The Song of Achilles is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad with an emphasis on Achilles. Unlike the Brad Pitt movie Troy (with Achilles played by Pitt), The Song of Achilles stays much closer to the Iliad with its plethora of gods and goddesses, length of the war, and character placements. An issue long debated in the Iliad is the homosexual relationship between Achilles and his trusted friend Patroclus. Although Homer never paints them as outright homosexuals, there are many who theorize there was much more to their friendship. The Song of Achilles addresses this narrative and creates a spellbinding romance against the backdrop of an epic war. Ecco | August, 2012 | Paperback | 378 pp
Narrated by Patroclus, the story opens when he is a young boy with a dimwitted mother and an overbearing father and king. His father, King Menoetius, wants a strong son but Patroclus, only a child at the time, doesn’t fit his idea of a manly prince. Patroclus is a mortal, unlike other royals, and apparently too scrawny for his father’s liking. When Patroclus accidentally kills the son of a noble, he loses his family name and is exiled to the court of Peleus.
Patroclus is an outcast, a shamed prince. He keeps away from the other boys in the court and warily eyes the same-aged Achilles, son of Peleus and the Goddess Thetis. But eventually, they become friends.
“I stopped watching for the ridicule, the scorpion’s tail hidden in his words. He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”
Achilles is a demigod who is draped in prophecy – he will be unbeatable in battle, stronger than any other before him – the best of the Greeks. Achilles claims Patroclus as his right-hand man and they grow and learn together. Something more than friendship blossoms between them and when Thetis sees them kiss on the beach, she has Achilles sent away for more lessons under Chiron, a famed centaur in the mountains. Patroclus defies Thetis, and follows his friend.
For years the two learn medicine and hunting while their love grows into something deeper and more meaningful. They have an unbreakable bond that even the vengeful Goddess Thetis can’t break. But when Helen of Sparta is taken by the Trojans, marking the start of the great Trojan War, Achilles is called away to battle. And so is Patroclus who vowed an oath in his childhood to fight against any man or army who would defy Helen’s marriage.
Thetis tries to hide Achilles away again, disguising him as a girl. She knows of another prophecy that will lead to the death of her son. But Achilles’ death is tied to the victory of the Greeks and his fame; many know it. Achilles isn’t hidden for long when those in power demand his return to lead an army. Side by side, both knowing what is to come, Patroclus and Achilles set sail with an army to besiege Troy and fulfill their destinies.
The Song of Achilles is my favorite read of 2017 thus far. Myth and legend come alive with gods and goddesses, creature of lore, demigods, prophecy, fate, superhuman strength and agility, and amazing battle scenes. The romance is meaningful and deep without the heavy sex scenes. With the exception of the first sexual encounter, described quite minimally, the rest of the scenes between the sheets are all ‘fade to black’. The author instead uses her time to focus on their friendship, loyalty, and unbreakable bond.
Most retellings focus on Helen – the face that launched a thousand ships. We meet her once, briefly, when Helen first chooses her husband and her suitors (a nine-year-old Patroclus included) vow to uphold that choice and subsequent marriage. This story is all about Achilles and Patroclus, and their part in the ten-year Trojan War. The actions they take directly affect the other and the outcome of the war depends on Achilles. Gods can be angered and appeased, but fates cannot be avoided.
Achilles has a temper but Patroclus always manages to soften him. When Achilles can act with haste or with too much pride, there is one thing he will never yield on – and that is his relationship with Patroclus. He doesn’t care about the rumors or what others think. When Patroclus suggest that perhaps they shouldn’t share a tent, Achilles responds:
His eyes, green as spring leaves, met mine. “Patroclus, I have given enough to them. I will not give them this.”
The Trojan War is a ten-year battle with Achilles at the helm. People are slain, Achilles is a monster on the battlefield, prizes and women are viciously taken, Gods intervene, and honor is upheld. This story isn’t all about the romance, but it is this relationship that leads Achilles to his fate and eternal glory. Get the tissues.
The Song of Achilles is highly recommend to everyone.