Out of all of the books I’ve read so far for 12 Days of Diversity, I think this may be my favorite. The Song of Achilles is a retelling of The Iliad, but also recounts events from before and after that story. It follows Achilles, born of a mortal raping a goddess, and his constant companion, Patroclus, an exiled prince. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never read The Iliad, but I did my due diligence and read a synopsis before I tackled this book (when reading a retelling, I always like to know how it compares to the original). At the points that overlap with The Iliad, this seems to be a fairly faithful retelling. In this version, Patroclus and Achilles are lovers, which has been surmised as a possibility by scholars when discussing the original text as well. Their story is, quite simply put, beautiful.
Told from the point of view of Patroclus, the story begins with his childhood under a cruel father-king. Once exiled, he is taken in by Pelelus, Achilles’ father, and eventually befriends Achilles himself. Through Patroclus’ eyes, we see a hero conflicted about his fate, a cruel goddess mother, and, eventually, one unafraid to love his best friend in a society not altogether accepting of it. Patroclus, on the other hand, is not as fearless as Achilles and constantly struggles with what he should do and what his role should be in Achilles’ life, focusing mainly on what is best for Achilles as an aspiring god-like hero.
I really loved the characterizations of both Achilles and Patroclus as given here. Patroclus is completely relatable in almost everything that happens to him. Even though I’ve never done many of the things he has, his thoughts and rationale were always clear and understandable. Achilles is depicted as beautiful and god-like, but also a trusting and caring individual (for the most part). At times, later in the story especially, he is also mercurial, and somewhat hard to understand, but the ways that he and Patroclus deal with these issues give you a better picture of their relationship, too. They very much love each other, and can’t live without one another, and I also appreciated that their relationship wasn’t portrayed as entirely without physicality.
In addition to beautiful characterization, I just really loved the way the story was told. The language was perfect, supporting characters were fairly deeply explored, and the attention to detail regarding the role of religion and mythology in society was wonderful. It was fun to see supporting characters such as Odysseus, who undertakes his own mythological journey after this story ends, and to hear discussions about Heracles (Hercules) and his importance, despite the fact that he is long dead when this story begins. This world also feels super realistic in this telling, even with the occasional sightings of a god and the boys’ befriending of a centaur. It’s a world where what we consider mythology today is very much still alive, and angering the gods is a very real danger. The prophecies from the gods are very real, and the only way to ensure honor and glory and your place in legend is to fight and kill. In this world, the beauty of the love between Achilles and Patroclus, though not always perfect, somehow manages to survive.
If you’re looking for a retelling of a Greek myth that is fairly true to the original, then this book is for you. It has love and honor and danger. It has crossdressing and angry gods and human sacrifice. There’s also all of the less desirable aspects of society at that time, including rape. Overall, though, it is a beautiful story about two men, one destined to be a legend, and the other destined to love him eternally, no matter where or how their lives end.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Have any good retellings of Greek myths I should know about? Will you read this one? Let me know below!