— The Song of Achilles, the Triumph of Achilles, and the enchanting retellings of ancient Greek mythology —
Madeleine Miller’s The Song of Achilles is a tender and beautiful retelling of the legend of Achilles. The son of a king and a sea-nymph, Achilles he grows up to become a warrior of legendary skill. The book tells the story of Achilles and Patroclus, first his childhood companion and later his beloved brother-in-arms during the decade-long siege of Troy.
The Song of Achilles started a shared obsession in my friendship group. Next, I read Pat Barker’s two books retelling the legends of Achilles and Troy from the perspectives of the female characters. Then I read Stephen Fry’s retellings of the legend of Troy and other Greek mythology, Ursula Le Guin’s retelling of Troy, and Miller’s second book, about other Greek heroes. Then I read Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients based on the cover illustration of black-figure terracotta vases (though it turned out to be about neither ancient Greece nor mythology ), and anything else I could lay my hands on that in any way could have been connected to the legend of Achilles.
When, a year later, I came across the below poem in an anthology of the works of Louise Gluck, I was entranced. It felt like Miller’s The Song of Achilles was a novel-length unfolding of Gluck’s poem, The Triumph of Achilles. Both poem and novel tell a powerful story of devotion and sacrifice, and illuminate the strength of the love between the two warriors. I have shared the poem below, and hope you will enjoy it as much as I did – if you loved The Song of Achilles, then you will love The Triumph of Achilles, and vice versa.
The Triumph of Achilles
In the story of Patroclus
no one survives, not even Achilles
who was nearly a god.
Patroclus resembled him; they wore
the same armor.
Always in these friendships
one serves the other, one is less than the other:
is always apparent, though the legends
cannot be trusted–
their source is the survivor,
the one who has been abandoned.
What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to this loss?
In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.
© Louise Gluck, published in The Triumph of Achilles, 1985