The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Publication Date: September 1st 2011
Find This Book: The Song of Achilles
I’d only just heard of this book a couple months ago from the hype it’s bet getting and quickly wanted to find out why I hadn’t heard of this Ancient Greek book earlier. As a lover of mythology I would have thought that this book would have popped up on my radar much sooner, certainly not almost 4 years after it was published. This book had so much potential and I was really excited to read a book about a canon gay couple back in Ancient Greece when this was more of a norm and to have mythology on top of that. I quickly realized that the new hype for it was not well deserved and that was why I hadn’t heard of it when it was originally published. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my short time with this book and the 2nd to last page managed to bring a single tear down my cheek, but there were some flaws that were just hard to overlook.
A small inconsistency that bothered me was in one of the final battles of the book. Achilles goes to fight someone and while there’s not much detail (something I’ll get in to later) the novel DOES specifically say on page 342 that; "Achilles has only a sword. His spears are gone, buried in bodies." This sounds cool and badass and all, which I’m completely fine with until just two pages later on 344; “[Achilles] lifts his ashen spear." (That being the special one Chiron made for him) except all of his spears are gone and he's only supposed to have a sword..... I know, I know, that’s a little mistake but they’re kinda far from the battle so it doesn’t make much sense for him to pull a spear out of a dead body that happened to be there with his special spear in the time of two pages. It just seems like that should have been something the writer or editor should have picked up on before publishing it.
My other problems with this book is that Achilles and Patroclus’ love was never really explained? It's just sort of happens and it seems shallow and unreal, I was weakly routing for them because they were the main characters but they didn't actually complement each other very well. All of the terrible things that happened to Patroclus wouldn't have, if Achilles wasn't such a stubborn ass. It was basically Achilles perfect beauty that Patroclus couldn't leave that kept their relationship together. And then the whole frickin Greek army with Achilles included couldn't even put Patroclus to rest even though he killed a bunch of enemies including Sarpedon????? Like what the heck he saved them ALL from the Trojans!?!?! The Trojans were in the Greeks camp starting to burn their ships and he single-handedly turned the war around yet he can’t even get a proper burial? He was not Achilles slave, everyone knew that they were comrades and equals, and they won't even label his tomb? Worse yet they'll let a little punk-ass 12 year old boss them around? Ridiculous.
Furthermore, for a book about Ancient Greece I thought it would be well researched and include mythology, ancient weapons/fighting techniques, and more detail in general. Let's just say that was sorely lacking and I was extremely disappointed. As far as gods/goddesses went, there was little of that involved. Achilles’ mother, Thetis, took a small part in the story and occasionally gave them parts of a prophecy and Chiron was a Centaur. That was the only remotely mythological element to the book. Aside from Achilles twirling about his spear and looking pretty there was no detail about weapon design or how any of the other soldiers fought and all of the enemies’ just *poof* appeared dead at their feet. It just wasn’t realistic at all and it could have been easily fixed with a bit of research into Ancient Greek weaponry. Most importantly, Achilles wasn't even killed by an arrow to the ankle! The one thing that I guarantee everyone’s heard of if they’ve heard of Achilles’ is Achilles HEEL. The only place where he was vulnerable and the location where he got shot with an arrow (sometimes a poison arrow depending on which legend you listen to). Paris shot and arrow through Achilles’ back piercing his heart. Outrageous, I know.
I feel like I just bashed this book pretty hard and I would like to clarify that I DID enjoy the book. The author makes a point of comparing beauty and physical strength to moral character and a sense of duty. The twists in the plot were a bit predictable, but interesting all the same. Additionally, the novel had some very well written side characters. This was not a swift action-packed story. Picking up the book will give you a sweet romance that will make you cry.
*****Another small point was that it was a bit more sexually graphic than I expected. Patroclus masturbates, gives Achilles a hand job (another reason why I thought their relationship was a bit shallow if that’s what they considered a sexual act), and both have sex with the same noble-woman who ends up getting pregnant and shamed for having a child out of wedlock.***
Another thing that I liked was how Odysseus was portrayed. Maybe it's because there's more material about him from Homer's work but he seemed realistic and true to my previous expectation of him. While I was not quite happy with the shallow relationship I thought the writing itself was all right. If she went on to write a book about Odysseus (that was more researched) maybe a story about his adventure before the Trojan War, I would consider reading it.
In conclusion, I can see why many people loved this book! I can agree that the author did a great job with bringing gay representation to books, which isn’t something I’ve seen being done much. Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship was a perfect one to explore. While we will never know for sure, growing up together, being very close friends and being buried in the same urn certainly leaves it open to the interpretation that they were lovers. This book is definitely a great start to diversifying literature. Furthermore, I know that I called the author out on what other people would consider trivial problems. I would certainly recommend this book to others, but if you’re a Greek Mythology fan I just wanted you to know what you were getting in to.