didn't show me enough to convince me or make me care. I do appreciate what she was trying to do, and in some ways, she succeeded very well, especially in terms of bringing the time and place and situations to life. But this is a character-driven story, and the lack of depth and development of those characters was a real disappointment.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This is a debut novel (which always holds promise) that took 10 years to write and that retells a classic among classics - the story of Achilles from the Iliad. Add to that the fact that I am rather late to the party in reading this one, which was a favorite of many of you in 2012. Yes, my
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expectations were high. But Miller blew them out of the water with this beautifully written story.

The story itself involves love and war, feuds and reconciliations, trickery and intrigue. Miller takes the solid bones provided by Homer and makes them sing. Her characterization of Patroclus, Achilles' friend and companion, is so rich. He is, by turns, wise and selfish, brave and cowardly, jealous and forgiving, utterly human. His relationship with Achilles is tender and provides us with insight into both of their characters. It is not easy being the companion of Greece's great hero, especially in the throes of the Trojan War. But it is in this time of stress that we learn most about who Achilles and Petroclus really are.

I bought the deluxe edition for my Kindle (because it was on sale a few months back), and it came with some video interviews with Madeline Miller. I thought it was interesting that her idea for the book came when she was directing Shakepeare's Trojan War play, Troilus and Cressida. In shaping the actors' depictions of the characters, she realized the rich possibilities for adding some interpretation to this classic tale. She also said that as she wrote, she envisioned the scenes in the book as if they were scenes in the play. This obviously worked well because the scenes invoke vivid images and the Trojan War comes to life in the pages of this book.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Back in the dark ages, when Tutu was in high school, I vaguely remember that we were assigned selected readings from the Iliad and the Odyssey.  If I read them, very little stuck, and I remember them as boring and without any meaning for me.  These were myths, legends, and everything happened so
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long ago, that what did it matter?  Now along comes Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles.  Would it change my mind?

Although many fellow LTers recommended this one loudly and vociferously, I still approached it with great trepidation.  In fact, I had downloaded the ebook through the library's program because I was sure I wouldn't want to waste a lot of time or money on this one.

Madeline Miller's debut novel, winner of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, is an absolute knock-out.  From the minute I started reading, I couldn't put it down.  Written from the point of view of Patroclus, an exiled prince who becomes the companion of Achilles, Miller  treats us to a detailed, lavish view of life during the golden glory days of Greece. We meet those legendary figures from our high school anthologies: Odysseus, Agamemmon, Menelaus, and Achilles' mother the sea-goddess Thetis who despises mortals, and is especially antagonistic toward Patroclus.   Miller's writing brings all of them to life, showing their relations to events, and giving us new glimpses of the myths we remember.

The story follows Patroclus and Achilles as they apprentice themselves to the centaur Chieron, learning both survival and military skills. As they reach young adulthood, we get a ring-side seat at the Trojan war, when men of Greece, who had sworn a blood oath to rescue her, were called to Troy to rescue the fair Helen.  I can't really compare this telling to those of my mid 20th century high school curriculum.  I can only say it was a compelling story, told in a narrative that holds the reader's interest and presents the age old tale of the Iliad in a new and gripping version.  It even made me want to go find a good translation of the original to see where the story got started.  There's no doubt in my mind that it deserves all the hype and awards.  Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
While it deals with the Trojan war with it's main participants, this is first and foremost a love story about Patroclus, a rather ordinary and not particularly talented young man and the god-like hero Achilles. Told in a first person narration, Patroclus tells us about his early childhood as a
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prince and subsequent banishment, whereupon he is sent to live among a gaggle of boys trained to become soldiers by none other than Achilles's father. All the boys venerate Achilles for his great beauty and grace, for he is in fact the son of a goddess and as such possesses special gifts, but one day Achilles chooses Patroclus to be his close companion. Why he chose Patroclus, who had nothing to distinguish himself from the others, was shy and uncommunicative isn't made clear, but nonetheless the boys end up spending their childhood together and eventually come to be lovers and entirely devoted to one another. When the war on Troy is declared, both Patroclus and Achilles are sought out by Odysseus to join the war effort. Everyone knows that Achilles is destined to be the greatest warrior of his generation, and everyone also knows about the prophesy which dooms Achilles to die shortly after having killed Hector. Patroclus on the other hand is not a fighter and finds his own ways to distinguish himself. Beautifully told, this story brings mythical characters to life and makes even fantastical creatures, such as a centaur and sea goddess seem absolutely believable as essential elements in the narrative.. A very interesting take on a mythical tale, this made me badly want to revisit The Iliad—in fact, I almost wished I'd read it first to refresh my memory, but this is by no means essential to fully appreciate The Song of Achilles. The audiobook narration by Frazer Douglas was excellent. Much recommended.
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LibraryThing member bachaney
The Song of Achilles is a masterful retelling of the story of Achilles and his companion Petrocolus, told from the perspective of Petrocolus. The two meet as young boys in Achilles home, and over time their relationship grows from that of playful companions to lovers. But its not until they are
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summoned to go to Troy that the foundations of their relationship are threatened by Achilles' wishes to become a great man of history.

