The Song of Achilles is a 2012 novel by Madeline Miller, detailing the life of the Greek legendary hero Achilles from the eyes of his faithful best friend and confidante, Patroclus. The book spans from when Achilles was a child to his final role in The Trojan War, and thus is a retelling of The Illiad as well. At heart, The Song of Achilles is a love story, a recording of the fierce devotion and passion between the two men, an exploration of the depths of the human heart and a vivid interpretation of classical Greek heroes, brought to life by a compelling plot and beautiful language.The novel won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, and is Miller's first published work.
Tropes used within this work include:
Abusive Parents: Patroclus's mother is mentally disabled, and his father constantly criticizes him and effectively disowns and exiles him in the end.
Achilles' Heel: Interestingly enough, averted. Achilles gets shot in the heart just like a normal soldier.Word of God states that she's always found the heel thing rather unrealistic, so she didn't include it in the novel. Metaphorically, it was Achilles's pride that ultimately killed him and Patroclus both.
Big Damn Heroes: Invoked by Patroclus when he comes storming in with Achilles's armour on to rouse the Greek soldiers to fight and scare off the Trojans. It worked for a beautiful amount of time, and then, because of Apollo, it got worse.
Due to the Dead: Since the book is set in ancient Greece, correct funeral rites are of utmost importance. It becomes an important plot point later when Patroclus is unable to join Achilles in the underworld because he has not been buried properly
The Chick: Menelaus could be seen as this, since he acts as a foil to his arrogant, more aggressive brother Agamemnon
Foreshadowing: Those who reread the novel stumble upon quite a number of 'oh, fuck' moments, most notably when Chiron is telling Achilles and Patroclus the story of Heracles, who killed his wife and children due to his madness caused by the gods. Achilles protests that the punishment was more unfair to Heracles' wife than to him, and Chiron says that the gods are not known for being fair, and 'perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.'
Hot-Blooded: Achilles has the potential (he often reacts defensively and aggressively when threatened).
Instant Expert: Achilles at fighting, more or less. Averted for Patroclus on his rampage, who simply copied what he remembered Achilles doing.
Lover and Beloved: Interestingly enough, for a gay romance novel set in Ancient Greece, averted. Achilles and Patroclus are pretty clearly equals in their relationship, and it is this which makes their relationship so unusual - it is explicitly spelled-out that this give-and-take is unconventional, where the Seme/Uke type dynamic that was more common in the period would have raised very few eyebrows.
Mama Bear: Thetis wavers between this. On one hand, she's fiercely protective of her son. On the other, it's hard to tell whether she's protective because she truly cares for him or she just wants his fame. It is shown in the end, though, that she regrets at least some of her actions and wishes that Achilles had lived.
Mama's Boy: But then again, if your mother was a divine sea nymph who planned to make you into a god, you'd probably go along with her plans, too.
The Medic: Patroclus is quite a gifted healer. The first time he's on the field he carefully cuts out an arrow shaft out of a soldier's shoulder without any risk of infection.
My Beloved Smother: Thetis, once again. Though to be honest if your mother was a sea goddess you probably wouldn't have the nerve to refuse her.
Interestingly both used with Sarpedon, who dies to a single javelin throw when he falls backwards off his chariot and subverted in the same event, since Patroclus must kill Sarpedon as Achilles would have.
Not to mention all the actual 'real' Physical Gods floating around, although Thetis is the only one we see much of.
Purple Prose: And how. Pick a love scene and count the times some variant of the word "trembled" is used.
Rage Against the Heavens: In his quest for Hector, Achilles is so enraged that even an ancient river god with a staff the size of a tree trunk doesn't stop him. In turn, his reaction to when his mother tells him that he's pissed off Apollo was basically 'let them come at me, I don't have anything to live for'.
The Resenter: Patroclus starts out this way towards Achilles, but he soon gets over it.
Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Patroclus dislikes fighting and violence; he is often empathetic to other people's needs and is known for his kindness. Achilles is the physically more able of the two and a model warrior.
Shown Their Work: And how! The whole book is full of references to the more obscure parts of the The Trojan Cycle. Examples include the entire Scyros episode, Protesilaus dying first, and most of the action after Hector dies, amongst a lot of others. It's also got loads of references to Blink And You Miss It moments such as Patroclus being stabbed in the back before Hector kills him.
Single-Target Sexuality: It seems that both Achilles and Patroclus are not so much as gay as they are just completely enamoured with each other.
Skilled, but Naive: Achilles is the greatest warrior of his generation and generations past, but his innocence and lack of cunning often makes him easily manipulable
Team Dad: Patroclus, to all the girls he's rescued in the war.