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''I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.'

'I know. They never let you be famous and happy.' He lifted an eyebrow. 'I'll tell you a secret.'
'Tell me.' I loved it when he was like this.
'I'm going to be the first.' He took my palm and held it to his. 'Swear it.'
'Why me?'
'Because you're the reason. Swear it.'
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The Song of Achilles is a 2011 novel by Madeline Miller. It retells the events of, and leading up to, The Iliad from the point of view of Patroclus, the beloved companion of Achilles.

Patroclus is a disappointment to his father, and is still young when he is exiled to the island of Phthia, to be an attendant on the half-divine Achilles. But Achilles takes a shine to Patroclus, and it's not long before they're best friends, and then lovers. They learn the art of heroism from the great teacher Chiron, and want to live happily ever after... but then word comes of a great war, brewing between Troy and Sparta. Patroclus is bound to go, by oath. Achilles is bound to follow him, for love and glory.

The novel won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction, and is Miller's first published work.


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Sing, O Muse, of the Following Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Patroclus' father constantly criticizes him and effectively disowns and exiles Patroclus when he's not even a teenager. His mother is clearly mentally disabled (though what kind of disability she has is unclear) and thus is unable to raise Patroclus or do anything about her husband's harsh treatment of their son.
  • Accidental Murder: Patroclus, as a boy, pushes over a bigger boy who is bullying him, and by bad luck, cracks his skull. This instance is echoed in his later fight against Sarpedon - who is killed by a very lucky fall from a chariot, that breaks his neck.
  • Achilles' Heel: A notable aversion. Like in the earliest, Homeric tellings of The Iliad, Achilles doesn't have a weak point, he's just extraordinarily skilled in battle. He dies after getting shot in the heart just like a normal soldier. Metaphorically, it was Achilles's pride that ultimately did him in, although the heel is lightly referenced.
    Paris: Where do I aim? I heard he was invulnerable. Except for—
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  • Achilles in His Tent: Duh. The book humanises his selfishness slightly, by reminding the reader that Achilles' knowledge of the prophecy about him means he has literally given his life for his legacy, and Agamemnon genuinely is being a total idiot. It still does not shy away from how many lives are being lost because of Achilles' pride.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The entire Iphigenia arc is only included as a footnote.
  • Adaptational Consent: In the original myth, Peleus and Thetis married after he managed to restrain her and she consented to marrying him as a Best Her to Bed Her challenge, while in this story he instead raped her and conceived Achilles. As a result the two have a considerably worse relationship.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the Iliad, Achilles was explicitly attracted to women and his relationship to Patroclus was Ho Yay, Homoerotic Subtext, or Homoerotic Subtext that essentially is text. Here he's completely oblivious to even his own wife's attraction to him, and completely devoted to Patroclus.
  • Age Lift: In ancient Greek versions Patroclus is noticeably older than Achilles (his grandmother Aegina is Achilles' great-grandmother), here they are the same age.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: It's heavily implied that Patroclus' mother has some form of mental disability, though the specifics are (understandably for the time period) never spelled out.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Though Patroclus loves Achilles unconditionally, his attachment to Briseis seems a little more than platonic. (For instance, he fantasizes about having a child with her.) He also has sex with a woman at one point, and, while he is not romantically attracted to her, he does admit that he finds her body arousing.
  • Anachronism Stew: It's a minor thing. The time period that the Iliad was supposedly set in was Mycenaean Greece, meaning the Bronze Age. In the first few pages iron spears are already mentioned. This was probably intentional, since Madeline Miller has said that she didn't try to portray Mycenaean Greece exactly, but more so to the Greece portrayed in Homer, and he already had plenty of anachronisms himself.
  • Arc Words: "What has Hector ever done to me?"
  • Archer Archetype: Discussed in-universe, Patroclus mentions that archers are usually considered to be cowards, but no one would say this about Philoctetes, the last surviving companion of Heracles, whose bow and arrow skills are legendary.
