Why you should read The Song of Achilles

For those of you who don’t know, The Iliad is an epic poem about the Trojan War which certain people *side eye most people who studied the Epic Tradition in first year* label as tedious and boring. But I shall tell you one thing that is not boring about The Iliad: its prequel/spin-off, The Song of Achilles.

The Song of Achilles is essentially the story of how Achilles and Patroclus, two Greek heroes in the Trojan War, meet and fall in love. Yes, two men! In love! Romantically! In Ancient Greece! But don’t worry, it’s not quite a story of rainbows shining and glitter falling over the Gladiator-esque battlefield while the two men kiss and a medley of Cher’s greatest hits plays in the background. The drama is much deeper than that: Madeline Miller serves up family politics, forbidden love, and war, with a side dish of gut-wrenching emotion.

The Song of Achilles is essentially the story of how Achilles and Patroclus, two Greek heroes in the Trojan War, meet and fall in love. Yes, two men! In love! Romantically! In Ancient Greece!

Although it could be considered to be a more highbrow form of fan-fiction geared towards fans of the Epic Tradition, I argue that you don’t really need much knowledge of The Iliad at all. TSOA is written in accessible language and is much like any other modern heart-breaking story, except one million times better! Think of it as the gay Ancient Greek The Fault in Our Stars without the massive hype and movie adaptation. I imagine it would be quite difficult to write an incredibly moving story without the novel becoming cringe-worthy and schmaltzy, but Madeline Miller makes it look easy as she navigates her way through a 2000-year-old tale.

Although knowledge of The Iliad is not necessary, if you are familiar, even vaguely, with the Epic Tradition, the book becomes highly lucid and even more loveable; it’s much like watching a spin-off of your favourite TV show and understanding and appreciating all the subtle references.

Think of it as the gay Ancient Greek The Fault in Our Stars without the massive hype and movie adaptation

Madeline Miller is a genius as far as I’m concerned; she spent 10 years writing the book and she really knows her subject matter to a tee. In The Iliad, Homer barely gives us any information about Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship and their past, but that is where our girl, Madeline Miller, steps in and creates a vivid portrait of the history of these two lovers. How they meet, how they fight against all odds to stay together, and ultimately – SPOILER ALERT – how they die. It’s okay, though; their deaths are no secret – in fact, knowing there will be a tragic end is what makes so many moments of the book truly poignant and beautiful. You’ll understand what I mean should you decide to read it (and you should).


Image Credits: Violator1 / Flickr

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