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The Song of Achilles: A Novel
by Madeline Miller

Published: 2012-03-06
Hardcover : 384 pages
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The legend begins... Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. ?The best of all the Greeks?'strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess?Achilles is ev...
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Introduction

The legend begins...

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. ?The best of all the Greeks?'strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess?Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine?much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles? mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller's page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.



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.



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Discussion Questions

1) In the Iliad, Patroclus is a relatively minor character. Why do you think the author chose him to be her narrator? Which other figures in the story might make interesting narrators?

2) Near the beginning of their friendship, Achilles tells his father that he values Patroclus because “he is surprising.” What do you think Achilles means by that? How is Patroclus different from the other foster boys? Why?

3) What do you think are the reasons behind Thetis’ opposition to Patroclus?

4) How do the boys change during their time with Chiron? Do the centaur’s lessons continue to be a guiding force in their lives?

5) On the island of Scyros, what motivates Deidameia’s desire to speak to Patroclus alone? What does she hope to achieve?

6) To what extent does Achilles’ ultimate destiny shape his choices? Is there such a thing as free will in this world?

7) Historical events can sometimes turn upon the will or personality of a single person. Aside from Achilles, are there other characters whose faults or virtues significantly affect the Trojan War’s outcome?

8) Myths are often called “timeless” for their insights into human behavior. What parallels do you see between the characters and conflicts of this novel and today? What pieces of Patroclus and Achilles’ story can be universalized?

9) What is the significance of song and music in the novel?

10) Patroclus is often a self-critical narrator. Consider how other characters in the novel regard him—do they see him in the same way he sees himself?

11) As represented in the novel, what are some of Odysseus’ defining qualities? Do you find him a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

12) Consider the explosive falling out between Achilles and Agamemnon. In what ways are each of them at fault for the rift? Could it have been avoided, or was it inevitable given that Achilles’s fate is determined?

13) Achilles and Briseis each claim Patroclus’ loyalty and affection. In what ways are they similar or different? What are the dynamics of each of their relationships with Patroclus?

14) What does the encounter between Priam and Achilles reveal about Achilles? Why do you think Achilles grants his request?

15) Near the end of the book, Odysseus comes to speak to Pyrrhus on Patroclus’ behalf. Why do you think he does this? How did it change (or not) your opinion of Odysseus?

16) Peleus warns his son that any mortal who visits the sea-nymphs in their caves beneath the sea does not return the same. How is this belief borne out by the character of Pyrrhus, who was raised there? In what way does Pyrrhus confirm or deny Patroclus’ fears about the gods?

17) In the final pages of the book, we learn more about Thetis. How does this affect our view of her?

18) Patroclus tells Thetis that he is “made of memories.” What does he mean by that? What role does memory—both personal and cultural—play in the novel?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Praise:

“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 )

“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 )

“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 )

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