The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

A Boomer, my lovely Mum, kindly let her Millennial daughter know that Gen Z were raving about the Song of Achilles on TikTok. When I looked into it, I indeed found a myriad of videos with youngsters all expressing how Miller’s 2011 debut had tugged at their hearts.

The story’s origins start many many generations ago with the Iliad, the great Greek poem thought to have been written by Homer in 18th century BC. I bet Homer never would have guessed he’d started a snowball leading to today’s teens reacting to a “Romeo and Romeo” reimagining of his poem via all kinds of creative three-minute dances, lip-syncs, and comedy skits. Humans really are spectacularly unpredictable, in the best kind of way. 🤪

Achilles and Patroclus are the two main characters in the story. We follow their romance as it blooms in their childhood then throughout the Trojan war. And, oh, Miller really gets us to fall in love with their love through her wonderfully poetic writing. I got drawn in by their childhood innocence and then found myself willing them to keep that innocence in the face of the cruelties they encounter in the war.

Achilles is the son of a Goddess and a King, deemed as “the best of all the Greeks”, yet it is the banished and awkward Patroclus who felt like the standout hero of the story to me. It is Patroclus whose bravery emerges from kindness and love rather than a bid for reputation or prosperity. He protects women from being taken as prizes and remains ever-faithful to Achilles.

Although surrounded by horrid acts of violence, including a father sacrificing his daughter to the Gods, the loving bond between Achilles and Patroclus is an unbreakable constant throughout the story. I’ll leave the TikToks to those more capable than me, but echo their message of this book being both heart-breaking and beautiful.

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