After my trip to the site of Troy in Turkey, I finally got to reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I intended to read it before the trip, but didn’t get around to. It’s a question I often ask myself, is it better to read a related book before or after the trip? I’d say there are pros and cons to each.
Would the 2 hours I spent in Troy be more meaningful if I had read the book earlier? (I realised the serious of us would be thinking about Homer’s Iliad, but I’m not there yet.) As in my case, I ended up bringing home the memories of Troy, and read The Song of Achilles with the view of Troy – the coast, the city ruins – vivid in my mind. It made for a wonderful reading experience.
The Song of Achilles is told by Patroclus, a person close to Achilles whose fate is an important pivot point in the course of the Trojan War. Who is Patroclus? In Iliad he is a minor character whose death sends Achilles into outrage and despair. The experts have always argued about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Are they friends, comrades, lovers? (The Troy movie made them cousins.)
Madeline Miller made them lovers in The Song of Achilles, and the whole tale is told from Patroclus’ point of view. It starts from the very beginning when Patroclus is a child, which slightly bothered me at first, because the voice of the book felt mature and very feminine. But as he grows up, his voice got more believable to me. And at the end – I know lots of people probably say the same – I did shed a tear or two. It was odd, because I knew how it was going to end. The whole book builds up to that moment that most of us knew before going into the book (I’m sorry if you didn’t know, but I don’t think this is a spoiler). But their relationship is so believable, so tragic, and so sad. I was sad for them, Patroclus broke my heart.
I remember the time when I was at the site of Troy, overlooking the foggy coast, where the entire Greeks have sailed across the ocean to take Helen back, and to overtake Troy. Our guide, who also has read the book, told us about the two mounds in the distance, that people believed to be the tomb of Achilles and the tomb of Patroclus. The memory and the reading made the most profound impact.
It is historical fiction at its best.
Mee’s Rating 4.5/5