  • Ascended Extra: Patroclus, who was not one of the truly major characters in the Illiad, is the narrator of the book and a central character. Briseis is also given a larger role in the story as the voice of the women who were claimed by Achilles to avoid being raped by the other Greek warriors.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: This lets Patroclus down badly when he dons Achilles' armour. It's the first time he's been in battle since the early days of the war when he was a terrified nobody being protected by Achilles, and the adrenaline rush that he experiences as Trojans flee him and Greeks cheer him (assuming a god isn't influencing him more directly) make him reckless.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: While disguised on Scyros, Achilles as "Pyrrha" is apparently not only a convincing woman but also a very attractive one. Probably that divine blood at work. (Then again, it is the smitten Patroclus doing the narrating, so...)
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Patroclus is unable to enter Hades and be with Achilles because his name was left off the funeral monument, at least until Thetis relents and carves his name onto it.
  • Berserk Button: Achilles's normally aloof exterior breaks when his honor is threatened, However, it is only when he finds out Patroclus is dead that he truly goes mad with rage. Even unflinching Thetis is put off by his behaviour when dealing Hector's body.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Yes, everybody you love ends up dying, but Patroclus and Achilles finally manage to find each other in the underworld and reunite once again.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Achilles. Oh, how he loves to fight, because it lets his divine gifts at speed and fighting truly shine.
    • His son Pyrrhus is worse, very likely being The Sociopath who displays no emotions beyond sadism and pride in his abilities and his name.
  • Brown Note: The effect of seeing Thetis, and presumably any other god, in the flesh is a more mild version of this on mortals, and Thetis is described as being difficult to look at directly and causing severe discomfort in anyone around her. While training with Chiron Patroclus eventually learns to recognize when she's coming because everything, including the animals, go silent prior to her appearing.
  • Bungled Suicide: Achilles' immediate reaction to seeing Patroclus' dead body is to reach for his knife to slit his own throat, but since he had previously given the knife to Patroclus, he fails to do so.
  • Child by Rape: Both Achilles and his son, Pyrrhus, in this retelling.
    • Just to highlight the Deliberate Values Dissonance in the story, Thetis — Achilles' mother and the victim in the first instance of this trope — engineers the coercive rape of Achilles to conceive Pyrrhus.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Patroclus becomes friends with Achilles when they're both young boys, and they gradually fall in love as they spend more time together, officially getting together when they're teenagers and remaining as lovers well into adulthood.
  • Child Soldier: Achilles is a downplayed version of this, first fighting at sixteen. But oh, his son Pyrrhus plays this straight to a T, as he's just twelve when he fights.
  • Creepy Child: Pyrrhus very much qualifies. See Troubling Unchildlike Behavior for more information.
  • Death Seeker: Achilles, after Patroclus' death. He only keeps fighting because he wants to meet someone who can kill him.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Madeline Miller worked very hard to portray ancient Greek values accurately, even if many of them wouldn't be considered politically correct today. Aside from the most emphasized sexism (see No Woman's Land) there's also the slavery, complete obedience to Jerkass Gods, and the dangerous sense of honor that drives the Greeks and the Trojans to spend ten years warring with each other. Patroclus is the only character who questions some of these values, but at the same time he's so desensitized to it that he isn't as aghast to these practices as someone from the modern day might be.
  • Developing Doomed Characters:
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: While pursuing Hector, Achilles' path is barred by a god. Even though it is a minor river god rather than one of the Olympian heavyweights, it is still impressive that Achilles is able to wound him badly enough that he has to retreat.
  • Divine Parentage: Achilles's mother is Thetis, a sea nymph (an actual sea-goddess according to Greek mythology).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Objections to Achilles' and Patroclus' relationship are largely based around the fact that Achilles is a demigod and Patroclus a mortal; that Achilles is a prince and a hero and Patroclus an exile and not a warrior; or that their broadly acceptable-in-context homosexual relationship is too exclusive and carried on too semi-openly after they are adults. But the parallels to contemporary homophobia are pretty clear and obviously deliberate.
    • Thetis spends the entire novel trying to separate her son and his lover, on the basis that he'll be less likely to want to leave his life behind and become a god if he's in love with a mortal. You don't have to squint too hard to see a contemporary human parent who wants to push her son to live the life she chose for him (i.e. marry a woman and produce grandchildren), however.
