The Song of Achilles | Madeline Miller

Summary of: The Song of Achilles
By: Madeline Miller

Introduction

Immerse yourself in the sumptuous world of Greek mythology through Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles,’ where the tender yet tumultuous bond between Patroclus and the demigod Achilles unfolds. This book summary explores the deep friendship and romantic relationship between these two characters, their education under the wise centaur Chiron, and their confrontation with the prophecies that loom over their lives. As Achilles is destined to be the greatest warrior of his generation, the love between Patroclus and Achilles is put to the test amidst the backdrop of war, destiny, mortality, and the immense challenges they face.

Patroclus and Achilles: Childhood Friends Turned Lovers

Patroclus and Achilles, sons of kings, grew up together and fell in love with each other. They spent their days exploring the woods, studying with a centaur, and bathing in the river. Their bond grew stronger until they were both 16 and Achilles was called back to the palace. As the greatest warrior of his generation, Achilles’s destiny awaited him. With war on the horizon, Patroclus remained by Achilles’s side, making him feel invincible.

The Tragic Dilemma of Achilles

When Helen, the wife of Menelaus, is abducted by Paris and taken to Troy, Menelaus’s brother, Agamemnon gathers an army to rescue her. As a Greek man, Achilles, and Patroclus are expected to fight alongside other warriors. However, Achilles’s mother, Thetis, sends him to Scyros to hide him disguised as a woman to protect him from the war. Soon, Achilles is found by Odysseus and told that if he doesn’t fight, he will miss out on immortal fame. But if he does fight, he will die as a young man. Achilles decides to go to Troy, and Patroclus follows him. They both embrace, knowing it is the beginning of the end.

Achilles’ War and Love

As the Greek army sails to Troy, Achilles, an extraordinary warrior, slaughters Trojan soldiers with ease. His challenge is to kill as many as possible while avoiding Hector, the Trojan prince, to postpone his own death. Amidst the war, Achilles claims a young and beautiful Trojan woman, Briseis, as his prize. Patroclus, Achilles’ friend, spends time with Briseis, and they become close friends. However, Briseis develops feelings for Patroclus, who cannot marry her as his heart belongs to Achilles. One night, Achilles allows Patroclus to have a child with Briseis if he desires. Patroclus realizes he does not need a child as he already has everything he needs with Achilles.

The Fall of a Hero

As the war drags on, Achilles’ pride leads to a feud with Agamemnon. When Agamemnon takes Achilles’ prize, a chain of events is set in motion that ultimately results in Achilles leaving the battlefield and the Greeks losing their greatest warrior.

The Trojan War continues with no end in sight, and the Greek soldiers are growing disillusioned. Achilles tries to lift their spirits, assuring them that they will win, but the war takes a toll on everyone, and relationships become strained. The situation intensifies when Agamemnon claims a Trojan girl as his prize, refusing to give her back despite her father’s plea. The gods respond with a plague that ravages the Greeks’ camps, and Achilles demands that Agamemnon return the girl to her father to end the curse. Agamemnon, in return, demands Achilles’ war prize, Briseis, as compensation. This act triggers Achilles’ wounded pride and he withdraws from the war, willing to let his fellow Greeks fight without him, resulting in unwarranted fatalities on the Greek side. All of this is driven by Achilles’ desire to protect his reputation as a hero – undermining his standing as a leader by allowing Agamemnon to take his prize would be dishonorable. Ultimately, Patroclus negotiates a resolution, saving Briseis, but Achilles will never fight for the Greeks again.

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