Inspired by the works of Homer, this novel focuses on the relationship between the two men and Patroclus’ attempts to save Achilles from his fate. Throughout the novel ‘The Song of Achilles,’ Miller engages with a number of themes, including pride and belief, and uses symbols that become important to the novel’s progression.
Below, readers can explore a few of the most important themes in ‘The Song of Achilles.’
Honor and Pride
These two themes come together in different ways. Characters like Achilles are fitting for their own honor and an attempt to establish a legacy, while characters like Agamemnon and Menelaus are fighting for pride (something they’ve lost a degree of when Helen is taken to Troy). Pride is also why Agamemnon gets so upset when Achilles saves Briseis from him.
The Greeks believe that honor is an integral part of life and that violence is sometimes (if not all the time) needed to prove one’s honor. Death was preferable to most Greeks over a loss of honor. In the end, Patroclus defines Achilles’ legacy far more than the latter’s actions do. He shares his memories of the man with Thetis, Achilles’ mother, showing a side of Achilles that the history books do not record.
Belief comes into play as the characters deal with their fates, prophecies, and the Gods. Achilles is half-god and has, throughout the novel, an awareness of his own fate. He’s doomed to die at Troy, something he chooses to ignore and proceed there anyway, against his mother’s wishes. As the characters attempt to control Achilles’ fate, they end up manifesting it. They interfere with his will, and in the end, Achilles ends up exactly where he was prophesied to be. The other characters believe they understand what they need to do to save Achilles. They think they have more control than they do and believe they can save him.
Power is another primary theme in ‘The Song of Achilles‘. It can be seen throughout the novel as men like Achilles and Agamemnon battle for control of their own lives and the men around them. It’s also one of the main reasons that the Greeks went to war against the Trojans. They intended to reclaim Helen, Menelaus’ wife, but it was even more so about exerting power over that which they had a right to (or so they determined).
It should also be noted that female power, or powerlessness, is another major part of the novel. There are women, like Helen, Thetis, and Bresies, that play an important role in the story, but they are passive figures. Briseis’s crucial role only comes into effect because of the way that the men treat her. The same occurs in regard to Helen, who is forced to select a husband and then has a war fought to reclaim her from Paris.
Analysis of Key Moments in The Song of Achilles
- Patroclus recalls his youth and the blood oath he swore to Helen’s husband, Menelaus.
- He expresses his understanding of his father’s shame in him.
- Patroclus accidentally kills a highborn boy, Clysonymus, and is exiled to Phthia, where he meets Achilles.
- The other boys are fearful of Patroclus, but he becomes friends with Achilles.
- Achilles’ mother, Thetis, hates Patroclus, believing he is not a good companion for her half-god son.
- At thirteen, the two boys kiss for the first time. Thetis informs Patroclus that Achilles will be leaving to train with Chiron.
- Patroclus and Achilles live with and train with Chiron, a centaur.
- Achilles and Patroclus continue their relationship, and the young men eventually have to return to Peleus’ palace.
- Peleus informs everyone that Helen has been kidnapped by Paris, son of King Priam of Troy.
- Peleus wants Achilles to lead the army. They have not made up their mind about fighting, but Achilles tells Patroclus he will go to war if Patroclus is forced to due to the blood oath from his childhood.
- Thetis takes Achilles in the middle of the night to Scyros. Achilles is disguised among the women, hidden by Thetis in order to avoid the war.
- Diomedes and Odysseus want Achilles to join the war in order to be immortalized in history. But everyone knows that Achilles is prophesied to die in the war.
- When they arrive for battle, Achilles refuses to do what Agamemnon says, angering the king.
- Iphigenia and Achilles are married, and she is later killed as an offering.
- They arrive at Troy and set up camp. Achilles and Agamemnon fight over Briseis.
- They fight at Troy for nine years before the camp is struck with a disease.
- Paris challenges Menelaus to a duel for Helen to end the war. The duel ends in a tie.
- Achilles refuses to fight anymore, despite Patroclus pleading with him to do so and maintain his honor, and protect those around him.
- Patroclus puts on Achilles’s armor and fights. He is killed by Hector.
- Achilles is enraged by his loss, and Briseis blames him for the loss of their mutual friend.
- Achilles kills Hector and releases the body to Priam.
- Paris shoots Achilles to death with his arrow.
- The novel ends with both Achilles and Patroclus in the underworld together.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
Miller’s style in this novel is flowery. She often uses poetic language, emphasizing the poetic origins of her content. This allows moments like the intimate scenes between Achilles and Patroclus to feel all the more beautiful. Throughout, she also uses a lyrical tone. One that is quite introspective and emotional at times. Patroclus is the narrator of the novel, meaning that his emotions often tinge on the retelling of events.
She also uses examples of figurative language throughout the book. This includes examples of personification, metaphors, and similes. These, along with the examples of poetic language, make the novel enjoyable to read.
Achilles’ spear, which is an integral part of his weaponry and armor, represents his violence and moments of inhumanity. There are times when, in the heat of battle and around the pride of other men, Achilles seems to lose himself. Patroclus, at points, feels as though he doesn’t recognize his friend.
The lyre, which plays a role at the beginning of the novel when Achilles and Patroclus are young, is a symbol of innocence. They have to set it aside, along with their youth, when war breaks out.
What is the main theme of The Song of Achilles?
The main theme of this novel is the power of love. The novel shows how love is capable of overcoming vast obstacles, including death. Readers may also find themselves noticing themes of pride and violence.
What is the message of The Song of Achilles?
The main message of ‘The Song of Achilles‘ by Madeline Miller is the strength of love to overcome adversity. The two endure the disapproval of their families, separation, and violent war. Eventually, they come back together in the afterlife.
Is The Song of Achilles a love story?
Yes. ‘The Song of Achilles‘ is a love story. It is wound within a retelling of Homer’s Iliad. The story expands the mythology surrounding Patroclus and Achilles and alludes to the romantic relationship between the two.