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The Song of Achilles: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: Betrayal, ardor, war, and prophecies--in The Song of Achilles, author Madeline Miller brings together everything I love about The Iliad without the labor of epic poetry. In this new twist on the Trojan War story, Patroclus and Achilles are the quintessential mismatched pair--a mortal underdog exiled in shame and a glorious demigod revered by all--but what would a novel of ancient Greece be without star-crossed love? Miller includes other good tragic bits--foreknowledge of death, ruthless choices that pit pride and reputation against the lives of innocents, the folly of men and gods--and through her beautiful writing my spine chilled in the presence of Achilles’ mother, the sea goddess Thetis, and I became a bystander in the battlefield of Troy awash with blood, exaltation, and despair. The Song of Achilles infuses the essence of Homer with modern storytelling in a combination that is utterly absorbing and gratifying--I can’t wait to see what Miller tackles next. --Seira Wilson

Gregory Maguire Interviews Madeline Miller

Gregory Maguire is the best-selling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and most recently, Out of Oz.

Gregory Maguire: Ms. Miller, you write with the confidence of the zealously inspired, taking as your material one of the great foundation texts of world literature. In three millennia, The Iliad has garnered somewhat wider attention than The Wizard of Oz, with which I have played, so I have to ask: where do you get the noive? How did you come to dare to take on such a daunting task, and for your first book?

Madeline Miller: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in my case it was just dangerous enough to get me started. If I had stopped to ponder, I think I might have been too intimidated. But it helped that Patroclus is such an underdog—giving him voice felt like standing up for him. I had been intensely frustrated by a number of articles that kept side-stepping the love between him and Achilles, which to me felt so obviously at the story’s heart. So I wanted to set the record straight, as I saw it.

Maguire: The novel tells the story of the rise, fall and immortalization of the golden Achilles. You approach his famous story from a sideline, that of Patroclus, his bosom companion and lover. Was it hard to keep the mighty arc of legend from overwhelming shadowy Patroclus, and did you write more of him than you ended up using, just to be sure you had him firmly grounded in your mind?

Miller: Definitely yes to the second. I actually spent five years writing a first draft of the novel, took a good long look at it, then threw it out and started from scratch. Even though not a word survived, that draft was an essential first step. It helped me understand the story and characters, especially Patroclus, from the inside out.

As for the overwhelming legends, I actually think they worked in my favor—because Patroclus is overwhelmed by them himself. He is this ordinary person who is pulled into a terrifying world of angry deities and destiny because of his love for Achilles.

Maguire: Having glancingly heard of this legend before, I knew more or less how it would end. I had no idea how you might handle the loss of perspective and point of view when tragedy would inevitably strike. You managed to narrate an almost impossible transition from life into myth in part, I think, by your instinctual use of a combination of present and past tense, to say nothing of a masterly combining of authorial and first person observations. How many slaughtered bulls did you sacrifice, and on whose altar, to deserve the talent to risk such dangerous technique?

Miller: It was a lot of bulls. And whatever ended up working, I give all the credit to my background in theater. When I first started writing, I had this idea that I should be in control of the story, forcing it forward. It never worked. What I needed to do was learn how to get in character, and write from there.

It took me a long time to find just the right tone for the ending—I kept writing and throwing away, writing and throwing away. Then, in the middle of apartment-hunting, inspiration struck. All the other ideas had started out well, but would gum up before they got anywhere near the finish line. But this one kept humming right along. And it was the simplest, so there you go.

Maguire: Oscar Wilde said something like, “The Odyssey was written by Homer, or another Greek of the same name.” But Oscar Wilde had clearly not met you. This is not a question. It is a salute.


“I loved it.” (J.K. Rowling)

“Fast, true and incredibly rewarding…A remarkable achievement.” (USA Today)

“Wildly romantic [and] surprisingly suspenseful....[B]ringing those dark figures back to life, making them men again, and while she’s at it, us[ing] her passionate companion piece to The Iliad as a subtle swipe at today’s ongoing debate over gay marriage. Talk about updating the classics.” (Time magazine)

“One of the best novelistic adaptations of Homer in recent memory, and it offers strikingly well-rounded and compassionate portrait of Achilles....[Miller] injects a newfound sense of suspense into a story with an ending that has already been determined.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Powerful, inventive, passionate, and beautifully written. ” (Boston Globe)

“Beautifully done. . ..In prose as clean and spare as the driving poetry of Homer, Miller captures the intensity and devotion of adolescent friendship and lets us believe in these long-dead boys...deepening and enriching a tale that has been told for 3,000 years.” (Washington Post)

“One of 2012’s most exciting debuts...seductive, hugely entertaining....[I]magining the intimate friendship between Achilles and the devoted Patroclus...Miller conjures...soulmates. The resulting novel is cinematic—one might say epic—in scope, but refreshingly, compellingly human in detail.” (Vogue)

