The novel has been praised by critics for its treatment of Greek mythology and the author’s skilled embellishment and expansion of the story. Readers around the world have connected with the characters and found them accepting this love story, one that is not without historical precedent.
‘Spoiler-free’ Summary of The Song of Achilles
‘The Song of Achilles‘ follows Patroclus, a Greek prince, who falls in love with the famed warrior, Achilles. The two learn and train together. They avoid the negative influence of Achilles’ mother and eventually have to go to war together, assisting Agamemnon as he attempts to retrieve his brother Menelaus’s wife, Helen, from Troy. Achilles’ fate, foretold in a foreboding prophecy, plays out in a tragic series of events.
The Song of Achilles Plot Summary
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
‘The Song of Achilles‘ opens with Patroclus, a Greek prince, son of Menoetius, being presented to Helen, daughter of King Tyndareus (and the future Helen of Troy) as a suitor. Patroclus narrates these events with the insight of a grown man, looking back on how his father was continually disappointed in him. Helen does not select the young Patroclus, but instead Menelaus. The remaining young men take a blood oath in defense of her choice.
Patroclus describes accidentally killing another young boy, one of noble birth. This event resulted in his exile to Phthia. It’s at this time that he first meets Achilles. Patroclus falls in love with Achilles, and the two start a relationship, despite Achilles’ mother’s disapproval. Thetis expresses her belief that Patroclus is not of high enough birth to be a suitable companion for her son.
Eventually, it comes to light that Paris of Troy has kidnapped Helen, taking her home with him. The oath Patroclus took as a child comes back to him. It may come to war, he believes, and he may be called to fight.
Agamemnon leads the charge against Troy and calls on the Greeks to join his campaign. This includes Achilles. Thetis is particularly afraid for her son, remembering a prophecy that foretold his death there. She hides him on Skyros. He’s forced to marry a woman, Deidamia, who has his son, Neoptolemus. Patroclus accompanies him there for a time until they are discovered.
Patroclus is forced to join the war against Troy, and Achilles determines that he’s going to accompany him. The two join the Greeks, led by Agamemnon, and go to war against the Trojans. Achilles is a great warrior and demonstrates his skill numerous times. In a famous episode, Achilles attempts to save Briseis, a young woman, from Agamemnon. This angers the leader, who has also angered the Gods. This leads to a plague on the Greeks.
Achilles dishonors Agamemnon by refusing to give him Briseis. This leads to Achilles refusing to fight for the king and great losses for the Greeks in battle. In order to save his lover’s honor, and the war, Patroclus puts on Achilles’ armor and goes, in his stead, to fight (without Achilles’ knowledge). Hector, one of the sons of Priam, King of Troy, kills Patroclus, believing him to be Achilles.
This climactic moment sends Achilles into an incredible rage. He releases his anger on the Trojans, eventually killing Hector. Achilles meets his fate, foretold in the prophecy when he’s shot in the heel with an arrow. The novel ends when Achilles and Patroclus reunite in the underworld.
Why did Madeline Miller write The Song of Achilles?
She wrote this novel in order to explore myths. She gives the story of Patroclus and Achilles a new life and brings it to a far wider audience than it ever had before. It’s a love story, but it’s also a story about the purpose of life, legacy, and more.
Is The Song of Achilles a true story?
No, the events in ‘The Song of Achilles‘ are based on myth. There may be an element of truth to the hero-filled legends, but much of what is contained in Homer’s epic poems, and expanded upon by Madeline Miller, is fiction.
Does The Song of Achilles have a sad ending?
The novel ends sadly, to an extent. To those familiar with the mythology story of Achilles’ life, the ending should not come as a surprise. But Miller does add more details, including Achilles and Patroclus reuniting in the afterlife. But before Patroclus and Achilles meet in the afterlife, there is a moment where Patroclus is not given a proper burial which means he is stuck between life and death, watching the story’s events unfold. This is because of Achilles mothers disapproval since she thought it was seen as a threat to Achilles’ destiny as a great warrior and hero.
Why is The Song of Achilles so good?
Readers enjoy this novel for its mythological basis and the author’s treatment of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Their romantic relationship is treated with respect and woven into the story’s classic features seamlessly.