    • Pyrrhus, who never even meets his natural father Achilles, is adamant in refusing Achilles' final wish to be buried in the same tomb as Patroclus. His obvious spite while insisting that he's only protecting his father's legacy is reminiscent of sadly very real instances, where estranged relatives have refused to acknowledge or respect a same-sex couple's relationship at the end of their lives.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Divine on Mortal: A rare inversion: the sea-goddess Thetis was raped and kidnapped by Peleus, but all of the other gods gave him permission to do it, because Peleus is very pious. They make Thetis stay with Peleus for a year and a day, but after that she has nothing to do with the mortal.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: In universe. Thetis pressured Achilles into marrying and having sex with Deidameia, not even realizing that this is functionally the same thing that happened to her with Peleus. She's portrayed unsympathetically, but since it's Ancient Greece, hardly anyone but Patroclus is angry with her for this.
  • Dramatic Irony: Half the foreshadowing, especially since Achilles' and Patroclus' fate, is a Foregone Conclusion.
    • Odysseus's Doting Parent Happily Married family man traits are highlighted, making his inevitable ten-year journey home all the more tragic.
    • The fate of most of the Greeks. The atrocities committed during the sack of Troy will anger the gods and most of the Greeks will lose divine favor and meet ignominious ends at sea. Thus the emphasis on glory, riches and victory rings a bit hollow.
    • Pyrrhus is quite certain that his name will be as great or greater than his father's, and when Odysseus tries to convince him that reputation isn't everything, half-jokingly saying that in future centuries even his name will be better known than Pyrrhus', Pyrrhus is contemptuously dismissive. Meanwhile in literary circles Pyrrhus is still introduced as "Achilles's son" and the average person today might not have even heard of him (in particular he isn't even mentioned in the Illiad, the most famous narrative of the Trojan War) while Patroclus is far more well known and Odysseus has a good claim to eclipsing Achilles himself.
  • Driven to Suicide: Patroclus makes it clear in his narration several times that he had no intention of outliving Achilles for long, not realizing that this wouldn't be necessary. Achilles reacts similarly to Patroclus' death, only fighting after he successfully kills Hector in search of someone who can kill him.
  • 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; and at the end of the novel Patroclus fears that Briseis may never be able to find rest, since Pyrrhus kills her when she tries to flee him and her body is lost to the ocean.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Briseis actually lands a knife blow on Pyrrhus, even if it isn't serious, and manages to get to the sea and nearly escapes before he kills her.
  • Either/Or Prophecy: If they're not set in stone. For example, Achilles can either be famous but die at Troy, or live an obscure but long life.
  • El Cid Ploy: A classic part of the Achilles myth; Patroclus borrows his armor and impersonates him.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • An In-Universe example. The first time Patroclus meets an adult Odysseus, he tricks Achilles into revealing himself, blackmails him into going to war (and his death) and reveals he knew the entire time who they were. This colors Patroclus' feelings of and ability to trust him which heavily prevents Odysseus from playing Only Sane Man to Achilles.
    • A mutual in-universe one occurs when Achilles first meets Agamemnon. The latter is expecting to receive pledges of allegiance from Achilles, while the Achilles very deliberately addresses him as an equal, and Odysseus has to save the situation when Agamemnon lacks the social grace to save face without help. This lets both men know the pride and stubbornness of the other, and also sets them against each other right from the start.
  • Ethereal White Dress: Patroclus describes seeing Thetis like this on the battle field, watching Achilles. He notes that he can barely see her or understand her facial expression, so she very much seems like a ghost.
  • Evil Redhead: Pyrrhus, Achilles' son, has unnaturally bright red hair and is very likely a sociopath.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride. Achilles and Agamemnon nearly destroy the Greeks' chance of victory through their refusal to back down, and willingness to let countless soldiers die rather than feel humiliated, even knowing that they run the risk of being hated by the very subordinates they are trying to impress.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Patroclus comes pretty close to being a bit player in his own story.
  • Foil: Pyrrhus is what Achilles might have been without the redeeming traits Patroclus brings out in him. They have similar levels of combat skill, bloodlust and glory-seeking behaviour, but Achilles genuinely loves Patroclus and accepts his guidance in being a better man, while Pyrrhus is a sexual sadist who refuses to accept advice from anyone.
