Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.
We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.
I think everyone has a general idea, or at least a vague awareness, of the story of Achilles. However, if you’re looking for a queer interpretation of Greek mythology, I don’t think it gets much better than The Song of Achilles.
His eyes were unwavering, green flecked with gold. A certainty rose in me, lodged in my throat. I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.
After reading The Song of Achilles, I did two things. First, I googled a lot of articles about whether or not the love story here was part of the original telling (most of my basic internet research points to it being possible but unlikely unless you really lean into some suggestions). Then, of course, I rewatched Troy. Not only did I forget how many incredible actors were in that movie, but I was keen to compare 2004 Hollywood to 2011 fiction. Let’s just say that there are slight differences in the retellings. Or, you know, they could be entirely different stories with faint similarities…
As our ship touched the beach, hundreds of hands threw themselves into the air, and hundreds of throats opened in a cheer. All other noises, the wood of the gangplank banging down on rock, the sailors' commands, were lost to it. We stared, in shock.
It was that moment, perhaps, that our lives changed. Not before in Scyros, nor before that still, on Pelion. But here, as we began to understand the grandness, now and always, that would follow him wherever he went. He had chosen to become a legend, and this was the beginning.
I never wanted Achilles and Patroclus to leave their cave. When they’re summoned back to hear about the kidnapping of Helen of Sparta, I knew it was coming, but I didn’t want their happy bubble to pop. I appreciated the emphasis placed on relationships – the big events happen in the background of how Patroclus interacts with those around him. The growth of the friendship and trust between Achilles and Patroclus is slow and beautiful, and despite Achilles’ often selfish acts, Patroclus is there to ground him and make this half-god more human.
Will I feel his ashes as they fall against mine? I think of the snowflakes on Pelion, cold on our red cheeks. The yearning for him is like hunger, hollowing me. Somewhere his soul waits, but it is nowhere I can reach. Bury us, and mark our names above. Let us be free. His ashes settle among mine, and I feel nothing.
Now, I’ve never attempted to read The Iliad, nor do I really plan to, so let’s not get hung up on whether The Song of Achilles is an accurate retelling. It was captivating and beautiful and heartbreaking, and for those reasons, I will happily recommend it.