A Review of The Song of Achilles

Author Madeline Miller’s interesting take on The Iliad is a poignant and enlightening story well worth reading.


photo by Lucie Flagg

The Song of Achilles offers more than a fresh take on The Iliad. It enriches our understanding of the classic epic poem.

Sally Cho, Staff Writer

When I was first recommended The Song of Achilles, I was skeptical. Reading a modern adaptation of The Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem, did not seem like a pleasurable way to spend my leisure time to say the least. I had vague memories of reading it for my English class sophomore year, as I pulled out hairs trying to understand it. 

After 416 pages worth of an emotional roller coaster, I would come to realize I was wrong.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller tells the story of The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, a side character in the original text, focusing on the relationship between him and Achilles, the famous tragic hero.

The story begins with Patroclus as a young boy who has been exiled from his home and sent to live as a foster child in the kingdom of Peleus, where he meets Achilles, a demigod prince who has been prophesied to become the greatest of all Greek warriors.

Patroclus becomes mesmerized by the unearthly nature of Achilles, only able to observe from afar, too afraid to approach. An accidental encounter brings them together, and they become inseparable from that moment on. They grow up together and come to care for and love each other, forming a pure and unbreakable bond. 

The main plot comes in when Achilles is called to fight in the Trojan War, and the perfect world they have built for each other is shattered. Patroclus vows to follow him–to help Achilles fulfill his prophecy in becoming the greatest Greek warrior.

The novel follows the two as their relationship is strengthened and tested by the war, Achilles’s goddess mother who seems determined on separating them, and his conflict in choosing between his destiny and his love. 

Of course, the events of The Iliad are common knowledge to a lot of readers, and the general population knows at least some of it—even one of our body parts is named after Achilles. 

The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles has been debated for centuries, and to this day, there is still no general consensus on whether they were lovers or just close companions.”

However, I believe the best part about this book is that those who know The Iliad can enjoy it just as much as those who don’t. Miller’s writing manages to keep this thousand-year-old story fresh and exciting, even surprising you on plot points you knew were coming. Although there have been numerous adaptations of The Iliad, Miller’s beautiful and emotive writing sets this novel apart from all of the others. 

The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles has been debated for centuries, and to this day, there is still no general consensus on whether they were lovers or just close companions. So, naturally, some may roll their eyes at the premise of the novel, thinking it is a tedious topic that has been discussed over and over or that the author does not have what it takes to get this controversial relationship right.

However, Miller’s development and portrayal of this relationship is natural and beautiful. This book is not a typical, clichéd romance novel. Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship doesn’t feel forced or cheesy or fantastical. Instead, it’s a pure, genuine bond between two very real people with flaws and shortcomings who love each other unconditionally.

He is half of my soul, as the poets say,” it reads.

Amongst the talk of Greek gods and war and prophecies, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is what grounds the novel and the most realistic part of it. 

Additionally, Miller’s portrayal of this relationship adequately addresses all of its complexities—the role of men in ancient Greek society and how homosexuality was viewed in that time.

The Song of Achilles was the first time I ever cried while reading a book. Everyone else I know who has read this book has been absolutely devastated by it. Miller has a way of getting the reader to care deeply about the characters and feel their emotions as if they are ours. 

Perhaps what most appealed to me about this book was Miller’s poetic writing. Her descriptions of emotions and observations were so raw and vivid, and I truly felt I was transported into another world when I was reading the book.

The Song of Achilles is a perfect mix of a slow emotional journey and a high-stakes plot that keeps you wanting more. It will touch the hearts of all who read it.