Most people who pick up The Song of Achilles will know how this sad story ends. But it's not the basics of the Trojan War made famous by the Illiad that make this novel interesting--it's all of the rich background and detail that Madeline Miller imagines around the famous characters. She takes the flat characters of mythology and turns them into real people, with hobbies, loves, and personal conflicts. I found that she made the myth something believable all while building a beautiful romance between these two famous men. Thanks to the detail, this story feels fresh and is a very enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member presto
While still a child the young Prince Patroclus is exiled to Phithia, disowned by his father and stripped of his title as a result of an unfortunate incident. In Phithia he is just one of many young boys taken in by King Peleus, sharing his days with them, and at meal times joined by his
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benefactor's son, Prince Achilles. Equality of age is the only thing Patroclus and Achilles share, for Achilles is otherwise everything Patroclus is not. Achilles is a strikingly beautiful boy, strong, athletic and graceful; he treats all the boys in his father's care with respect but favours none above another, that is until he notices Patroclus, and he chooses this awkward and unprepossessing, some say ugly, boy to be his companion, an honoured and lifelong position. Their friendship grows despite the surprise of King Peleus and the strong disapproval of Achilles mother, the sinister sea goddess Thetis.

Achilles has Patroclus move from the dormitory where he slept along with the other boys to share his own room in the palace. Later they go off to train together in the arts of fighting, medicine and living with nature, all the while the bond between the two boys growing until it blossoms to a love that is pure and unbreakable.

The prophecies dictate the glory that is Achilles' destiny, and when Helen of Sparta is kidnapped it is inevitable that Achilles, although now only in his mid-teens, be called upon to lead his own army to join the armies of other kings travelling to Troy in a rescue bid. Patroclus is no fighter, yet he cannot let Achilles go without him, but the battle proves to be much longer than the few months promised and runs into years. These years will test their friendship, trust and above all their love to the limits, and prove the true character of the two boys as they grow into young men.

Truly bringing to life the story of Achilles and the Trojan War, Madeline Miller writes with great beauty and fluency, creating a gripping tale and remarkable love story. The love between the two boys is remarkable, this is not the infatuation of an ungainly lad for a boy of great beauty; Achilles is devoted to Patroclus, and the two share everything holding nothing back.

Patroclus narrates the account, and by a clever device is able to do so through all that occurs. It is a beautiful story, coloured with gods and myth, including mythical creatures, tragic and heart-rending yet tinged with hope, and (despite the author's occasional confusion over use of personal pronouns) most beautifully written. It brings to mind the work of Mary Renault in making real the legends of the past.
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LibraryThing member thessaly
I loved this book. I can't really put it any other way. The language is pretty simplistic, it's easy to read and the chapters are short.

The relationship between Achilles and his lover Patroclus is presented in a very poetic way; I wish the author would have spent more time on them and their
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feelings for each other instead of wedging it in between the events of Achilles life leading up to the battle of Troy.

