First Half Discussion #AchilleSong

Greetings, Singers of The Song of Achilles!  tsoabymm2 tsoabymm by Madeline Miller. Got your lyre ready?

In my usual rambling style, I will offer questions, quotes I liked and interesting things of note that will encourage us to share what we are enjoying so for in the story and what we are not. I read the first half rather quickly – to Chapter 17: When Achilles and Patroclus arrive at the beach to meet Agamemnon, before they all set off for Troy. I was waiting to post this before I finish but am hoping it will be this afternoon!

I have read the P.S. included in my copy: the Meet the Author, Insights and Interviews, etc. Hope you have that, I hope to chat about that here, too.

FIRST. I must share that I barely know the Greek mythology. This may be obvious when I say that I do not know who Mary Renault is. The cover of my edition shows a quote by Emma Donoghue, “Mary Renault lives again!” and I have no clue who or what this Mary person is. In order to check my guess, I seek goodreads and find that Ms. Renault wrote historical fiction of ancient Greece. I actually might have heard of The King Must Die, not that I would have guessed it was about Theseus*. Has anyone read it? Want to? I think I might! so more books go onto the tbr… Ah, I see my imaginary (and very influential on my reading choices) friend Ruthiella has read this. Cool.

Second question, would you put The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller in the HISTORICAL FICTION category? Do we care? Must we genre-fy everything. (Perhaps that question is an aside best tackled another time.)

I have had the opportunity to listen to Madeline Miller speak at the 2012 Boston Book Festival and really enjoyed the talk and how she presented herself, how truly excited she is about this project of hers. Having taken 10 years to write and maybe I assume the getting it published time was added to that, the reception to this award-winning book must be a thrill and a half. I blame Softdrink’s review for first bringing this book to my attention and I know I must blame Miller herself for ensuring I WOULD read this. So thank you all again for joining me here.

Style. The prose has been said to by lyrical (appropriate, no?) and beautiful. At first encountering it, I was struck by how short and simple the sentence structure seems but the sentence and paragraph construction feels highly artistic and powerful. I marvel.

…, I would mumble from my bed, “Is she well?”

And he would answer. “Yes, she is well.” And he might add:  “The fish are thick today” or “The bay is warm as a bath.” And then we would sleep again.
~ p.52

Spoilers. If you know your Greek gods, you know how this story will progress. Actually, the story itself more than hints that Achilles will die. Do you think the author has balanced this well for those of us who may be murky on Achilles, the Trojan War and who is who? (I guess, I framed that question to say I would agree.)  She drops in the prophecy, “Hector’s death will be first.” in the conversation between Thetis and Patroclus so we know we can expect death.

Also, in the Q&A between Miller and Gregory Maguire, he asks a question about authorial decision. A long question about combining present and past tense and techniques that as a layperson like me would likely never notice consciously (which again would speak to the author’s skill) and then Miller complements him on ‘framing the question without spoilers’! I got excited all over again to keep reading but instead starting poking around at movies about Troy,


and picked up on spoilers I kind of wish I hadn’t read/seen. Oh well. Discuss – CAN this book be spoiled?

Do you like Patroclus? Do you think he is ‘surprising’? Do you think he was ‘surprising’ because he was one boy who didn’t fawn all over Achilles AND that he had a reputation? It reminds me how we never want what is easy. We are always wanting the thing that is a little harder to get.

I love Achilles. Can’t help it. I love kids like him who are confident and don’t even know it. That are easy and smart and make eye contact. I love his father  — and boy-howdy, I did not like Patroclus’ father. I can’t help think of how much we shape our children with our expectations. Oh how subtle and obvious we are with our words and actions. “Why do you always screw up!”, “The teachers don’t get it that you have a learning disability and shouldn’t be expected to read this”, “You’ll make your best friends in college” etc…

Or has Achilles (ARISTOS ACHAION!!) already changed into something more egotistical with his choosing glory over a long life? DID he choose? or is he just embracing his destiny?

