Madeline Miller

American novelist

Madeline Miller is an American author whose recent novels, The Song of Achilles and Circe, have gained her well-deserved fame.

Muller’s novels are deeply inspired by Greek mythology and the works of epic poets like Homer and Virgil. Her novels follow characters most readers will be familiar with from their school years, including Achilles and Patroclus, Circe and Odysseus. Her novels have been praised for their feminist themes and depiction of relationships. 


Life Facts

  • She was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Miller grew up in New York City.
  • She has only published two novels.
  • Madeline Miller studied Classics at Brown University.
  • She has won several awards for her novels, including the Athenaeum Literary Award.

Interesting Facts

  • Madeline Miller has taught Latin, Greek, and Shakespeare.
  • Miller cites Virgil as one of her primary influences.
  • Miller’s first novel took her ten years to write.
  • Her second novel is being adapted into an 8-part miniseries.


Famous Books by Madeline Miller

The Song of AchillesMiller’s first novel. It tells the story of Achilles and Patroclus and their romantic relationship. The novel was inspired by a historically accepted interpretation of their relationship and expanded with Miller’s imaginings of events prior to and around Patroclus’s death.

Circe  – Miller’s second novel. It retells and embellishes the story of Circe, a woman from Homer’s Odyssey. Miller gives Circe a full backstory and makes her the main character of her story. Throughout the novel, she struggles with family, relationships and is eventually banished by Zeus to Aiaia, where she hones her witchcraft. There, she eventually meets Odysseus.


Early Life and Education

Madeline Miller was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on July 24th, 1978. She grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. As a student, she attended Brown University, where she received a BA and MA in Classics. This line of study influenced the author’s subject matter in her later novels. She also spent time studying at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama.

Throughout her career, she has taught Latin, Greek, and the works of Shakespeare, according to the author’s website.

Throughout her career, she’s described taking inspiration from authors like Virgil, who penned the Aeneid between 29 and 19 BC. His epic poem, which follows Aeneas, a young Trojan man after the battle of Troy, features many of the same fantastical characters and traits that Miller’s novels do.


Novels

So far, Madeline Miller has written two novels, The Song of Achilles, published in 2011, and Circe, published in 2018. The former won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. It follows two classic heroes from Homer’s Iliad: Achilles and Patroclus. The novel is based on the relationship between the two and how it developed after their meeting during the Trojan War.

The Song of Achilles

Miller described taking an interest in the Iliad after her mother read it to her as a child. She, like many other readers, was intrigued by Patroclus’s character. Although a minor character in the story, his fate is incredibly significant. Miller focused on the romance between the two characters, creating a love story first hinted at by Plato, who believed that Patroclus and Achilles were lovers.

When speaking about the evidence for the relationship between the two, Miller said:

For me, the most compelling piece of evidence, aside from the depth of Achilles’ grief, is how he grieves: Achilles refuses to burn Patroclus’ body, insisting instead on keeping the corpse in his tent, where he constantly weeps and embraces it—despite the horrified reactions of those around him. That sense of physical devastation spoke deeply to me of true and total intimacy between the two men.

Miller also describes how the novel took her ten years to write, once starting over entirely from scratch. She struggled, the author notes, to perfectly develop the voice of her narrator. The novel was received well by some critics who praised it as an affecting version of events, while others found its tone problematic. The book was shortlisted for the 2013 Chautauqua Prize and the 2013 Stonewall Book Award.

Circe

Miller’s second novel, Circe, was published in 2018. It is also set during the Greek Heroic Age and features other characters readers will be familiar with from Homer’s epic poems. It is an adaption of various myths, most importantly expanding the story of Circe. It speaks to her origin, mental health, and life in seclusion, as well as the time she spends with Odysseus. When the novel was published, it was praised for its feminist themes as well as for the way it reclaimed a male-oriented story and took a female perspective.

Circe won the Athenaeum Literary Award, Goodreads Choice Award (Fantasy), and The Kitschies (Red Tentacle) Award. It was also a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.


Influence from other Writers

Madeline Miller was notably influenced by writers such as David Mitchell, Lorrie Moore, Anne Carson, and Virgil.


Literature by Madeline Miller

Explore literature by Madeline Miller below, created by the team at Book Analysis.