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Saturday, May 05, 2018

The song of Achilles (2011) by Madeline Miller


Book Review
The song of Achilles (2011)
 by Madeline Miller

  I'm guessing that Circe, the new novel by American author Madeline Miller, is going to be a hit, think the multi-format property Wicked, but instead of the Wicked Witch of the West, Circe, the sorceress from the OdysseyThe song of Achilles was her first novel, published in 2011.  It took me a minute to lay hands on Circe.  In the meantime, The song of Achilles was readily available.  Like Circe, The song of Achilles is any easy pitch, "The Trojan war, retold from the perspective of the male lover of Greek hero Achilles."

  Focusing on the gay relationship at the center of Achilles, between the hero and Patroclus, who narrates the book, misses the larger concerns of Miller.   Any biography of Miller will tell you that she is an astute student of the time period, with a background in "the classics" as they are still taught in the Ivy League schools of the United States.   I found her grasp of the psychology of the Greek hero to be acute: Anything you need to learn about fame and the desire of fame you can get from the ancient Greeks.  They invented the idea of individual fame and personally I think there is a straight line to be drawn between the Greek Gods and modern celebrity culture.   TMZ and The Iliad, basically the same thing.

  Miller gets that.  One of the only actual Greek words that makes it into The song of Achilles is when Patroclus critizes Achilles for his hubris, or pride leading to downfall.  Hubris is all over The Iliad, the Odyssey and Greek literature generally.  It teaches us that man should try to compete with Gods.  We still haven't learned the lesson.

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