Summary and book reviews of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

A Novel

by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller X
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2012, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller's page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.

The legend begins...

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. "The best of all the Greeks" - strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess - Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine - much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles's mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller's page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.

Chapter 1

My father was a king and the son of kings. He was a short man, as most of us were, and built like a bull, all shoulders. He married my mother when she was fourteen and sworn by the priestess to be fruitful. It was a good match: she was an only child, and her father's fortune would go to her husband.

He did not find out until the wedding that she was simple. Her father had been scrupulous about keeping her veiled until the ceremony, and my father had humored him. If she was ugly, there were always slave girls and serving boys. When at last they pulled off the veil, they say my mother smiled. That is how they knew she was quite stupid. Brides did not smile.

When I was delivered, a boy, he plucked me from her arms and handed me to a nurse. In pity, the midwife gave my mother a pillow to hold instead of me. My mother hugged it. She did not seem to notice a change had been made.

Quickly, I became a disappointment: small, slight. I was not fast. I was not strong. I ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the Iliad, Patroclus is a relatively minor character. Why do you think the author chose him to be her narrator? Which other figures in the story might make interesting narrators?
  2. Near the beginning of their friendship, Achilles tells his father that he values Patroclus because "he is surprising." What do you think Achilles means by that? How is Patroclus different from the other foster boys? Why?
  3. What do you think are the reasons behind Thetis' opposition to Patroclus?
  4. How do the boys change during their time with Chiron? Do the centaur's lessons continue to be a guiding force in their lives?
  5. On the island of Scyros, what motivates Deidameia's desire to speak to Patroclus alone? What does she hope to achieve?
  6. To what extent does ...
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  • award image

    Women's Prize for Fiction
    2012

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Most readers who enjoy historical fiction will find something to love about this book. Miller's writing is beautiful, and that in itself is worth the price of admission. The moving, romantic nature of the narrative is nicely balanced with tales of heroism, particularly once the scene shifts to the Trojan War. This debut is a definite winner...continued

Full Review (538 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Vogue
A psychologically astute Iliad prelude featuring the heady, star-crossed adolescence of future heroes Patroclus and Achilles.

O, The Oprah Magazine
You don't need to be familiar with Homer's The Iliad (or Brad Pitt's Troy, for that matter) to find Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles spellbinding... her explorations of ego, grief, and love's many permutations are both familiar and new... [A] timeless love story.

London Times Literary Supplement (UK)
In the tradition of Mary Renault... Miller draws on her knowledge of classical sources wisely… Well-paced, engaging and tasteful.

The Independent (UK)
Miller somehow (and breathtakingly so) mixes high-action commercial plotting with writing of such beautiful delicacy you sometimes have to stop and stare.

The Daily Mail (UK)
Extraordinary… Beautifully descriptive and heartachingly lyrical, this is a love story as sensitive and intuitive as any you will find.

The Times (London)
A captivating retelling of The Iliad and events leading up to it through the point of view of Patroclus: it’s a hard book to put down, and any classicist will be enthralled by her characterisation of the goddess Thetis, which carries the true savagery and chill of antiquity.

The Guardian (UK)
Miller’s prose is more poetic than almost any translation of Homer… This is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story: a fully three-dimension man - a son, a father, husband and lover - now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Masterfully brings to life an imaginative yet informed vision of ancient Greece featuring divinely human gods and larger-than-life mortals. She breaks new ground retelling one of the world's oldest stories about men in love and war [and] extraordinary women.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A modern take on The Iliad, full of love and feats of glory and told in an open, lyric, loose-limbed fashion that should appeal to many readers... historical fiction fans, get in on the ground floor.

Author Blurb Catherine Conybeare, Professor of Classics, Bryn Mawr College
Although the details of the story are Miller's own, the world is one that all who love the Iliad and its epigones will recognize. Reading this book recalled me to the breathless sense of the ancient yet present that I felt when I first fell in love with the classics.

Author Blurb Helen Simonson, bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
I loved this book. The language was timeless, the historical details were slipped in perfectly. I hope Song of Achilles becomes part of the high school summer reading lists alongside Penepoliad.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of Room
Mary Renault lives again! A ravishingly vivid and convincing version of one of the most legendary of love stories.

Author Blurb Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey
The Iliad turns on Achilles' pride and his relationship with Patroclus, but Homer is sparing with the personal - so much so that, though we believe in their friendship, we do not understand it. The Song of Achilles brings light to their love. This is a beautiful book.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder
At once a scholar's homage to The Iliad and a startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist. Madeline Miller has given us her own fresh take on the Trojan war and its heroes. The result is a book I could not put down.

Reader Reviews

Jay

Just read it.
I have read this book over and over again and have countless passages highlighted and marked. The storytelling is beautiful and heartbreaking and absolutely magnificent. It's not too fast but the story doesn't move slow enough to be boring and the ...   Read More
Salama

The song of Achilles: a review
One of the best books I've read in a while. The song of Achilles pulls you in and you kinda just keep flipping the pages, that before you know it, you're at the end and feeling so sad because you wanted it to go on forever. Madeline miller is truly ...   Read More
Christine

Best Book I Ever Read About Troy
I loved this book! The prose was wonderful. It was the best historical fiction I've read, and the story was told in a way that didn't make me bored with the subject. I'm hoping for another book by this author.
Louise J

Storytelling at it's Best!
I looked at this book many, many times on the shelf at Chapters trying to decide whether I really wanted to read this book or not and if it would be something that would interest me. I’m happy to report it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Evolution of Achilles

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-...

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