Below, readers can explore the narratives of Miller’s two novels as well as the way that they connect to classical Greek stories. Those familiar with the stories of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey and of Achilles and Hector in Homer’s Iliad are sure to find elements they recognize in these award-winning novels.
The Song of Achilles
The Song of Achilles was Miller’s first novel. It was published on September 20, 2011, by Ecco Press (Harper Collins). It falls into several different genres. These include fantasy and romance. The novel is set during the Greek Heroic Age and is told from the perspective of Patroclus, one of the key figures in Homer’s Iliad. Notably, Patroclus was a childhood and supposed sometimes the lover of the hero Achilles.
In the myth, Patroclus accompanied Achilles to Troy, where he spent many years on the beach. After Achilles refused to fight, Patroclus took up his armor, trying to ensure that the hero’s legacy was not tainted. He was slain by the Trojan prince, Hector, enraging Achilles, who turned anew on Troy. Achilles was to die soon after, shot in the heel by Paris, another Trojan prince.
The Song of Achilles follows Patroclus and Achilles from their time as boyhood friends to the fateful events of the Trojan war. Miller made a choice to include what many scholars believed to be an important element of their story—their romantic relationship. This adds a great deal to the emotional impact of the two heroes’ deaths and the events leading up to the war.
The novel begins with Patroclus, a young boy, who is sent to Phthia after accidentally killing another boy, the son of a noble. There, he meets Achilles. Patroclus falls in love with Achilles, and the two start a relationship, despite Achilles’ mother’s disapproval. Eventually, it comes to light that Paris of Troy has kidnapped Helen, taking her home with him. When Patroclus was a young boy, he was made to swear a blood oath to Helen’s husband. This means he thinks that he’s going to be called to fight for her return.
The story progresses with many of the elements lovers of Greek mythology are going to be familiar with. It includes the story of Briseis and Achilles’ uncontainable rage about his friend and lover being killed.
Circe was Madeline Miller’s second novel. It was published on April 10, 2018, by Little, Brown, and Company. It is, like The Song of Achilles, classified as fantasy. The novel also takes place during the Greek Heroic Age but focuses on the story of Circe and events that Homer writes about in his Odyssey. The novel explores the origin story of one of mythology’s most commonly overlooked characters—Circe.
According to myth, Circe was either the daughter of Helio and a nymph, Perse, or the goddess Hecate and Aeëtes. She’s described as being of vast magical powers with a wide knowledge of potions and the uses of herbs. She could transform her enemies, as she does in the Odyssey, into other forms. The best-known story associated with Circe concerns the time Odysseus and his men spent on her island on the way home from the Trojan War. She turns most of his crew into pigs until Odysseus persuades her to turn them back into men and lives with her for a time, and has children with her.
In another story, she turns Picus, an Italian king, into a woodpecker because he is not interested in having sex with her. One story that does feature in the novel is that of Scylla. She turns Scylla, who was initially a nymph, into the terrifying monster she’s known as today because a sea god prefers her to Circe.
Miller’s novel describes Circe’s childhood, her love for Glaucos, and then her exile to the island of Aiaia for her witchcraft. There, she studies and learns, becoming stronger. She interacts with mythological figures, like Hermes, Jason, and Medea. She meets Odysseus, turns his crew into pigs, and gives birth to Odysseus’ son, Telegonus. Her son leaves the island to find his father and accidentally kills him with a poisoned spear. The novel concludes with Circe finding love with Telemachus, Odysseus’ oldest son, and living out her days traveling with him.
What are Madeline Miller’s books?
So far, Madeline Miller has written two novels–The Song of Achilles and Circe. These two novels have found a wide readership with audiences young and old who are inspired by the retelling of the ancient stories and the way Miller re-focuses the stories on secondary characters.
Who are the main characters in Madeline Miller’s books?
Madeline Miller writes about legendary characters like Achilles, Patroclus, Circe, Odysseus, and more in her two novels, Circe and Song of Achilles. While the two novels are not part of a series, they should appeal to readers for the same reasons.
What is Madeline Miller’s best book?
Madeline Miller has only written two novels. These are The Song of Achilles and Circe. The former has the widest readership of the two but the latter has also won praise from readers and critics alike.
Other Books like The Song of Achilles and Circe
Readers who enjoyed these two novels should also consider reading these novels:
- Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey – the origin for many of the myths described in Miller’s two fantasy novels. These famed epic poems are read around the world and studied by many.
- Virgil’s Aeneid – another epic poem by the classical age that Miller has cited as one of her primary influences. It tells the story of Aeneas who escaped the fall of Troy along with a few other Trojans.
- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood – this short novel focuses in on the life and struggles of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. During his twenty-year absence she has to fight out suitors who would like to take her husband’s kingdom.
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – a retelling of the story of the Trojan war, focusing on the roles of women. Such as Helen and Calliope.