  • Foot Focus: Patroclus' loving descriptions of Achilles' grace and beauty seem to bring up his feet rather a lot.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who's read The Iliad knows that Patroclus will die to save Achilles' glory, and Achilles will go mad with grief, kill Hector in revenge, and then be killed himself.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • A subtle one, but Patroclus mentions walking on hyacinth flowers before he kisses Achilles. Hyacinths in Greek myth came from Hyacinthus, Apollo's most famous male lover. He's also one of the most famous to die.
    • Chiron tells the story of Heracles and his family. Hera hated him for being the bastard son of Zeus, so to punish him he made him mad so that he'd kill his wife and children. Achilles asks why Heracles's punishment involved someone else's death, especially his wife's, and Chiron replies that it would be even more sorrowful for a lover to live when their other half is dead. It obviously foreshadows Achilles's famous grief, but it's also fitting because in a way, it was Achilles's fault for his lover's death.
  • Glory Seeker: To a man of ancient Greece, a long life withering into obscurity is a curse. Achilles elects to go to Troy because it means his demi-godhood will be seen by all, and he'll live forever in song (and it turns out, this works). This applies to many of the other heroes as well, though Pyrrhus takes the cake, as he seems incapable of any emotions beyond pride and sadism.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Thetis raised Pyrrhus to be an even better version of his father. The result is an exceptional warrior...who is so cold and sadistic that the Greek leaders, despite being utterly jaded by ten years of warfare, are horrified by him. Even his own grandmother seems to be appalled by him in the end.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Achilles is half-god, half-mortal. Another half-god (son of Zeus, in this case) is the mighty and immense Sarpedon. And of course, there's Helen.
  • Happily Married: Odysseus truly loves his wife Penelope. Patroclus says this kind of marriage is "as rare as cedars in the east."
  • Helpless Observer Protagonist: Patroclus becomes one at the end of the book, dying in battle and being forced to watch as a spirit as his lover Achilles goes mad with grief and fulfills the prophecy that leads to his death. He then sees Achilles' sociopathic son come in, kill Briseis, and disrespect Achilles' final wishes by refusing to put Patroclus' name on their grave, keeping Patroclus from joining Achilles in the Underworld. He is still able to communicate with Thetis.
  • History Repeats: At the end of the book, Patroclus as a ghost learns that Pyrrhus abducted and raped the bride of Agamemnon's son, much as Paris abducted Helen; if you're well-versed with the Classics, you'll know that bride is Hermione, Helen's daughter. And like Paris, Pyrrhus is killed for his crime. It's also a repetition of the rivalry between Achilles and Agamemnon over a woman, only this time Orestes is the one who's justified in his wrath and wins their conflict.
  • Hope Spot: When Briseis is attempting to flee Pyrrhus by swimming out to sea, there's a moment where Patroclus' ghost is certain she'll get away, as she's a very strong swimmer and is already out of range of most weapons — but sadly, not out of range of Pyrrhus' thrown spear; and it's clear that he could have killed her at any point in her flight but chose to wait until she believed she'd escaped him.
  • Hot-Blooded: Achilles has the potential (he often reacts defensively and aggressively when threatened).
  • Hypocrite:
    • A subtle one with Odysseus. He blackmails and goads Achilles into joining the war with a choice of glory or an ignominious death. However, it's hinted that he tried to avoid the war himself when Patroclus notices his farmer's calluses. (In the myths Odysseus pretended to be mad and sow salt until Palamedes revealed him.)
    • Thetis was raped and kidnapped by Peleus, and forced by the other gods into a marriage she didn't want, even if she only had to stay with Peleus for a year and a day. She later manipulates Achilles into having sex with Deidameia even though he clearly says he doesn't want to and only does it for a chance to see Patroclus again.
  • Incompatible Orientation:
    • When Patroclus first brings Briseis back to the tent he shares with Achilles she's clearly dreading what they'll do to her, and with the language barrier making it difficult to convey that they won't harm her Patroclus simply grabs Achilles and kisses him on the mouth to get the point across. Later played for tragedy, as Briseis genuinely falls in love with Patroclus, and hopes that he might be someone who could take both a wife and a lover, while Patroclus can only respond that he could never truly have feelings for her while he loves Achilles. He still cares for her deeply.
    • Happens first between Achilles and Deidameia, where she genuinely falls for him but he feels nothing for her.
