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The following review contains spoilers for Homer’s The Iliad.

Madeline Miller re-imagines a centuries-old myth for a new generation.

When I was younger, I would measure the merit of the story by the length it rattled around in my brain, whether in joy or discomfort. If it took time to move from one ear out the other, it was well worth it. It has been 63 days since I finished Song of Achilles, and a day hasn’t gone by without revisiting the tale in my head.

It’s the kind of story you feel in your gut. The myth of Achilles is a well-known one, most famously and reliably told by Homer in The Iliad (still many lifetimes after the actual events of the Trojan War). The Iliad itself doesn’t even tell of the entirety of the Trojan War but does detail its end and key players. Greek warrior Achilles is the hero of the war, mortally wounded in its end but undeniably responsible for the Greek victory. In The Iliad, Achilles is described as the most skillful warrior of all time, effortless, beautiful and glorious, but also ridiculously arrogant and rageful. He is one of the most popularly detested characters of The Iliad, next only to the infamous Agamemnon.

The Iliad, by large, describes the end of the Trojan War, specifically the massive feud between Agamemnon and Achilles. Miller was able to identify an unexplored relationship in the pinnacle of The Iliad and write backward, devising a whole story that details the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus from boyhood to warrior. While these characters are likely very loosely based on real human people, reconstruction of these myths undergo religious-level scrutiny, and Miller’s version was certainly a bold choice. The development of Achilles and Patroclus was a brave stance of openly stating what many have speculated for centuries. 

The Greek Mythology in this book is captivating and complete as you definitely do not need any prior knowledge of mythological history to enjoy and understand this novel. I’d even argue you should let the story unfold itself to you if you can resist research better than I can.

The Song of Achilles is all things you hope art will make you feel, but the real reason you should read it is for the writing. Achilles appears arrogant and callous towards everyone but his closest confidant Patroclus. The Iliad may have even set out to make you skeptical of him, with thematic signaling to the destructive blindness of rage and vengeance, but damn it if Miller doesn’t find a way to make you like him.

“I did not mind anymore that I lost when we raced and I lost when we swam out to the rocks and I lost when we tossed spears or skipped stones. For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty”

-Patroclus, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles reminded me how much I revere storytelling and poetry, and I was skeptical about writing anything about it at all because the only thing that would do Miller’s writing justice is reading the story for yourself. It’s easily a five-star read.

Hanya Irfan is pursuing a degree in Health Sciences with a minor in Cognitive Science at the University of Central Florida. She is avid lover of alternative and classic rock, good books, long walks, and live music. In her spare time, she is passionate about teaching English and drinking cold caffeinated beverages.
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