Book Review: The Song of Achilles


Lana Johnson


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a romantic, grief stricken, and beautifully written book which was published in 2011. It was awarded the following year, 2012, the Orange Prize for Fiction. It carries the heavy truth of what little knowledge is known about Greek Mythology, taking a twist on what historians hypothesize. The Song of Achilles can be described as the retelling of Greek Mortal and Hero Achilles. The narrator is Achilles’ trusted friend and romantic partner, Patroclus (pah-truh-kluhs). In the book Patroclus is a prince who describes his disappointment in life. Patroclus explains how his father always looked down on him and thought of him as a disappointment and tragedy. Achilles’ father Peleus was once the gods favorite hero and once Achilles was born his destiny was to be the best of the greeks. By the age of 10 Patroclus was exiled for the accidental killing of another prince who was physically hurting Patroclus. This then leads to Patroclus being sent to live with King Peleus of Pthia who is Achilles’ father. After that chapter of Patroclus meeting Prince Achilles the two grow up closely and start a romantic relationship.

This book has a lot of different aspects all together and was absolutely tragically beautiful. As the reader, you learn the most inner thoughts from an individual who is Patroclus. The readers watch the outside perspective based on Patroclus’ point of view. When asking Junior Joselin Herrera Ramirez who read the book, and thought, “It was beautiful. I really enjoyed the book and it was just so good.” 

The book was a retelling and switched over version of the Iliad. The Iliad translates to “The Song of Troy.” The Iliad tells the story of the battles of the Trojans and Achilles’ army along with sharing Achilles’ life. Miller took the story of Achilles and told it in a much different light. “I thought it was a great way for Patroclus to narrate the story because he loved Achilles creating this “perfect image,” Ramirez emphasizes. Just as Ramirez stated, The Song of Achilles was a story told by someone who loves Achilles not really recognizing his flaws while the Iliad does.

Some may say and argue that The Song of Achilles doesn’t respect the origins of the original tale of The Iliad and the fact The Song of Achilles revolves around the homosexual and homosocial relationship of Patroclus and Achilles. Critic Justin Biggi in his called, The Song of Achilles, 10 Years On states, “Certainly, the Ancient Greeks were not homophobic the same way modern and contemporary society is – homosexual and homosocial relationships were not only accepted but were fundamental to maintaining social connections between men. However, men were also expected to outgrow these relationships, eventually finding a wife and fathering children.” Which before he states “it does not belong.” Even though in some way he is correct about it not following the retelling of the Iliad, again this is a retelling! I believe Miller wanted to take her own modern twist on this book and make it a much more factual way on why Achilles, and Patroclus have such a close companionship. In every retelling and even the iliad Patroclus and Achilles’s ashes were put in the same urn. That can really be seen as such a deep love. When asking Ramirez her opinion on that she stated, “Yes, Yes, I really do think Miller took the right choice on making Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship be romantic. When Achilles was disrespected and decided to not fight in the war, Patroclus went and did it for him, causing his life. In all for the readers who like retelling of Greek Mythology this book is definitely for you. It’s emotional, exciting, historical, and romantic.