  • It's All About Me: Not quite, as Achilles does genuinely love Patroclus, but his indifference to the suffering of the common soldiers, and his willingness to let Briseis be raped by Agamemnon because it will give him an excuse to kill him, horrify his lover. When Patroclus is killed in an attempt to salvage Achilles' standing and glory, a heartbroken and furious Briseis accuses Achilles of caring more for Patroclus dead than he ever did when he was alive, and that he only loves himself.
  • It's Personal: Achilles ultimately kills Hector because he killed Patroclus, and he has become a Death Seeker who wants to accelerate the prophecy that Hector must die before him. Plus, he wants revenge.
  • Jerkass Gods:
    • The focus is on Achilles' mother, the sea-goddess Thetis, who loves him (in her way) but loathes Patroclus, Achilles' beloved. Thetis doesn't care whose life she destroys as long as Achilles fulfills his glorious potential. Eventually, she relents towards Patroclus. Years and years after his death.
    • Thetis' story revealed at the end shows that the other gods were just as awful to her. It was prophesied that her son would be greater than his father, so the permission that they gave Peleus to rape and marry her by force as a reward for his piety was actually them ensuring the father of her child would be a mortal, so that a stronger son would still be no threat to them.
  • Karmic Death: Pyrrhus is certain his name will be as great or even greater than his father's, while both in this story and in classic mythology he dies incredibly young, meeting a shameful end when he kidnaps and rapes the bride of Orestes, who kills him for it. Pyrrhus says to Briseis, when she asks him what he would have of her, "Whatever I want," and kills her when she attacks him and tries to escape; Patroclus's shade remembers Pyrrhus' words when he hears of the circumstances of the boy's death, emphasising how his cruelty both ruled and doomed him.
  • Kid Hero: Pyrrhus, an incredible fighter who joins the Greeks at Troy when he is all of twelve. This trope is then Played for Drama - Pyrrhus is only this way because he was raised by a divine grandmother, and he's a Creepy Child bordering on sociopathic who kills even infants without hesitation, and also has the body and lusts of an adult man.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Said almost word-for-word by Briseis about her relationship with Patroclus, after they both realise that he'll never return her romantic feelings for him (even if he is briefly tempted at the thought of having a conventional marriage and fathering children with her). They both die before they get a chance to really follow through on their vow to live as loving siblings, however.
  • Living Legend: Achilles himself is one - thanks to his goddess mother, his speed and skill at arms make him Aristos Achaion, the Best of the Greeks. Other Living Legends of their time include the massive Ajax; the son of Zeus, Sarpedon; the powerful and pious Hector; and the aged Philoctetes.
  • 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.
  • Marital Rape License: The gods allow Peleus to assault Thetis once she becomes his wife. This results in the birth of Achilles.
  • Meaningful Name: "Patroclus" means "Father's Glory" - an Ironic Name because Patroclus is the biggest possible disappointment to his father.
  • The Medic: Patroclus' time studying with Chiron makes him a knowledgeable doctor, and he has a knack for surgery. He feels connected to the men that he heals, a connection that Achilles doesn't get.
  • Morality Pet: Patroclus is this to Achilles. It's not that the demigod is a villain, but he doesn't care about most things the way normal humans do, except for how much he loves Patroclus. It is at his lover's request that he begins taking in the women to save them from becoming sex slaves.
  • My Beloved Smother: Thetis is on the...overbearing and controlling side, towards Achilles. Not to mention her very obvious disapproval of Patroclus, whom she regards as unworthy of her son. She relents, kind of, at the very end.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In the end Thetis seems to regret the way she raised and treated her son and especially her grandson, particularly since the latter ends up a vile rapist (perhaps reminding her of her own treatment by the gods) and gets himself killed due to his sociopathic tendencies and lust.
  • The Neidermeyer: Downplayed; Agamemnon isn't hated by his men, nor is he cowardly or incompetent, he is just not revered the way Achilles is, nor as brilliant as Odysseus, and his own massive ego cause huge problems for everyone. This insecurity causes him to come dangerously close to becoming this trope fully, and he is very lucky that Achilles' own hubris and stupidity cause him to overreach and disgrace himself first.
  • No-Sell: Thetis tries to obliterate Odysseus to stop him from recruiting Achilles - but as the former is protected by Athena, nothing happens.
