Saturday, 27 November 2021

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, is my 12th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction challenge 2021.

My recent read of  And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander made me curious about the story of Achilles and this book by Madeline Miller filled a few gaps in my rather scant knowledge. The tale is told from the point of view of Patroclus, a young exiled prince taken in by Achilles' father, Peleus. Peleus had a child with a sea goddess, Thetis, the result being Achilles and he is thus a golden child, beautiful and excelling in everything, but especially anything to do with weapons and fighting. Patroclus, alone and miserable, eventually comes to the attention of Achilles and the two become inseparable. A firm friendship deepens into love as they get older, one that no one can understand as Patroclus is very ordinary indeed and the polar opposite of the love of his life. Thetis especially seems to loathe her son's lover. The elephant in the room is Achilles' fighting ability and the certain knowledge that one day he will be called upon to test that in battle. And so it comes to pass when Helen, married to King Menelaus of Sparta, is either abducted, or runs away with, Paris, the son of Priam, the king of Troy, and thus begins the Trojan war and the ten year seige. 

I don't really understand why I failed to be fully engaged by this book. It's hugely popular and a lot of people absolutely love it. Don't get me wrong, I liked it well enough. At no stage did I want to give up and I really appreciated learning a lot more about this particular branch of Greek mythology. It just lacked something for me, I didn't really love anyone in it or feel completely connected to the story. Also, a small query. I always thought that in Ancient Greece any kind of sexuality was quite acceptable, so why was it all so shameful between Achilles and Patroclus? Why so much secrecy? I didn't get that at all. I did love the boys' 3 or 4 year sojourn on a mountain with a centaur. Who wouldn't want to do that! Anyway, interesting and informative and by no means terrible (I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads). My quest to find out more about Greek mythology will continue and I have a list of books and authors I will search out in 2022. 

A few of them:

Fire From Heaven - Mary Renault

The Silence of the Girls - Pat Barker

Circe - Madeline Miller

Ariadne and Elektra - Jennifer Saint

The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

A Thousand Ships - Natilie Haynes

Athena's Child - Lynn Hannah

Daughters of Sparta - Claire Heywood

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold - Stephen Fry

I'm sure there are loads more so if anyone has any recommendations they would be welcome.



DesLily said...

Oh my! It sounds like you are in search of a "new topic" !! You are off and running ! It's always good to enjoy something "new"! Love you Sis!

Lark said...

I haven't read many books related to Greek Mythology. The Greek myths have always interested me, but I've never found a really great version of them. The books I've checked out have been mostly mediocre, which then makes me want to quit reading. Hope you find some really good books to read. (Then you can let me know which ones to try myself!) ;D

CLM said...

I really liked it but I can't recall exactly why and it doesn't look like I reviewed it. I think it was partly that I went to hear the author speak and that made me even more interested. I was a big fan of Greek and Roman mythology as a child and I think it was a collection by Roger Lancelyn Green that got me interested in the Trojan War such that I insisted we name our cat Polyxena (she was a tortoiseshell cat with bracelet-like stripes on her forepaws).

Several friends and I chose this book to read with our mothers several years ago (alas, two of the mothers have passed away since). The tea and discussion we had was very animated and I must admit I thought our mothers were very trendy not to bat an eyelash at Achilles and Patroclus' relationship.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Several people recommended this book to me as well as the follow-up Circe but, I'm not sure why but, I never felt I would enjoy them?? Maybe someday I will try.

TracyK said...

I have never been very interested in mythology, although my son was in the past, maybe still is. I will be interested in how you like the other books you are considering, especially Mythos by Stephen Fry.

I read a book recently that I expected to enjoy, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Although my experience while reading it was fine, when I was done I just did not have any enthusiasm for it and I could not understand why. Maybe just the wrong time for me to read it. It was a very short book.

Cath said...

Pat: I think I'm addicted to new reading passions, mountains, Italy, cave diving, Greek myths, there's no limit to things I can get interested in. LOL

Lark: I will certainly let you know which Greek myth books I enjoy. Happy to pass the info on. :-)

Cath said...

Constance: I was never into Greek or Roman Myths as a child, although we did some at school if I recall. It's one of those things where when quiz shows come on and Greek mythology comes up I always feel my ignorance of the subject quite keenly. So I thought I'd put that right. Or at least make it better than it is at the moment!

Yes, I have noticed that women (and men) of my age or older are often a bit iffy about gay relationships in books or on the TV. Our version of Dancing with the Stars currently has two delightful gay men dancing together and I've seen detrimental comments on Twitter concerning this. It's such a shame but I am pleased to hear that your various mums were completely unphased. I think progress is being made but I know I have and have had friends who're quite homophobic.

Cath said...

Diane: I felt the same way about this book and Circe but sometimes I think you just have to wait for the right time to read certain books or attempt certain subjects. Perhaps your time will come.

Tracy: Same here, I was never interested either though I always felt my lack of knowledge keenly and I hate knowing nothing about a subject. I'm not great with science subjects for instance, chemistry, physics, hard to know what I can do about that but Greek Mythology I can do something about!

I completely missed your post about the Invisible Man, which I have read, so I'll go and read it now.

Sam Sattler said...

I have a huge gap in my knowledge of Greek mythology and can't even tell you where I picked up the little that I do know about it. Never really studied it anywhere, that's for certain, so I must have absorbed it through watered down sources like movies, comic books, and cartoons, etc. And I can't imagine that those sources were particularly accurate or detailed. Here's hoping you find one that works better for you.

Cath said...

Sam: Apologies, I thought I'd answered this and it seems I haven't. Like you I have a massive gap in my knowledge of Greek Lit. Yes, it trickles down through books and TV stuff I think, quiz shows but those just show up how much I don't know. And it's funny, just by reading 'one' book I already feel better informed than I was.

Priya @ Tabula Rasa said...

I found your blog on Bloggin''bout Books and glad I did. Like you, I also didn't love this book as much as most people seemed to, and I couldn't exactly tell you why. I am obsessed with retellings of the Iliad and the Odyssey, though - so thought I'd share some of my recommendations.

- Ransom by David Malouf (This is centred on a particular scene between King Priam and Achilles; one of my all time favourite books.)
- Memorial by Alice Oswald (If you like poetry, go for this! This retelling presents brief biographies of the many minor characters who lost their lives in the Trojan war.)
- Cassandra by Christa Wolf (A first-person narration of the fall of Troy from the perspective of this prophetess. I guess this one can be a hit or miss, the monologue is a little heavy, but just leaving the recommendation here.)
- Whom The Gods Would Destroy by Richard Powell (Narrated from the perspective of a new character called Helios, one of Priam's bastard sons.)

I think I took up more comment-space than I intended! (Oops) Hope you find something you like.
~ Priya

Cath said...

Hi Priya, thank you so much for dropping by to comment. How strange that we both had the same reaction to The Song of Achilles. I read some Greek lit at school but that's as far as it went so my knowledge is pretty scanty. I plan to reread both he Iliad and the Odyssey but I have a lot to learn so am delighted to get these recommendations from you. I'll be checking them out on Goodreads very soon to see which ones appeal.

I don't mind how much comment space people take up, comments are always welcome, long or short.

Thanks again!