Renee Lucas ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
As the years march on and society becomes more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, queer characters are more frequently placed in the spotlight. This is the case for Achilles and Patroclus, the main characters of Madeline Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles. Due to the increasingly accepting times, and a lot of free publicity on TikTok, The Song of Achilles finally reached number one on the New York Times Bestseller list in 2021, almost ten years after its release. And despite more and more LGBTQ+ centered stories being published, The Song of Achilles stands out as remarkable.
The story is told from the point of view of Patroclus, one of the main characters in Homer’s The Iliad. Early in his childhood, Patroclus commits an act of violence towards another child, and his father Menoetius must decide whether to sentence him to death or to exile. Considering the cost of a prince’s funeral, his father decides to exile him on the Island of Phthia. This is where he meets Achilles, son of legendary king Peleus and terrifying sea goddess Thetis. Due to the divinity in his blood, he is fast, strong, beautiful, and irresistible to all who meet him, including Patroclus.
Patroclus, however, has never been admired by anyone. He is small, skinny, and holds no real talents. He had always been a disappointment to his father, and was bullied by his peers. But to Patroclus’s surprise, Achilles becomes just as interested in Patroclus as Patroclus is in him. Achilles deems Patroclus his sworn companion, and the two start spending every day together.
As they grow up, the two develop feelings for one another, and despite Thetis’s demand that Patroclus stay away from Achilles, they begin to fall deeply in love with each other. As the Trojan war begins, Achilles, who is destined to be the best fighter of his generation, is called to fight. Achilles, obsessed with glory, and Patroclus, knowing that he may never see Achilles again if he does not go with him, both sail to Troy. What ensues may be the most beautiful prose ever written. The story is filled with triumph, heart shattering loss, emotional complexities that only the backdrop of love and war could accurately display, and a fight for honor that shows how truly human Achilles is despite his partial divinity.
This book will have an effect on everyone who reads it, but for queer readers, it may have an especially large impact. Many stories written about the LGBTQ+ community are about the coming out journey, or overcoming some sort of adversity to be able to be who you are and love freely. What makes The Song of Achilles so unique is that at the end of the day, this is a typical love story: there was no coming out or internal struggles about their attraction towards each other. The only struggles in the beginning of their relationship were portrayed as the standard ones that straight couples experience as well.
That being said, Miller does not completely ignore homophobia. There is definitely a homophobic component to Thetis’s disdain for Patroclus. There are even some small moments where the two Greek heroes receive weird looks and rude comments. However, these moments are so small that they have no emotional effect on the characters or the readers. Miller walks the line between ignoring homophobia enough to give the LGBTQ+ community a simple and powerful love story, while also not ignoring homophobia enough to invalidate the experiences of queer people.
The Song of Achilles was an absolutely fantastic read. It portrayed the romance between Achilles and Patroclus as a beautiful and inspiring love story, while also staying true to the time period of Ancient Greece. Its lack of blatant homophobia in the plot maygive queer readers a much needed break from the bigotry they face in everyday life. The Song of Achilles will leave readers breathless, filled to the brim with emotions, while simultaneously empty. This book will leave those who read it hollow in the most beautiful way.