Greece is the Word

Edith Hamilton's Mythology has been a cornerstone of the reference material about Greek and Roman lore since 1942, and for good reason. If there's a myth you're familiar with, she's the one who's probably responsible. Of course, with the number of antics the gods and goddesses got up to, there was only so much space she could devote to each story. When it came to Patroclus, the companion of Trojan War hero Achilles, Mythology only spares him a couple of paragraphs.

Madeline Miller gives him a whole book in 2011's The Song of Achilles, which deepens not only the myths surrounding Patroclus and Achilles' involvement in the war, but their romance. Myths are fascinating, of course, but they can seem a little detached. It's fun to read about women going around sleeping with swans or wars being started because a vain prince threw a golden apple to a vainer goddess, but it's not terribly understandable. Miller makes the smart choice to tell the story from Patroclus' point of view, and suddenly, things actually begin to make sense.

If there's any problem with the book, it's that the world-changing events taking place are sometimes given short shrift in favor of the trials and tribulations of Patroclus and Achilles' relationship. But on the flip side of the same coin, I'm usually not very invested in romance stories, but this one is still lingering in my head. Being in a gay relationship is tough enough now. Imagine it in ancient times. And by the way, your lover is the greatest military hero of his day. And his mother is a calculating goddess who hates you.

Read as an adventure story or an epic journey in the vein of most myths, perhaps this book may feel a little flat. But read as a tragic tale of love and redemption, this story sure beats Zeus and Io into the ground.

The Song of Achilles: B+


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