“You 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....her explorations of ego, grief, and love’s many permutations are both familiar and new....[A] timeless love story.” (O magazine)

“Madeline Miller’s brilliant first a story of great, passionate love between Achilles and Patroclus....[R]ewriting the Western world’s first and greatest war novel is an awesome task to undertake. That she did it with such grace, style and suspense is astonishing.” (Dallas Morning News)

“The Song of Achilles...should be read and enjoyed for itself, but if Madeline Miller’s novel sends the reader back to Homer and his successors, she is to be thanked for that as well.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

“A psychologically astute Iliad prelude featuring the heady, star-crossed adolescence of future heroes Patroclus and Achilles.” (Vogue)

“[Miller] makes a persuasive argument for the timeliness of her subject. …Miller’s winning debut focuses on Patroclus, a young prince living in Achilles’ golden shadow. Miller also gives voice to many of the women who were also consigned to the shadows.” (Publishers Weekly, Spring 2012 Preview, Top 10 Literary Fiction)

“Masterfully brings to life an imaginative yet informed vision of ancient Greece featuring divinely human gods and larger-than-life mortals. She breaks new ground retelling one of the world’s oldest stories about men in love and war [and] extraordinary women.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review), Pick of the Week)

“A masterly vision of the drama, valor, and tragedy of the Trojan War. Readers who loved Mary Renault’s epic novels will be thrilled with Miller’s portrayal of ancient Greece. This reviewer can’t wait to see what she writes next.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“A captivating retelling of THE ILIAD and events leading up to it through the point of view of Patroclus: it’s a hard book to put down, and any classicist will be enthralled by her characterisation of the goddess Thetis, which carries the true savagery and chill of antiquity.” (Donna Tartt, THE TIMES)

“A modern take on The Iliad, full of love and feats of glory and told in an open, lyric, loose-limbed fashion that should appeal to many readers.... Next up from Miller—the story of Circe...historical fiction fans, get in on the ground floor.” (Library Journal)

“I loved this book. The language was timeless, the historical details were slipped in perfectly. I hope SONG OF ACHILLES becomes part of the high school summer reading lists alongside PENELOPIAD.” (Helen Simonson, bestselling author of MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND)

“Mary Renault lives again! A ravishingly vivid and convincing version of one of the most legendary of love stories.” (Emma Donoghue, New York Times bestselling author of ROOM)

“At once a scholar’s homage to THE ILIAD and a startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist. Madeline Miller has given us her own fresh take on the Trojan war and its heroes. The result is a book I could not put down.” (Ann Patchett, bestselling author of BEL CANTO and STATE OF WONDER)

“Although the details of the story are Miller’s own, the world is one that all who love the Iliad and its epigones will recognize. Reading this book recalled me to the breathless sense of the ancient-yet-present that I felt when I first fell in love with the classics.” (Catherine Conybeare, Professor of Classics, Bryn Mawr College)

“THE ILIAD turns on Achilles’ pride and his relationship with Patroclus, but Homer is sparing with the personal—so much so that, though we believe in their friendship, we do not understand it. THE SONG OF ACHILLES brings light to their love. This is a beautiful book.” (Zachary Mason, author of THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY)

“Miller somehow (and breathtakingly so) mixes high-action commercial plotting with writing of such beautiful delicacy you sometimes have to stop and stare.” (The Independent)

“Miller’s prose is more poetic than almost any translation of Homer… This is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story: a fully three-dimension man - a son, a father, husband and lover - now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought.” (The Guardian)

“In the tradition of Mary Renault... Miller draws on her knowledge of classical sources wisely… Well-paced, engaging and tasteful.” (London Times Literary Supplement)

“Extraordinary… Beautifully descriptive and heartachingly lyrical, this is a love story as sensitive and intuitive as any you will find.” (Daily Mail)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062060619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062060617
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (908 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She also studied in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel. Visit her website at:

Photo credit: Nina Subin

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

194 of 209 people found the following review helpful By Free2Read on January 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Within the first ten pages, Madeline Miller's "Song of Achilles" jumped into my favorite books list.

She retells the Trojan War, using Patroclus as the narrator. As when the film "Troy" came out, we know how sadly this story is going to end. But in Miller's hands, the "Song of Achilles" is fresh, new, exciting, and still heartbreaking.

The early chapters give us a chance to know the insecurities of Patroclus, who feels he is not worthy to be a prince. When he is sent into exile, he meets Achilles. They are just boys. Achilles is already at the top of the pack in looks and natural leadership. When Patroclus follows Achilles to the tutoring of Chiron, the centaur, their training draws them closer. Their adolescence draws them closer. They begin to understand the nature of love between them.

Miller makes good use of our preconceived notions about the Greek and Trojan heroes, and then adds new details to set them apart. Odysseus loves his wife, Penelope, in a way none of the other men understand. Hector, the Trojan hero, is stalwart and good, placing family first. Paris, the pretty boy, gets less of the blame for stealing Helen, than the mischievous Greek gods do.

