Song of Achilles: Yes, There’s a Centaur!

November 28, 2012 Coming of Age, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Mythology, Supernatural 35

Hello Bookworms! I just finished reading Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. You know that tendon in your heel? Yeah. It’s called the Achilles tendon because according to Greek legend the hero Achilles was untouchable in battle because his goddess mother dipped him into some magic water as a baby and he was this protected. The flaw in the plan was that she didn’t go for full submersion, and held his heels out of the water while she dipped him. Thus the heels were vulnerable and he is finally killed during the Trojan War (not that this is the scenario presented in this book, I’m just filling you in on some medical knowledge.)

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before I go any further, I’ll just come right out and say that this book is basically a love story between two dudes. If you have a problem with homosexuality, I respectfully request that you not read the rest of this blog and that you refrain from posting any nastiness in the comment section. Here’s your get out of jail free card. If you’re uncomfortable with the subject matter, don’t read this book. Or my review. Hate speech will not be tolerated.

You’re still here? Good! Okay so I had a very basic knowledge of the goings on of the Trojan War and I know enough mythological trivia pull out a win if multiple choice is involved. What I didn’t know much of was Achilles’ particular story. Oh what a journey it was! Achilles is the son of a pious king and a sea nymph. Greek mythology is pretty crazy, and according to this account, the pious king Peleus was essentially told to rape the sea nymph Thetis. What a great way to start a marriage! Only NOT AT ALL. Peleus wondered why she hated him. Sigh.

The union of Peleus and Thetis obviously resulted in Achilles. Achilles was a golden boy. He was a super badass warrior without even trying. Enter Patroclus. Patroclus was born a prince, but due to an accident involving a shove and a nobleman’s son’s skull taking an unfortunate bash on a rock, Patroclus was banished from his kingdom. Apparently this was a pretty common practice at the time, because when he’s sent to foster at Achilles’ crib there’s a whole dorm full of ne’er do well princes. Achilles barely notices the other boys, but he notices Patroclus. He chooses Patroclus as his companion and they become total BFFs.

As the years go by and puberty hits, the predictable occurs. You know, you go live on a mountain to be trained by a centaur and THINGS HAPPEN. Not with the centaur. With your BFF. Patroclus and Achilles fall in love. Like for reals love, not politician in a bathroom love. Patroclus chases Achilles down when Thetis hides him in a far off kingdom dressed as a lady. (And she has the gall to be grouchy that he’s in love with a guy. Seriously, Thetis, get enlightened!)

They go off to fight the Trojan War (because you know, Helen and her thousand-ship-launching face.) The Trojan War is frickin long. Daily hand to hand combat for more than 10 years! It’s a good thing Achilles is part god. He barely breaks a sweat. Patroclus is more a lover than a fighter, so he mostly hangs out in the medical tent doling out centaur approved healing techniques. Patroclus and Achilles actually have a pretty nice little war. They get to live as a couple and have some great times. The war is sort of a 9-5 gig. But they know their days are numbered. Yep. Prophesy. The fates never could keep their mouths shut.

I can’t quit you!

It’s no surprise that Achilles dies. I mean, the heel thing! Everybody knows that. But Patroclus? He goes first and it’s HEARTBREAKING. It’s like Brokeback Mountain but the Greeks were a lot cooler about gay people. It was pretty common for boys to have homosexual affairs, actually. It was a little on the unusual side for Achilles and Patroclus to have kept their relationship going into adulthood, but since Achilles could kick anyone’s ass, they didn’t get too much crap from their army buds. Then they go and die and break your heart into a million pieces. That’s alright though- as we’ve discussed, the literary cry is the “pretty” cry.

The bottom line? This book was wonderful! The love story was beautiful, it tugged at all of my heartstrings (there are many of them. My heart is like a harp.) Greek mythology is so colorful and interesting. They knew how to tell a story. And so does Madeline Miller.

I simply must know, Bookworms. How much would you FREAK OUT if you got to live on a mountain with a centaur? He’d teach you to play the lyre!

35 Responses to “Song of Achilles: Yes, There’s a Centaur!”

  1. Daddio

    Iliad and Oddessy are classics! LONG reads but epic and really worth it. The movie “Brother, where art thou?” Is based on these adventures.

    • Words for Worms

      Oh Dad, I know these things. We read parts of both of those in school. And, the bluegrass tunes in Oh Brother. Where Art Thou were rockin’. I thought everyone knew that movie was based on The Odyssey.

  2. Sami

    I can’t wait to read this one! I love historical fiction and while mythology doesn’t really count as historical it sounds fascinating. I will of course be picturing Brad Pitt as Achilles while reading this book. On a side note…I am about to start Game of thrones because apparently I am the only person I know who hasn’t read it…Have you read it? Any words of wisdom?

    • Words for Worms

      I have read all 5 available Game of Thrones books. I like them, but I have a few complaints. First, we’re in book 5 now and we’re still being introduced to scads of new characters and new countries. Second, because of all the new characters, some of the ones I’m really invested in fall by the wayside. So yes, they’re good and I’ll keep reading them, but I want more Starks and Lannisters , fewer dalliances in Dorne. Also they’re really long, so if you get to, say a long diatribe on boring people in Dorne, you might want to take a nap instead of reading.

      • Sami

        Thanks! I’ll let you know how it goes…If you are looking for a new Historical Fiction book Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran was really good. Nefertiti is good as well.

  3. Heather Christena Schmidt

    This sounds like something I’d like – I’ve been looking for a book to get me out of my reading funk. Couple things: (1) all of my animals are Greek. Agamemnon the guinea pig; Achilles and Menelaus the Molly fish. (2) Not only were the Greeks sort of cool with man-on-man love, they reveled in it. Socrates was the most garish looking dude, and that man got more than a prostitute down on the walk in Hollywood. Oh, and as a side, Brokeback Mountain is one of my favorite stories ever. I’m going to buy this book now.

  4. rhapsodyinbooks

    Glad to hear you loved this – I can’t wait to get the chance to read it! Especially because the cover keeps dripping gold sparkly stuff all over the place! :–) (not sure why my cover is disintegrating – probably a way of reminding me to get through my TBR pile!)

  5. Rachel

    I thought it had an amazing love story as well…but then I couldn’t recommend it to any of my family members because they don’t like homosexuality. (They’re not exactly homophobic, exactly, they just don’t want to read about it.) *sigh*

    I thought Miller did an amazing job turning this story into a romance instead of a violent war-story about a pouty, bratty war hero. πŸ™‚ It was a beautiful book!

  6. It's A Dome Life

    This book sounds really good. I haven’t read any mythology in years. It would be nice to dive in and read a love story that isn’t typical. Thanks for suggesting it and for reviewing it!

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