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Song of Achilles

A review

By Dominic Casey-LeePublished 2 months ago 3 min read

I like to start my reviews a little differently. The rating comes first. What’s the point of reading a whole review only to find out the book is bad?

So, first question: Is it good? Yes.

Is it great? Maybe… I’d say so, honestly.

As great as Achilles himself? No, of course not. But nothing and no one can compare to Aristos Achaion, Best of all the Greeks.

That being said, it was a damn good book. The giveaway for me is when I’m chunking whole sentences, attempting to absorb entire paragraphs at a glance to arrive at the chapter’s end. And this is with a story whose ending I know—whose ending we all know.

Madeleine Miller illustrates the world of classical Greece in a brilliant, sometimes harsh light. There’s no sugar-coating of the brutal reality that the heroes lived in; where patricide, fratricide, rape, child brides, and war for the sake of nothing more than fame and glory, were rife.

No one is safe. Not even the children of the gods. Especially not the children of the gods.

But nevertheless, her worldbuilding is at times so idyllic, so whimsical, that I want to live in this place and time despite its mortal dangers. The tutelage under Chiron, for example, is told so wonderfully. I wish he was my tutor, his pedagogy is perfect. An opportunistic teacher, he is described as. One who doesn’t have a set curriculum, but who takes advantage of situations to make a lesson of whatever is happening in the moment, instead of trying to drill information into a child’s brain whatever the weather. And at night there are stories after a delicious stew, whose meat and vegetables the children supply themselves, to lull you off to sleep in a cosy cavern.

The story is told from the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’ childhood friend, and, later, his lover—not a spoiler, this is a frequently argued stance on their relationship, if not necessarily Homeric canon. From this unique point of view, we are shown a side of Achilles rarely seen in media, which usually focuses on his invincibility and prowess in battle. Instead, Patroclus highlights Achilles softer, more human side: his love of mischief, his deft hands used for juggling figs and playing the lyre as a prodigy, the famous arrogance expressed as a more naïve, but still indomitable, self-confidence. We see that Achilles in not just a mighty, infallible warrior and demigod, but that he has compassion and a love for beauty and art. His flaws are given context, we see the struggles of living with a king for a father and a goddess for a mother… can you even imagine?

But ultimately, we see the toll war takes on even the strongest spirits. Achilles and Patroclus both are twisted by the long years of conflict and carnage. The most poignant passage of the book, for me, is Patroclus imagining Chiron’s lament as the heroes who he has trained for music and medicine are inevitably drawn into war to become tools for murder.

The growth of Patroclus himself is remarkable, but since his legend is less well-known, I’ll leave it for the pages of this wonderful novel. I highly recommend it for any fans of Greek mythology and for anyone who wants to know more about it, this is a great piece to start with. But read it with a grain of salt, for creative liberties are taken (naturally), so not everything between the pages is accurate to the myth, as the author herself points out.

Where to find this book? Well, it’s probably on Amazon. But honestly, fuck Amazon. If you can, go to a physical bookstore and buy it from a real person. If you’re strapped for cash (I get it, who amongst us isn’t these days?), head to the local library. But wherever your source, it’s worth the read. Personally, I found it at the book exchange in my hostel on Lake Garda, Italy. I neglected to exchange though, naughty boy. Not out of greed, but because I have a habit of reading too many things at once and I had not finished any of my books before I left.


About the Creator

Dominic Casey-Lee

Ecclectic, erotic, enigmatic. Exploring the mysteries of our existence through words, and hopefully providing some entertainment along the way.

Here you'll find excerpts from my fantasy project, stories, poems and general rambling.

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