The Iliad begins with the invocation to the Muse:
"Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation,. . . "

In "Song of Achilles," Achilles is not simply an angry, pouting, spoiled brat. He is a fully rounded figure, someone interested in music, his army, and even the conditions under which the slave girls are kept.

Which brings us to the point of contention between Achilles and Agamemnon, Briseis. She is more than a captured sex slave in Miller's telling. She is smart, funny, warm, willing to love the right man.
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Sherry Christie on December 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In THE SONG OF ACHILLES, Madeline Miller tells the story of Patroclus, Achilles' friend and companion from THE ILIAD, in spare, eloquent language reminiscent of Mary Renault's THE KING MUST DIE and BULL FROM THE SEA. This is an age when gods and their offspring walk among men, although young Patroclus --undersized and not much good at any of the manly activities his royal father values -- has little hope of any sort of glorious future. That changes when he accidentally kills another boy and is exiled to Phthia, where he becomes one of the many wards of King Peleus. Peleus's youthful son, the impossibly magnificent Achilles, is drawn to awkward young Patroclus who unlike the other boys won't kowtow to him. Miller gives us Patroclus's view of their education by the centaur Chiron, the disapproval of Achilles' terrifying mother (the sea-nymph Thetis), Spartan king Menelaus's call to recapture his runaway wife Helen from the Trojans, and of course the Trojan War itself. Hanging over Achilles' and Patroclus's heads is a prophecy that Achilles will die young, but only after the death of the bravest of the Trojans, Hector. The sequence of events that lead to this prophecy's fulfillment is heroic, horrible, and heartbreaking, and makes THE SONG OF ACHILLES one of the most moving love stories ever. When I closed the book, I was as dazed as if I had been part of the story myself, and I could not sleep for hours afterward.

If Homer had been a woman, this is the way he'd have told the story.
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368 of 442 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I care a lot about Achilles and Patroclus. My honors thesis topic, which I've been working on for the past seven months, is "Representations of Achilles and Patroclus in Post-Homeric Literature." So I'm pretty heavily invested here.

I hate this book.

I wanted to like it, I really did. But I can't, because it fails in every possible way to live up to its source material. And maybe it's not fair to blame someone for failing to be as good as Homer, but hey, I think you're asking for it if you write a novel based on the Iliad. Now, obviously when someone adapts a story, it's not going to turn out like the original. Details will be changed, different things will be emphasized, perspectives will shift. This is fine. This is how literature works. But that doesn't mean all adaptations are created equal.

Madeleine Miller has made several choices in this novel that I don't like. I feel that it was unnecessary to turn Thetis into a psychotic bitch, and that to portray Patroclus as an incompetent warrior does a disservice to a character whose charge at the walls of Troy was only stopped when Apollo came down onto the battlefield and punched him the head. No, Patroclus is not as skilled as Achilles, but then NO ONE IS. That's what "Best of the Achaeans" means. Menoetius' utter lack of likable characteristics was similarly unwarranted.

But the worst thing about this book is the characterization of Achilles.

Homer's Achilles is a deeply flawed hero. He's a brilliant fighter, but he's arrogant, petulant, violent, and selfish. He would be completely unsympathetic, except for the fact that he is also capable of extraordinary tenderness and compassion.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Madeline Miller has lovingly picked up an all but forgotten story about ancient Greece like finding a clay-encrusted old coin hiding in the ruins of an old temple, polished to its original gold gleam, and then under its spell has created a novel that takes the reader on one of the most beautiful journeys imaginable. This is the story of Achilles, the brilliantly beautiful and sensitive hero who risked all for the capture of Helen in the Trojan War, as related to us in the most personal and gentle manner by his lover Patroclus. Miller goes where the movies such as TROY and the other bearish versions of the Greek warriors and heroes have failed to take us - into that rare atmosphere of childhood friendships that develop into the purest of loves and set the standard for compassionately re-visiting old myths, finding at their cores much more than the bolts of lightning or the clash of swords or the rising out of the sea of mythic monster gods.

Miller instead writes a love story; in fact she writes of several love stories because she never ceases to treat her characters as multidimensional people despite the fact they are gods or closely related to gods. The manner of her writing is luminous and so rich in painterly atmosphere that once started it is impossible to set this fine book aside. For once we are allowed to understand the growing love between Achilles and Patroclus, their training under the guidance of Chiron, the influence of Achilles' goddess mother on him, the adventures that the two lads endured and/or exalted, and the most sensitive depiction of the grief of Achilles when Patroclus dies.

We can only hope that Madeline Miller continues to reshape the glorious stories of Greco-Roman mythology for modern day audiences. She most assuredly has the gift for taking us there in a masterly fashion. Grady Harp, February 12
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