June and Pride Month just passed, a celebration of identity, individuality, and love; and with that Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles novel encapsulates the essence of what this month represents. Published in 2011, The Song of Achilles is a spin-off and adaptation of Homer’s Iliad written from the perspective of Patroclus and with a romantic twist. For those unfamiliar with Homer’s Iliad, it is a classic Greek epic centered around Achilles, son of a mortal aristocrat Peleus, and Thetis, a sea goddess, as he fights the Trojan War. Being the son of a goddess, Achilles is a mighty warrior ‘immortal’and impervious to any harm. Patroclus is a mortal but a childhood friend of Achilles and serves as his right-hand man throughout the war.
Miller’s novel is unique in that it follows the backstory of Patroclus from childhood to befriending Achilles. But Miller's book does more than follow the epic battle between the city of Troy and the Greeks; she illustrates a slow-burn romance that buds from friendship and childhood and grows into adulthood. The novel presents Patroclus, son of a king, to its readers, displeased by his son’s mediocrity. After being exiled to Phtia by his father, Patroclus meets the mighty and immortal Achilles. Though Patroclus does not have much to offer as a warrior, especially in comparison to Achilles, he is chosen by Achilles as his brother-in-arms. Miller’s portrayal of the two demonstrates a love based on acceptance and passion despite the odds. Though the two each have their insecurities of themselves, their bond depicts loving someone for the parts the other wishes to possess. Achilles must live with the fact that the fate of the war rests on his shoulders and the pressures of living up to a reputation. Having grown up feeling inferior, Patroclus must live with the fact that Achilles must die to win the war. While they both know they live in a world where their love cannot survive, the two choose to love until the end.
While the idea of interpreting the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles as a romantic one is old, Miller wanted to write the novel to bring this idea to light despite homophobia erasing it. Miller’s book is written as a story for anyone, regardless of their familiarity with the Greek epic. Her goal in writing this novel was to create a tale with “open arms, with room for everyone who might want to come in.” This portrayal of a genuine love not characterized by gender, sex, or identity but rather by the fact it is simply love. This is what makes Miller’s novel progressive in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Miller has noted her gratitude for the novel's response and that it has helped readers come out to their parents. It treats Patroclus and Achilles as any relationship defined by loving the other for their individuality and love that knows no bounds or prejudice. For readers looking for an LGBTQ+ book to wrap up Pride Month or just a new summer read, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles is a great choice.
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