Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction
Gaining a different perspective on an old story by placing a minor character in the narrator's seat is not a new technique, but it's one that Madeline Miller uses superbly in her debut novel, The Song of Achilles
. Throughout the book she outlines the mythological life of the half-god Achilles and skillfully weaves his fabled companion Patroclus into each important event of the hero's life. It is through Patroclus's eyes that the reader witnesses legendary scenes such as Achilles' training with the centaur Chiron and his conquests on the battlefield. However, the narration reflects more on Patroclus than its subject, and surprisingly it is Patroclus that we come to know and admire, not Achilles; the former becomes the hero of the tale.
Miller's storyline relies primarily on her narrator's richly detailed...
Beyond the Book
The name Achilles has become synonymous with great strength and invulnerability, however to the ancient Greeks it had quite a different meaning. "Achilles" itself is a Westernization; the hero's name is better translated Akhilleus and pronounced "a-hee-LAY-us," and is of unknown and possibly pre-Greek origin. It is a combination of two words: Akhos
("grief") and Laos
("people or tribe"). It's possible that the name is derived from the Akheloos River in in western Greece, although several sources have interpreted it to mean that Achilles was the "embodiment of the grief of the people" or that he was the "hero of grief;" others construe it to mean "grief to the enemy."
The tale of Achilles and the Trojan War is one of the most well-known and influential stories...