I can tell that Madeline Miller really has a deep respect and love for her subject and that shows through in the prose.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member TheIdleWoman
Miller’s book is narrated by Patroclus. She begins with his childhood: snubbed by his father, who thinks him simple, he has a lonely time of it until, after accidentally killing another boy, he is exiled to Peleus' court in Phthia. Here he meets the king's son Achilles and eventually becomes his
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companion. From there we move into familiar territory: Cheiron’s teachings on Mount Pelion; the court at Scyros; the mustering of the Greeks at Aulis and the voyage to Troy. Other recent retellings of the myth have shown a tendency to focus on the human side of the conflict and to play down the role of the gods. Miller, on the contrary, simply presents us with the myths in all their original strangeness. Cheiron is actually a centaur; Apollo leans down from the walls of Troy and sends his plague-arrows among the Greeks; and Thetis is a goddess rather than a priestess, as Age of Bronze makes her. She was one of the things I liked best about the book. I’ve always imagined the gods and goddesses as being bright and dazzling, but Miller’s Thetis is a dark, vindictive sea-demon, enveloped by the smell of the surf, sharp-toothed and jealous. I actually felt a wonderful wash of dread whenever she appeared on the scene. Despite my misgivings about putting Greek gods on film, I’d love to see what Guillermo del Toro could do with her.

Miller obviously has a thorough knowledge of the period, as she has an MA in Classics, but she wears her learning lightly. I like her emphasis on ritual and protocol, and I thoroughly enjoyed her episode on Scyros – Achilles and the daughters of Lycomedes is one of my favourite subjects in art. Indeed, I have to say that I felt there was much more life to the early part of Miller’s book than there is later on, when (like the Iliad itself), it all seems to boil down to lists of names and gory descriptions of spears breaking through bones. Perhaps it’s because she had a slightly freer imaginative rein at that stage - and, let’s be honest, of all the heroes Achilles has perhaps the most eventful adolescence.

Two things niggled, though. I felt that the first half of Miller’s book was heavily influenced by Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven. The feel of Peleus’ court; the growing friendship between Achilles and Patroclus; the very descriptions of Achilles; they all had a strong family resemblance to Renault’s descriptions of the young Alexander and his relationship with Hephaistion. Having said that, Mary Renault is my benchmark for historical fiction set in Ancient Greece and so the very fact that Miller’s book brought her to mind is high praise. But it just all felt quite similar. (It may be that Miller has never read Fire from Heaven, but I’d be extremely surprised if that were the case.)

My other concern was the characterisation of Patroclus. It’s fine when he’s a boy and his role consists mainly of rhapsodising over Achilles with greater or lesser amounts of teenage angst – although parts of this do have the breathless feel of well-written fan-fiction. Later, however, Miller would have us believe that Patroclus is a fairly poor fighter and that his time at Troy is divided between helping the medics and keeping the tent tidy. This, I don’t buy. To the society that Miller describes, such a man would be considered little better than a woman and I would expect her Patroclus to be treated much worse than he is. Instead, everything is explained away by the fact that Achilles is ‘looking after him’. To me, this felt false. One minute Miller’s gentle, home-loving soul is doing his best to stay away from the battlefield; the next he suddenly offers to ride out in Achilles’ armour to strike fear into the hearts of the Trojans. In the Iliad, Patroclus is a respected warrior in his own right, referred to with the word 'illustrious' and quite capable of smashing into the Trojans (he was one of the Myrmidons after all!). So that left me a little bit dissatisfied.

Bear in mind that I am an incorrigible nit-picker with historical fiction. Overall this was an enjoyable book, incredibly readable and a welcome retelling of Achilles' story.
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LibraryThing member fugitive
Talking with others of my generation, it seems that in eighth grade (age 13-14) a good number of us were forced to read Homer's The Iliad. We all reacted to the original (a translation) in a number of different ways. For me at that time, it was simple astonishment through my youthful ignorance that
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incredible brutality could infuse the ancient classics. But the word "poetic" was a word that never came into our mutual discussions.

Note: I received a free copy of this book for review via the Amazon Vine Program.
Cue Madeline Miller whose debut novel herein uses Homer's Iliad as the main source for her book. In this work, the author, a classics scholar, has taken the tale of Achilles and his companion/friend/lover Patroclus, and via modern English language imbued her prose with a grand epic poetic beauty that I failed to see as a young man. Her world vision of ancient Greece is alive, beautiful, and familiar: landscape is lovingly described; characters are given depth; the brutality of war is painted vividly; and a love story is given aching poignancy.