  • No Woman's Land: Nearly every female character is affected by the misogyny of ancient Greece, from Briseis being a Sex Slave, Deidameia feeling ashamed of herself for having sex unmarried, to Thetis's forced marriage and all that it entails. It's implied that Thetis's bigotry towards mortals is because her immortality is the only privilege she has as a female sea nymph.
  • Oblivious to Love:
    • Achilles is this to Deidameia, painfully so. Patroclus often wants to remind him to be kinder to her, but he'd always realize that he's not being cruel, just uninterested.
    • Patroclus is this in the earlier chapters for Achilles. Really Patroclus, you tell us that Achilles leapt onto your bed to tell you good morning, leaned in so close that your noses touched, and you didn't notice a thing? Downplayed in that it's relatively debatable as to when exactly Achilles first fell for Patroclus, and Patroclus was more so unsure of how Achilles felt for him.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Odysseus (mostly unsuccessfully) tries to play peacemaker between the Greek leaders.
    • Patroclus later tries to be this with Achilles (a lot) and successfully with Agamemnon (once) when the latter is too stupid to realise that raping Briseis will give Achilles an excuse to kill him. Agamemnon realises what thin ice he's on not only Patroclus spelling out what will happen, but also the realisation that since nobody else told him this themselves (even though someone like Odysseus would most certainly have figured it out), it means the others are desperate enough to want him out of the picture.
  • Perfect Health: Patroclus was remarked as this growing. But his dad only saw it as a nuisance, and even suspicious, thinking that he got a useless changeling instead. Father of the year.
  • Perspective Flip: The Iliad from the point of view of a secondary character, who barely does any fighting.
  • Polyamory: Briseis insists that though she's fallen in love with Patroclus, she doesn't wish to see him and Achilles separated, only to be his wife and bear children with him while he keeps Achilles as his lover. It's enough to make Patroclus briefly reconsider her proposition — though ultimately he decides he can't follow this trope, as he can only ever truly love Achilles.
  • Prophecy Twist:
    • Near the start of the war, Achilles and Patroclus learn that Achilles is safe until "the best of the Myrmidons" dies, and they try to work out who that might be, because it certainly couldn't be Non-Action Guy Patroclus. Shame he didn't remember that 10 years later, when Briseis unwittingly bestows this title on him due to his kindness and generosity.
    • Right at the end of the book we learn that it was prophesied that Thetis' son would be greater than his father, so the gods got around the threat it could pose to them if she were impregnated by a mighty god by having the mortal Peleus father her son.
  • The Promise: All of the men who came to woo Helen, daughter of Zeus, have to swear a vow that if Helen is ever abducted, they will all help her rightful husband to get her back. Even the pipsqueak Patroclus has to swear this (though as Achilles points out, he could have avoided it as he swore with his father's name, that he lost when exiled).
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Zig-zagged. The first rape we hear of is committed against Thetis in the Back Story by, of all people King Peleus, albeit under direct instruction from the gods. Later, however, this view seems more prevalent (at least with kind-hearted Patroclus), though even when he considers raping "spoils of war" to be wrong, he only reacts with real horror when it's threatened to someone he personally cares about. Pyrrhus is killed by Agammenon's son for kidnapping and raping his bride; while that might have been more due to the insult to the man's honour than the attack upon the woman, Patroclus's shade is disgusted when he hears of it and bitterly asks Thetis if this was the son she preferred to Achilles. Arguably justified by Deliberate Values Dissonance.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Achilles tells Briseis to get away from Patroclus' body, which she is in the middle of washing for burial. She does not get away, or get out. Instead she asks 'Do you think you are the only one who loved him?' and when Achilles starts screaming at her, she flat out tells him he didn't deserve Patroclus and that he's responsible for the death of his beloved thanks to his arrogance and selfishness, and she hopes Hector kills him.
  • The Resenter: Patroclus starts out this way towards Achilles, but he soon gets over it.
  • Self-Deprecation: Patroclus does this a lot, especially when he compares himself to others. Much of this is due the people in his life, notably his own father, constantly criticizing him.
  • 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.
