The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

achilles

What more can possibly be said about the Greek classics? How many more versions can we endure? Why can’t we just stay with Homer’s version? One answer to some of these questions is undoubtedly because the Illiad is at the foundation of the Western culture. We cannot avoid it even if we tried. The story of Helen’s elopement with Paris and the long siege of Troy speaks to everyone of us. We all identify with one or another of the heroes and heroines, and feel the otherworldly and larger-than-life lives they led. The passion, the thirst for glory and divinity, the ruthlessness of their decisions. We all hope to be as brave as Hector, as clever as Odysseus, and as fierce as Achilles. To a Scandinavian reader, they echo our Viking heroes and their quests. So it is natural that we continue to interpret this epic and develop the stories already told and the ones untold.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller tells the story of Achilles from the viewpoint of his best friend Patroclus. A relationship scrutinized and interpreted in a thousand ways. Miller takes the side of the relationship being more than friendship, of it being true love with all the carnage and beauty that comes with it, both in today’s world and back then. She states her claim in beautiful prose and scenes, and you cannot help but wonder at the people who would ever think of it as an abomination. From the first spark of interest to the fulfilment of desires, you keep hoping there is a happy ending to this story that we all already know. Today it is more relevant than ever.

I had extremely high hopes for this story as I have seen raving reviews and dedicated edits on Tumblr. However, I was not completely blown away while I read it. At least not in the same way I was with The Secret History or Deathless, both of these Tumblr recommendations as well. I loved The Song of Achilles, don’t get me wrong, I just wasn’t ecstatic. Okay, this is difficult to explain when I really liked it so much and then still hesitate to give it my all. It is all in the details I guess, and the feeling you are left with while reading as well as timing. But on to the story:

Patroclus is not like the other young princes in Ancient Greece, he is smaller, shy, slow, more honest and kinder than the rest but also bullied, all of this leading to him accidently killing another boy and being cast off by his father. His is exiled to Achilles’ father and with no name or skill of any kind, he hides. Hides until he is found by the golden prince, the demigod, Achilles. Achilles who always trains alone as no one can teach him anything; Achilles whom everybody likes and wants to be. By the spur of the moment and his humiliation, Patroclus challenges Achilles to make him his second, his chosen comrade, a most unlikely choice yet Achilles accepts. From then on they are inseparable. Only Achilles’ meetings with his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, leave them apart. Thetis has a mission, to make her son a god, and for that he needs to be the greatest warrior and she will accept no interference with that – even the love of a best friend or a lover in case it could jeopardize Achilles’ immortality. Patroclus and Thetis fight over Achilles but the era fuels Achilles’ own thirst for glory and to finally use his god-like skills. The prophecies have come to reality and the thousand ships sail for Troy with Patroclus at Achilles’ side.

The most beautiful passages in The Song of Achilles occur with the two boys’ stay at Chiron’s cave. The legendary Chiron who taught the hero Hercules to fight. Here we experience the wonder and beauty of puberty and first love, watch them turn into young men and grow their distinct personalities. Achilles cannot receive training from Chiron as his skills are already beyond what Chiron can teach and Patroclus has no wish to learn. He wants to learn what Chiron calls ‘surgery’. They learn other things in stead: to locate the first figs, to carve and make instruments, to understand Nature and her ways. Their time with Chiron becomes a revered sanctuary from other’s expectations only stirred by Thetis’ visits and Achilles’ birthday presents from his father, but is cut short when Troy calls.

Their struggle for the possibility of changing their fates (if Hector doesn’t die then Achilles doesn’t either) and to have a life together is moving and heart-wrenching to read. To recreate their time with Chiron in a war camp and to remember their gentler sides as well as their struggle for glory and independence from all the great Greek heroes and yet finding their true strengths in surprising skills was inspirational and beautiful to read. The love between them is strong and vivid, so sensually described that you think back to your own first crush and other firsts and feel sentimental. The Song of Achilles shows that the only boundary for love is other people’s prejudice but if you love strong and honestly, you can overcome it.


DANSK:

Med alle de forskellige udgaver af de græske klassiskere kan det være svært at se hvad nyt de kan fortælle os. Men alligevel forbliver vi fascineret af de gamle heltekvad og ønsker at lære mere om de både overnaturlige og alligevel så frygteligt menneskelige kvaler, som heltene gennemgår.

The Song of Achilles er Madeline Millers historie om Achilleus og Patroklos fra Illiaden og hendes fortolkning af deres forhold. Et forhold, som har været til ophedet diskussion i århundreder: var det et kærlighedsforhold eller ej? Denne roman er ikke i tvivl og beskriver både lykken og sorgen ved at elske en anden højere end én selv. Utroligt smukke passager og scener beskriver den spirrende forelskelse og den dybere kærlighed som de to vokser op, og hvad de må gå igennem for at få lov til at elske hinanden. For guderne og Grækerne har planer med Achilleus og de lader ikke plads til Patroklos. Troja kalder og oraklet har fortalt sin profeti.

Styrken ved denne roman er fortællingens omdrejningspunkt, som er Patroklos og alt det han er vidne til og går igennem. Han er den man som almindeligt dødelig kan identificere sig med overfor Achilleus halv-guddom. Vi lærer deres styrker og svagheder at kende og lære andre måder at definere styrke på. Læseren er henført til egne oplevelser fra pubertet og opvækst og man kan ikke lade være med at håbe på en lykkeligere udgang for de elskende end hvad man allerede ved. En smuk kærlighedshistorie, som endnu engang viser hvorfor vi stadigt læser de græske tekster, og som idag er vigtigere end nogensinde.

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About Ann-Cathrine 38 Articles
Established 1987 in Aarhus, Denmark. MA degree in English and Art History from Aarhus University, Denmark. Loves books, art, writing, coffee, dandelions, paper dolls, and haute couture.