The book can also be read as a fantasy, with centaurs, nymphs, and gods all presented as commonplace as they likely were in those ancient days of yore. The training of Achilles and Patroclus by Chiron, king of the centaurs, is one of the best parts of the book.

Readers uncomfortable with male-male romantic love might still wish to read The Song of Achilles because, like the best of love stories, Achilles and Patroclus' love transcends the physical. And, yes, I am a hopeless romantic.

Note: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from the Amazon Vine Program.
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LibraryThing member malongorose
This is a superb book, easily the best I have read in a long time. The authors retelling of the story of Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus is beautifully handled. I am a great lover of the classical legends of Ancient Greece and know the stories by heart, but this version of Achilles life
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breathed new life into the tales and made the characters I know so well fresh and real.

Read the book, the prose is beautiful - you won't regret it. I know I will be re-reading this one often.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
Miller’s book has been getting a lot of nice reviews from many media outlets and blogging companions. I’m not as enthusiastic as most.

The book is basically a retelling of The Iliad. Admittedly, I’ve never read the full version of the tale, but I have read several other retellings as my kids
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were nuts about mythology when they were growing up and we would read or listen to them together. If you’re familiar with the story, there isn’t much new here except for one thing, and that is the homosexual relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. The whole tale is told from that angle. Whereas The Iliad never expressly states this nature about their relationship, some scholars have inferred from their reading of it that this was so. However, others aren’t convinced; it is debated among scholarly circles today whether this was the case or they were just ‘bosom buddies.’ In addition, in The Iliad, Patroclus is clearly older than Achilles and not the same age, so there were some liberties taken there as well. Also, I didn’t find the writing to be that stellar.

If this book hadn’t been shortlisted for the Orange Prize, I probably wouldn’t have read it. And the reason is that I’ve read so many retellings in the past it is high time I read the real thing. I’ve been going over different translations and I think I’m going to go with the Alexander Pope version. While not as literal as some of the more modern translations, it looks to be more in the spirit of Homer’s original because it rhymes. The Iliad and The Odyssey were orally passed down, and looking at Pope’s translation, it would seem the easiest one to memorize if one had to.

I do thank Madeline Miller for giving me the jump start to actually want to read the real tales themselves. For that I’m grateful.

2012, 369 pp.
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LibraryThing member GCPLreader
Mixed review -- This retelling of the Achilles legend didn't quite measure up to other modern writings on mythology that I've enjoyed, nor, of course, The Iliad. I found the romance insipid with many lines like "Something tugged at me, just beneath my skin." Achilles just never came to life for me.
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The writing and the action did pick up in the final scenes at Troy, but even the important battles came across as rushed and underwritten. The ending also forced some awkward tweaking of the first person narrative. I did admire the author's clever decision at ending the hero's life. Not a bad effort, just not quite good enough.
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LibraryThing member eenerd
Beautifully told tale of Achilles and the Trojan War, told from the point of view of his lover and closest friend, Patroclus the exile. Lush imagery, vivid characters and lyrical dialogue make this such a delicious read. The tender, sensuous relationship behind the scenes contrasts starkly with the
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bloody viciousness of the war, adding another layer of complexity to delight and enthrall. You'll want to keep an eye out for more work by Madeline Miller, what a great talent.
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LibraryThing member mirrani
I couldn't put this book down. In fact, the only time I became frustrated was when I had to close the book in order to do something else because life got in the way of my reading. The bond shared between two people is what is explored here, not a mythological history or the ins and outs of battle.
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Yes it is based there, but people who want a copy of the Iliad probably won't be as happy as people who want a different version, told from a different point of view.

