The Song of Achilles

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

4 of 18
The Song of Achilles
384 pages; Ecco
Yout don't need to be familiar with Homer's The Iliad (or Brad Pitt's Troy, for that matter) to find Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles spellbinding. While classics scholar Miller meticulously follows Greek mythology, her explorations of ego, grief, and love's many permutations are both familiar and new. In this fictional retelling of the Trojan War, military heroics are subsumed into a timeless love story. Achilles, born to a goddess and a human king, grows up with beauty, charm, and musical talent that equal his superhuman skill at soldiery. Patroclus, the unloved 10-year-old son of an arrogant king, shows no aptitude for fighting (or anything else) and is shunned by his peers—except Achilles, who surprises the court by making Patroclus his official companion. Their boyhood friendship evolves into something deeper as they approach manhood; forced to join the Greek forces besieging Troy, they live in dread of the prophecy that Achilles must die. Their attempts to forestall the inevitable reveal that Achilles's pride (not a bad heel) is his fatal weakness and that Patroclus possesses unexpected nobility. Both learn a melancholy truth: "Perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone." Miller treats the men's mutual sexual passion with refreshing straightforwardness and convincingly casts their love in such mythic proportions that we're convinced when Patroclus declares, "He is half of my soul, as the poets say."
— Liza Nelson