  • Semi-Divine: This being a retelling of the Iliad, the world is full of them. Achilles himself is the most obvious, but there's also Helen and Sarpedon, both children of Zeus, and Aeneas, son of Aphrodite. Heracles and Polydeuces are also mentioned in passing.
  • Sex Slave:
    • Briseis is threatened with this repeatedly; when she is first captured, she is expecting this from Achilles, though she is actually perfectly safe from him. Later, Agamemnon claims her to humiliate Achilles, and was clearly intending to rape her until Patroclus points out that this would be such an insult to Achilles that it would give Achilles an excuse to kill him. Finally, she is claimed by Pyrrhus who announces his intention to punish her for "lying" about how much Achilles loved Patroclus, and then kills her when she tries to flee.
    • Poor Andromache is also claimed by Pyrrhus, meaning she has to submit to the son of the man who killed her husband...and who also viciously killed her baby son in front of her.'
  • Shown Their Work: Madeline Miller was a Latin and Greek teacher, and it shows; 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: While Patroclus displays a very passing interest in women, Achilles is never shown as anything but completely and utterly Patroclus-sexual. Patroclus also concludes that his love for Achilles precludes serious attraction to anyone else — it's just that unlike Achilles, he can imagine pursuing other relationships, albeit quite briefly and abstractedly.
  • Skilled, but Naïve: Achilles is the greatest warrior of his generation and generations past, but his innocence and lack of cunning often makes him easily manipulable.
  • Sleeps in the Nude: This is considered a norm in summer. Patroclus finds this torturous once he's sixteen and shares a bed with Achilles.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Patroclus dies, Achilles dies, and they're separated in death. Briseis is dead. All of the Greeks have sailed away, and there is no one left to name Patroclus on the headstone. It looks like he might be a homeless spirit forever... until Thetis, in the last paragraph, writes Patroclus' name on Achilles' monument, permitting him to join his beloved in the afterlife.
  • Tempting Fate: "What has Hector ever done to me?" Achilles asks. Anyone familiar with the story knows that Hector is going to make Achilles very, very angry.
  • Their First Time: Discusses in the beginning of chapter six. It's said that even by the young age of ''thirteen'' Achilles and Patroclus were considered almost late for still being virgins, and that all of the other boys in the palace had done so with slaves. Achilles and Patroclus do consummate once they're sixteen though.
  • Together in Death: Played for Drama. Patroclus dies first, but without a proper burial and a marked headstone, he can't go on to the Underworld. Then Achilles dies, and gets the burial and headstone... so he's in Hades, but Patroclus isn't. Finally played straight, see Surprisingly Happy Ending.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Patroclus. A prophecy states that Hector will die after the best of the Myrmidions does. This makes a dilemma, as Achilles is widely believed to be this, and his death is meant to happen after Hector's own. Then it is revealed it was in fact soft spoken, loyal and kind Patroclus who was meant to die first all along.
  • Triang Relations: Twice, both type 4. The first occurs with Deidameia's marriage and subsequent pregnancy to Achilles, while the second occurs with Briseis and Patroclus.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • For most of the book he's actually quite the sweetheart, but Achilles starts having some shades of this after he first murders, at age sixteen. Only a few days ago he was traumatized after seeing Iphigenia sacrificed, so it's unsettling to see him so comfortable with death.
    • But again, Pyrrhus is a much straighter example of this, since he's a killer and rapist at twelve.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Achilles' indifference to the lives of the common soldiers is excused by Patroclus as an inevitable result of Achilles' ability to kill so many so effortlessly, but Patroclus is horrified that Achilles would allow Agamemnon to take and rape Briseis simply to get an excuse to kill him. He also pulls no punches with how self-defeating Achilles is being with his refusal to fight.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Achilles' and Patroclus' camp becomes this during the war, with Achilles specifically claiming war captives (at Patroclus' prompting) to spare them from being abused by the other Greeks. Though most of the women eventually do go on to marry Greek soldiers it's under considerably less duress than if they had been claimed by others.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Helen is said to be this - and with Zeus as her father, people don't doubt - but Patroclus, our narrator, never sees her, not even when he goes to war to fight for her!
  • You Can't Fight Fate: All prophecies are set in stone, except for the ones that are an Either/Or Prophecy.

Alternative Title(s): Song Of Achilles

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