Achilles: No wonder the sky is so gray today, bro.
Patroclus: Why, bro?
Achilles: Because all the blue is in your eyes.
There are a number of different interpretations as to what the exact nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was in Greek Mythology. I mean, we know that they loved each other. For real. But was it a brothers-in-arms kind of deal? Nah. It’s pretty widely accepted that they were in fact lovers. Yet Patroclus is often seen as little more than a side-character in the Illiad, despite the fact that his death has such an effect on the outcome of the war. And so, Madeline Miller chose to write The Song of Achilles from Patroclus’ point of view, which largely focuses on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles.
Patroclus is a great narrator for the tale, and you begin to feel for him even before he becomes entwined in the myth of the great hero, Achilles. Because how much do we hear about his life before the war in any of the other major Greek stories? Very little. It all begins as a coming-of-age tale for Patroclus and Achilles, whose lives are brought together after Patroclus is exiled from his home. Patroclus becomes a companion for the prince, Achilles, and really the whole thing is a matter of two people spending a lot of time together until one day they realize, whoa, I think I actually love you. The progression of their relationship feels natural and gentle, yet in the early parts of the novel I found myself forgetting just how young the two boys were, and picturing them as far more mature in my mind. But I guess that’s how things were in Ancient Greece, huh? At 16, you are a man (or so the novel says).
Soon after this age of adulthood is hit, however, the Trojan War inevitably begins, and we see how the boys grow old over the long course of the war. How Achilles’ want to become famous as a hero affects him and his decisions. How the politics of war can be shady and underhand and hurt relationships and the status of heroes. We know from the beginning that neither Patroclus nor Achilles will live through this war, and they know it too. And that just adds to the tragedy of their story together.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Song of Achilles, and the way in which this other side to Achilles and his life are finally shown. All we ever tend to see is the story of him in the war, and how he is finally undone by a shot to his heel. Yet this myth of him being immortal excepting the one spot on his heel is not even present in this novel. He is but an exceptionally great warrior, and a mortal one. His Goddess mother, Thetis, wishes Achilles to be a God, and so therefore hates that he loves a simple mortal man. But the temperaments of Achilles and Patroclus match, and I would say that Patroclus is indeed worthy of Achilles’ love, despite what Thetis might say.
The writing of this novel is also rich and beautiful. You can tell that a lot of thought and research additionally went in to being authentic with the story, as well as having Gods and Goddesses present to show how these rituals and beliefs inevitably affected many of the actions of people in Ancient Greece. Yet, if there was one thing that bothered me about this book, it would be the portion after Patroclus dies. He is the narrator, yet he is dead, and still present as a spirit to tell the story. While this definitely works, due to the belief that since Patroclus was not given a proper burial initially he is therefore forced to remain among the living world, it comes across as a bit awkward at the first. The wording of his narration when he first dies left me confused as to what was happening, if he was really dead or still in the process of dying, and even who was being talked about at certain points. After this settled in my brain, however, it all worked out. And then the end of the Trojan War is rushed through a little bit, just to wrap things up. Though seeing as Patroclus and Achilles were the focus of the book, it makes sense as to why things were a little bit breezed through at the end, even if it felt a tad anticlimactic to me.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Song of Achilles, and absolutely breezed through it because I just wanted to keep reading. So I would definitely recommend others to check it out and see if it strikes a fancy.
[As always this review can also be found posted on my personal blog]