“Achilles nodded and bent over the lyre. I did not have time to wonder about his intervention. His fingers touched the strings, and all my thoughts were displaced. The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once. A few hairs slipped forward to hang over his eyes as he played. They were fine as lyre strings themselves, and shone.” ~p.34

I’m seriously thinking I might want to read The Iliad.  I love books that only add more suggestions to my tbr.

SO FAR: My notes, trying to keep track…
Ch 1 – Son of kings, simple mother, smiling bride.
Ch 2 – Attempt to be suitor to King Tyndareus’ dot. Blood oath not to fight. (Proud of myself for thinking this important!)
Ch 3 – Killing the boy and banished. p.22 – meaning of Patroclus (“honor of the father” – ha! what was I just saying about expectations?)
Ch 4 – Meeting Achilles
Ch 5 – Therapon = companion. Confidence of a prince, “He is surprising.”
Ch 6 – Friendship (age 12) “Gods and mortals never mixed happily in our stories.” ~p.51
Ch 7 – The kiss
Ch 8 – The Centaur Chiron
Ch 9 – Learning from Chiron
Ch 10 – “She cannot see us here.” – whoa:  instant recognition of the weight of that statement!, pink quartz cave
Ch 11 – Called back to Phthia,“They never let you be famous and happy.” ~p.105
Ch 12 – Helen captured by Troy; Sycros/Lycomedes/Deidemeia & Achilles/Pyrrha (fire hair), Achilles swears to son. ~p.137 (LOTS happen in this chapter!)
Ch 13 – Deidemeia and Patroclus
Ch 14 –
Ch 15 –
Ch 16 –
Ch 17 –

p.22  jape – to say something mockingly
p.127 moue – grimace or pout
p.144 craven – lacking the least bit of courage, contemptibly fainthearted, “as craven as you are ugly”
p.145 goad – something that pains as if by pricking


* I’m at risk of being deathly boring, I couldn’t tell you who Theseus is…


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22 thoughts on “First Half Discussion #AchilleSong

  1. Due to my library issues, which are ongoing, I cannot join in this readalong. BUT, I must add that you should read Mary Renault. You have to. She’s wonderful. I’ve loved everything of hers that I’ve read, but if I were going to suggest one in particular, I’d recommend The Mask of Apollo. Oh God it’s so good. I mean they’re all good, but The Kind Must Die is not my favorite. The Mask of Apollo is amazing, and also very amazing is of course The Persian Boy.

  2. Okay, I’m almost halfway there having read during a long car trip today. Honestly, though, it’s just so readable that I’m flying through it–I don’t normally read books so quickly. Although I taught The Odyssey for years and so I know most of the back story from The Iliad, I didn’t know much about the details of Achilles’ story before the Trojan War. I don’t know how much of it is based on the mythology and how much Miller has taken creative license, but she’s written such an incredibly accessible story, for all that it’s set in the context of ancient Greece. I love the relationship between P&A, which is sweet and loyal and really sexy. (Is it wrong that I find the relationship between two teenage boys sexy? Never mind, it must be the influence of the rose quartz cave).Anyway, I’m interested to get to the next part, since Odysseus and company have just shown up and I have a feeling our boys will be going to war soon…

    1. Sure, let’s go with the sexy rose quartz cave. I *really* like Odysseus. He’s a crafty one, it seems! Wondering if he is the same in The Odyssey?

  3. I knew very little of the story behind this. I have some acquired random knowledge of Greek mythology (largely due to Disney’s HERCULES) and some school learnin’. I have read a few books of THE ILLIAD, and I knew things did not end well for Achilles, but I did not know when and how, exactly. I looked a few things up though as I was reading this book, and I found a few spoilers that I kind of wished I hadn’t.

    But I loved this book, spoilers or no. The writing is simple and yet very beautiful, as you say. This was a very fast read for me and very enjoyable. Even though the story is well known, there was enough detail and newness here to make it both fresh and authentic. There are some things that happen at the end that surprised me. My basic knowledge of Achilles’s tale is a different version than Homer’s in THE ILLIAD. But that’s for later discussion.

