The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Word PressThis isn’t so much the Song of Achilles as the Song of Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion whose death led him to kill Hector – Achilles’ being the Greeks’ star man and Hector the Trojans’.  Opinion is divided as to whether Achilles and Patroclus were lovers or “just good friends”: Madeline Miller’s view is that they were definitely lovers, and I’m inclined to agree with that.  Trying to write your own interpretation of arguably the greatest epic of all time, in modern-day language, is very challenging, but Madeline Miller does an excellent job of it.  Gods nymphs and centaurs wander in and out, amongst the mortals, and it all seems perfectly natural!  She also shows Achilles saying that he reckons Helen ran off with Paris rather than being kidnapped, which is definitely my preferred version of events!  The whole Trojan War legend is insulting enough towards women: let’s at least believe that Helen was a vamp who left her boring husband and ran off with her lover, rather than the victim of an abduction!

However, Achilles doesn’t really come across as being that heroic.  Maybe that was Madeline Miller’s intention: she doesn’t say.  He’s shown as being very reluctant to go to the Trojan War, then, when he gets there, he performs heroically in battle but comes across as a bit of a spoilt galactico who thinks that the team can’t play without him and refuses to play after he has a bust-up with the manager.  Then, when he dies, there’s no mention of it being because an arrow struck him on the heel … having said which, the heel story isn’t actually in the Iliad.  I’d love to know what the author actually meant us to think about her portrayal of Achilles, because the real hero of this story is Patroclus.  Whatever she meant, it’s a very entertaining read.  Books based on Greek myths/epics can be heavy going sometimes, but this one definitely is not.

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