Summary: The Song of Achilles is a book written by Madeline Miller and is the story of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship. The book is written in first person from Patroclus’ point of view. In the book we are told more about the background of Patroclus, how Patroclus and Achilles met, their training by Chiron, and the Trojan war. It is similar in setting to the Iliad and the Odyssey. The gods and man conspire and battle together and in the end there is always tragedy.
My take: The book is beautifully written. Ms. Miller is an exceptional writer. Her way of describing what is happening makes the scenes in my head so much more detailed. Her description of the gods was also very well done. I could see Thetis, Apollo and Chiron so clearly I had to stop several times to soak in the visions. The story was also very entertaining and all the characters involved in the book were very well described and developed. The problem I mostly had with this book was the story line, especially towards the end.
The beginning of the book tells us about Patroclus and his hardships, and when he is exiled he finally meets Achilles and they develop a strong friendship. As their friendship grew, I did begin to notice that this book could take their relationship into a homosexual one, but I thought of the companionship of Jonathan and David and their love for each other and I hoped that the book would delve into that kind of relationship – a comradery and love between men, frankly demonized and unheard of now-a-days, but it didn’t. The whole book, almost in its entirety, is the romantic homosexual relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. I was a bit surprised by it because Homer’s Iliad alluded more to Achilles having the role of a comforting mother to Patroclus, rather than a lover and as an equal. Either way, the ancient Greeks were not known for their high sense of sexual morality, so the narrative wasn’t that surprising. What I did find surprising was the monogamy between them. There are not many heroes or gods in Greek mythology who were so “tame” as Achilles was portrayed in the book, so I did laugh a little out loud at the author’s attempt to twist tradition and, frankly reality, into a round hole using a square peg. Achilles practically being raped by Deidamia and his platonic relationship with Briseis is laughable. It clashes with his character. I would have easier accepted his love for Patroclus plus some philandering. Achilles sexual faithfulness to Patroclus just didn’t work very well in the story. It made him less real and less savage and he was renowned for his rage, according to the Iliad.
Caution: There are two homosexual love scenes that were not so quickly over in the audio book. There is also a love scene between Patroclus and Deidamia that also made me uncomfortable. There are several mentions of rape and of what the book calls “bed slaves”. There is also several scenes of violent war and gore.
Let us Reason: Despite all the above, the book is still a good book. Her descriptions are a masterpiece. As a Christian, I really can’t be too upset with the author portraying pagan Greeks acting like pagan Greeks, it was her trying to make it “beautiful” that was more of my problem. If there is a conversation to be had about this book, for me, it would be that. Why do some sins not seem as bad as others? What are some of the warnings to consider when our hearts tell us it’s not so bad, but God’s Word says it is? What is so wrong with something if it doesn’t hurt anyone? These are all good and valid questions that Christians need to answer, because the Bible already has already answered them. Our hearts are deceptive and our feelings fluctuate like weather temperatures. It is a comfort to know that we have an anchored God in these storms who has made Himself known in Jesus and in His Word.
Recommendations: I recommend this book to anyone who likes Greek mythology and doesn’t mind a homosexual plot. Because of the plot, I do not recommend this book to anyone under 18.