Book Review: The Song of Achilles


Kevin Jin, Staff Writer

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a rendition of Homer’s Iliad, focusing on the exiled Greek prince Patroclus and his mostly secretive relationship with Achilles. It is told from Patroclus’ point of view, from his childhood to his death, but mostly during his teenage years during the Trojan War. Patroclus’ father, Menoetius, views Achilles as an ideal son, at the expense of Patroclus, who is considered a disappointment.

After Patroclus accidentally kills a nobleman’s son, he is exiled to Phthia, where Achilles is the prince. Patroclus is socially isolated as the other expatriated boys discover the reason for his exile. He feels jealous of Achilles, who seems to have everything: popularity, a loving father, and fame as the prophesized Aristos Achaion, meaning “best of the Greeks” in combat. After Achilles saves Patroclus from punishment for skipping lessons, they quickly grow close and eventually become lovers. Patroclus must deal with the disapproval of Achilles’ mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, and Achilles’ growing popularity among various kings as a prospective son-in-law and powerful military ally. Eventually, they are called to fight for the Greeks in the Trojan War and must deal with the stress of the battle and political power struggles. 

The story takes on a unique style, as most mythological stories focus on Achilles. The tale also involves more struggles with human emotion, rather than simple adventure and historical summary. As a result, the reader is easily able to connect with Patroclus, who constantly feels insecure about his abilities when compared to Achilles. The plot itself is fascinating, with several arcs for adventures, drama, as well as the daily routines of Achilles and Patroclus. However, the pace of the book is a bit too fast. The friendship between Patroclus and Achilles develops well, but the romantic relationship seems too sudden. The transitions between events, however, flow well, and the author explains historical events clearly.

That said, the biggest issue is with mythological inaccuracies. Greek mythology traditionally says that Achilles’ mother, Thetis, gave birth to multiple children, all of whom she tried to make immortal by bathing them in the River Styx. All of them died except for Achilles, because Peleus interrupted her before she could finish. Be that as it may, the time spent in the Styx still made Achilles invulnerable except for his heel, where Thetis held him as she dipped him into the river. This was the source of his excellent combat skills. In The Song of Achilles, the author says that Thetis only bore Achilles and never mentioned the River Styx, Achilles’ invulnerability, or the weakness of his heel. Furthermore, Greek mythology says that Achilles died because the god Apollo blessed an arrow to hit his heel. In the novel, the author says that Apollo empowered an arrow to pierce through his armor and kill him.

Despite these inaccuracies, the distinctive point of view and morals regarding emotion make it a very good read for anyone interested. Furthermore, it is primarily a romance novel, so the mythological discrepancies do not impact the novel much. Overall, The Song of Achilles is a decent story for anyone that enjoys romance, Greek mythology, or historical fiction.