    I’m definitely up for a readalong of THE ILLIAD at some point! Thank you for hosting this!

    1. Yep, me, too. Started wondering if I should know more and then when I found out more, wished I hadn’t! But it is still good.

      I will admit the Heracles and Hercules names confuse the HECK out of me.

  4. I am blessed with a terrible memory for plot details and so even though I knew the stories, I didn’t remember exactly how these particular characters fared. I was actively avoiding anything that will jog my memory…except sometimes I have had to look things up in her glossary and then I’d be reading it all squinty-eyed so I wouldn’t accidentally read the part that says “and dies in Troy.” Failed on a couple of counts. Ah, well.

    I’m thinking yes on the Historical Fiction question, because of the way she brings the setting to life with bits of language and the details she puts in about their customs. I’m so impressed with how she slips these things in, without being all heavy-handedly “I am a Classics expert!” about it.

    I can’t even tell you how thrilled I am with this book and the way it’s brought this ancient story to life for me. Can not wait to hear what her next project will be and REALLY HOPE it won’t be another 10 years in the making.

    1. ==> “I’m so impressed with how she slips these things in, without being all heavy-handedly “I am a Classics expert!” about it.”

      Me, too! I really enjoyed the interview at BBF with the Harvards classics prof even tho some of it was over my head. She made it sound like FUN.

      I hope her next will be faster to pub, too.

  5. sharli17

    I am loving this book! I read a lot of Greek and Roman mythology in highschool, so I do know quite a bit in that regard but am loving the details and nuances that Ms. Miller has written in. And so, my answer is yes to this being an historical fiction.

    I want the read Mask of Apollo too. I do not recall reading any of Ms. Renault’s books, so I am keen to take up the suggestions.

    As you can see by the time of night that I am posting this (12:23am), I am being a bad girl and reading this lovely book past my bedtime ….

    1. Good for you for being able to read late. You’re probably done by now?! SOrry this comment got caught in spam – it is possibly that wp thought your website was spammy, since it goes somewhere spammy-like. Do you no longer have the blog?

  6. I forgot to say in my review, which is up today, that I stayed up until 11:30 one night reading this book, which is an hour past the time I’m usually asleep, since we get up before that rosy-fingered wretch, dawn.
    I love/hate all versions of this story. It’s so tragic and beautiful. I liked the way the movie Troy showed that it was tragic from all sides; I’d never had as much sympathy for Hector before.
    One of the things I learned from teaching is that, according to Greek law, it didn’t matter if Helen was kidnapped or left Menelaus of her own accord. He was responsible for her, and if he let her get kidnapped, that was as bad as if she left him willingly. Oh, those Greeks.

    1. And were you under the covers with a flashnight, reading in bed, up too late?!

      “rosy-fingered wretch, dawn.” I saw that this morning…

      So do we ever know why Helen chose Menelaus to marry?

      1. Not in this book. If you meet the author again, ask her what she thinks. But I’ll bet it will be like asking William Goldman for the reunion scene in The Princess Bride…

        1. Guess I will just have to read The Iliad and see if says/hints of it. Or just one of those grand mysteries that Homer threw in to drive us crazy.

  7. Ruthiella

    I have read two books by Renault: The King Must Die and The Persian Boy. I can recommend both. Her style is different from Miller’s however, in particular she does not incorporate the gods into her stories the way Miller did. But they are good.

    I also liked the Song of Achilles. I didn’t know how it would end either! Never seen Troy, never read Homer.

    1. I just finished! And it still surprised me, even though I thought I had spoiled it. I do need to go read the question again in the interview to see if I can figure out what he wasn’t spoiling.

  8. Well, I’m convinced. Especially since it sounds like it’s enormously readable. I just put a hold on it at the library, and I’m the 38th hold for 37 copies, so I probably won’t get it in time for the readalong …

  9. Ha, I had n idea who Mary Renault was either! I was surprised by how Patroclus managed to humanize Achilles. It’s impossible to see him through Patroclus’ eyes and not fall in love with him.

  10. Pingback: Final Discussion #AchilleSong | Care's Online Book Club

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