The tragedy of Achilles

Madeline Miller breaks hearts with “The Song of Achilles”

Joanna Paje, Staff Writer

43-year-old Madeline Miller blew away her audience with her debut as an author with her novel “The Song of Achilles” in 2011. The novel is a modern take on the classic tale of Achilles, the brutal Trojan war and the tragic death of Patroclus. The book is a beautiful symphony of romance, action, politics and the divinity of Greek mythology. Miller does a fantastic job keeping her audience on their toes by balancing all of these genres and fully immersing her readers into the world of Achilles and his lover Patroclus. 

The story takes place in Patroclus’ point of view: an exiled prince and the beloved companion of Achilles, known as Aristos Achaion, the best of the Greeks. Miller guides her audience through the intricacies of their relationship by introducing them at very young ages and showcasing their development as characters. Upon Patroclus’ exile when he was ten years old, he was sent to the land of Phthia, where he met Achilles. 

Their lives change shortly after that. Readers are able to see the way they grow up together and learn to put the other first; their love for each other develops like the slow drip of molasses: thick and heavy, leisurely and sweet, and all the more rewarding when it comes together in the end. Their relationship is tested time and again by outside forces such as Achilles’ mother, a sea-nymph goddess, and of course, the notorious Trojan war. Throughout the novel, however, it is incredibly clear that the two are joined at the hip and will not leave the other so easily. From Patroclus’ point of view, it is easy to spot his development as he grows to become more confident in himself, accepts his role as Achilles’ best friend and realizes the weight his presence has on Achilles. Where one goes, the other followsMiller made it clear that not even death could separate the two. 

Aside from the romance, the gripping action that the novel has displayed is truly phenomenal. Miller has a way of describing the battle of Troy so simply and yet so elegantly, written in a way that is easy to follow without flinching or having to look away from the sheer brutality of it. The author beautifully describes the raw power that Achilles has time and again throughout the novel. The young demigod was never shy about his power or his speed, so the readers are constantly exposed to his prowess in war. His wrath, especially known as the rage of Achilles, is highlighted shortly after Patroclus’ downfall during the war. Diseased with grief and blinded by vengeance, Achilles lashes out. There is only one name on his tongue after Patroclus’ death, and that is Hector. The enemy prince, the slayer of his beloved. 

Miller writes his descent into madness with such eloquence that it is difficult to not feel for the poor demigod, even though the moments leading to his demise are filled with foolish pride and arrogance. The character that is constantly being held in such high regard is suddenly spiraling into his own death faster than anyone can even process, and just like the classics have written before, Achilles is taken down by an arrow touched by the Greek god Apollo. The tragedy lies in the fact that his own death, along with Patroclus’,  is borne from his own pride. 

The tragedy of Achilles and Patroclus is a story known by many, and Madeline Miller did a beautiful job delivering their story in a way that is easily understood by thousands of people. The book was published an entire ten years ago, but it is clear by the impact it has had on its readers that this book will be living on for generations to come. With that being said, if you are an avid book reader looking for a romance that is decorated with the complexities of war and Greek mythology, then “The Song of Achilles” would definitely make it to the top of your list.