Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Song of Achilles

While the idea of Song of Achilles intrigued me, I wasn't confident about liking the result. It's a retelling of the events leading up to and during the Trojan War told from the perspective of Patroclus. I enjoy ancient Greek literature, but wasn't sure how this would come together. It might be boring and dry. It might not hold up well in comparison to The Illiad. It might not say anything new. Fortunately, it's engaging and tells a familiar story from a fresh perspective.

Miller weaves together a beautiful, moving story. It begins well before the war, when Patroclus is a child. You see the downside of being a prince as he is exiled, bringing him into Achilles' world when he's sent off to another kingdom.

Despite being a hero, I've never really cared for Achilles. In Homer, he comes across as arrogant and whiny, unwilling to do his duty if he doesn't get his way. Shown here, through Patroclus' eyes, Achilles is different. We see him as a young man who takes an exiled prince under his wing, caring for him and giving him friendship and love. My opinion of Achilles changed, so by the point where we get to the fit he throws during the war, I'm on his side. I never liked Agamemnon anyway.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was learning more about Briseis and seeing Patroclus try to help the captured woman. I also enjoyed Thetis, Achilles' immortal, controlling mother. I don't remember her from Homer or anything else, so that helped make the story fresh to me.

I think this would be a good starting point for someone who wants to read the ancient Greeks but is scared to jump into Homer. Miller uses poetic language to capture the same tone as Homer, but isn't nearly as intimidating as Homer can be. It's still a novel, not an epic poem. It would give you a familiarity with some of the key characters to make Homer's story easier to follow. It made me want to get back to reading the Greek tragedians.

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