• Thu. May 30th, 2024

The art of historical retellings

ByAnvita Verma

Nov 14, 2023
colourful scene of a merman kissing a woman upon the shore

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is set during the Greek Heroic Age. It portrays the romance between Achilles, a god-born child to a king, and Patroclus, an exiled child looked down upon by all. The author chooses Patroclus as her narrator and the story is written from his perspective, mainly focusing on his thoughts and feelings.  The contrast between the characters is shown beautifully as the early part of the story follows Patroclus’s journey from being an unwanted disappointment to his father to being sworn in as Achilles’ Therapon (brother-in-arms).

The love story is an old-age romance that develops from innocent childhood friends to soulmates.  It perfectly encompasses all the forms of love we experience as small naïve kids to young adults. The stubbornness we feel as kids to spend every second of every day with the person we admire, how they become the epitome of perfection in our eyes, and how they occupy a part of our mind at every moment. The way we confuse expressing affection with annoyance. The book beautifully describes being taken over by the infatuation you feel as a child towards someone you like.  

As the novel continues, we see a childish mutual admiration turn into a wholesome connection. The kind of love that makes you keep a draw four in your hand so the next person can win the UNO game. The unaltered, simplified version of love that converts their wins into yours, even if it means always losing.

Later, parts of the story add elements of expectations and dutifulness that conflict with the wishes of both boys. We see their relationship develop from one of adolescent passion to a more stable companionship. As the characters grow older, we see their backgrounds clash once again. From Patroclus, a man who cannot fight and hates war, to Achilles, a man prophesied to be the greatest warrior of his generation.

This book makes you not just fall in love with the characters but also with the English language. Although some believe English to be an unromantic and unexpressive language, Madeline Miller changes that untrue notion. The writing style of this book makes you want to be a writer yourself. This book is the perfect blend of the English language and a classic lovers trope set in an age where the relationship was considered forbidden.

It explores deeper problems of societal expectations, familial laws and personal biases along with providing a really entertaining romantic storyline that runs throughout the novel.

PS. If you do decide to check out the book (or if you’ve already read it) and just need to see more, the National Gallery of Scotland at Edinburgh has a painting of Achilles and Patroclus!

Illustration courtesy of Holly Lawrenson Evans.