This story is romantic in nature, focusing more on personal relationship than anything else. Readers get to explore the bond between two boys as they grow individually and as they grow together. I was struck by how often I could almost feel what some of the characters were feeling, either their frustrations at their situation or the struggles with understanding each other and the world around them. There is nothing complex in this story, but the book is very well written. I would easily recommend it to anyone looking for a world to become lost in for a while.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
I don't know, I wanted to be swept away by this and instead I was just vaguely entertained. Her writing is truly lovely, but I never felt like these were real people. It was more like a romance between two marble statues, where you knew all along that everyone was going to die tragically young.
LibraryThing member bell7
Patroclus is the son of a king, but early on he knew he disappointed his father. He could never match up to Achilles, the son of a goddess and the one destined to be the greatest Greek fighter ever. When Patroclus accidentally kills a boy, he is exiled to Achilles' father's kingdom. As these boys
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become friends and companions, Patroclus narrates their story leading up to events that will be familiar to anyone who knows their Greek mythology.

Full confession: I still haven't read The Iliad and The Odyssey. I still could see where events were going, to some extent, but I couldn't tell you where the author diverges from or imagines additions to the original story. While I didn't always like what happened, I never could imagine things differently, one of the highest compliments I can give to a story. The writing was wonderfully evocative, and I think this is the sort of book that I might have rated in my mind lower directly after finishing it, but it will linger in my mind awhile longer and come out as a stronger read several months later when I've had time to fully digest it. At the very least, it made me eager to pick up some of the original Greek myths.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
An amazingly thorough interpretation of the life of Achilles, told from the perspective of his lifelong friend (and lover, in this version), Patroclus. Young Patroclus is exiled from his home, and ends up in the palace of Achilles' father along with many other exiled boys. He and Achilles seem
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inexorably drawn to each other, and they quickly become close friends and, later, lovers. Patroclus joins Achilles on his journeys, ending, of course, on the battlefields of Troy.

This book was absolutely delightful. Miller manages to make what could be a dry story into a song the Greeks would be proud of, through her authentic-sounding prose. She has pulled bits and pieces of Achilles' and Patroclus' lives from various sources, but she weaves them together into a heart-felt and unforgettable life story. I've read a decent amount of Greek mythology, but I didn't believe that almost every aspect of the story has a source in mythology until I looked some of it up afterwords. Truly amazing.

I've always loved Greek mythology because of its timelessness and how well it lends itself to interpretation. This book is the epitome of everything I love about it.
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LibraryThing member BookishMatters
Words I’d use to describe this book: gorgeous, sensual, exquisite, beautiful, poetic… I could go on, but you get the idea — I really liked this book.

The language used by Miller is stunningly, amazingly well written. I felt almost as if I was reading poetry through, but it was clear and paced
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perfectly throughout. I loved that, even though this is a retelling of an old tale and I knew exactly how it was going to end (something I began to dread about a quarter of the way through because I knew it was going to GUT me, and I was so so right), I still couldn’t put the damn thing down. I read like it was all new to me. Maybe that’s because we’re following Patroclus, or maybe it’s because the focus is on the emotions and relationships between the characters, their wants and desires, and not the battles. But it felt like I was discovering these characters all over again.

I adored everyone in the book too. Although I enjoy Greek mythology, I can’t claim to have studied it or read up on it extensively, so it was nice to see three dimensional characters here. They’ve always come off in legends as sort of one dimensional to me, but here, Achilles was fully fleshed out, and the ending (which I won’t spoil) just emphasized what a rich characterization Miller had given him. I hope she writes more and focuses on some of the side characters here (such as Odysseus, or Helen herself).

I don’t have much bad to say about this. Actually, I don’t have anything bad so much as a tiny critique, but I would love a “Song of Patroclus” to accompany this. I felt the first person took away just a teensy bit from the romance, as sometimes it seemed it was more Patroclus admiring Achilles rather than the two mutually admiring each other. I want to know what Achilles saw in Patroclus from the very beginning, when he was described by everyone else as weak, cowardly, ugly, etc. Because of how much attention Patroclus lavished on Achilles, I don’t think we really learned much about his character. His life was about his lover, not about him. I would love to see how Achilles’s life revolved around Patroclus in return.

Still, an undeniable 5/5 stars.
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Awards

Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2012)
Gaylactic Spectrum Award (Winner — Novel — 2013)
Stonewall Book Award (Honor Book — Literature — 2013)
RUSA CODES Reading List (Shortlist — Historical Fiction — 2013)

Language

Original publication date

2011-09-20
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