The story and characters contained in Song of Achilles will be familiar to anyone who knows their Greek history. It is the story of Iliad. It’s conceit is that it is told from the perspective of Patroclus, the companion of Achilles. Different treatments of the legend vary on what type of “companion” he was but in Madeline Miller’s, Patroclus and Achilles are unambiguously lovers. Exiled from his own land as a boy, Patroclus is sent to live in the house of Achilles’ father. Over the years, the boys grow from best friends to something more as they mature. The story follows them from their childhood until long after both their deaths.
Madeline Miller’s writing is simply beautiful. A tale as well worn as this one could easily be stale but Song of Achilles never is. While the majority of the book takes place during the Trojan War, it is a love story as legendary is the heroes contained in its pages. Though Patroclus is (by the standards of the ancient Greeks) an average man and Achilles is a literal demigod destined for glory, their relationship is on equal footing and one of mutual adoration. Patroclus is never jealous or bitter of Achilles fame or ability; he is content to be the moon to his sun.
The Achilles and Patroclus can hardly be a spoiler but I’ll leave it out of this review. Even knowing how the story ended I couldn’t put the book down until the final page and I was not disappointed. There are some content warnings for rape, cruelty to animals and the violence that goes along with a drawn out war. This is a fantastic book that I am way overdue in reading.