The Song of Achilles / Madeline Miller

It’s an unfortunate fact that mythology is no longer shared ‘round dancing fires. Instead, its tales are told within sterile classrooms. They languish in our past fragments of a class we took long ago without the fireside perspective that brings them to life.

Thankfully, Madeline Miller knows how to stoke a flame. Song of Achilles, a retelling of the life of Achilles, gestated for ten years before earning for Miller the Orange Prize and a loyal following. She admits to stealing from Plato as others have before her, but there is a difference. She lovingly dredges the depths of humanity rather wallow in it.

In interviews, Miller has openly discussed the challenge of staying close to her sources but stresses that asking human questions of our heroes yields a deeper connection with them. Her armchair psychologist approach results in a novel that warmly illuminates the intimacy Achilles shared with his companion Patroclus, a connection Homer never mentioned and Plato only hinted at.

With Patroclus narrating Song of Achilles, we gain a shift in perspective that brings the story of a demigod down to earth. Achilles meets Patroclus after the latter is banned from his father’s kingdom. Together the pair forge a path of adventure that ultimately leads them to battle in the Trojan War. As a myth, we learned the spoilers long ago, so we know where this tragedy ends. Instead, like the lyre Achille’s plays, Miller’s retelling resplendently sings, leaving us with a new song for Achilles and Patroclus, too.

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