Homer tells us what happened but not why. Miller’s Song of Achilles provides that back story, an exegesis that draws the personal and the intimate out of Homer’s virile action adventure...Gradually, The Song of Achilles becomes a quiet love story, one so moving that I was reluctant to move on to the war and Homer’s tale of perverted honor and stubborn pride. But Miller segues into that more public story with grace … 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 for whom sea nymphs and centaurs are not legend but lived reality.
Miller does not change the accepted events of the story, but she does present an interpretation of Patroclus in The Song of Achilles that differs from the image found in the Iliad. Homer describes Patroclus as warlike, illustrious and godlike. In Miller’s book, he is unloved by his father, and bullied by other boys … Through their story, the character of Achilles is revealed, good and bad. We come to understand Achilles’ intense concern with the acknowledgement of his honor and recognition of his worth that leads him to withdraw from battle to demonstrate just how valuable he is. The author creates a sympathetic character in Patroclus, who narrates the novel. In the Iliad, his life is not given much attention — his importance is in his death which brings a grief-stricken, raging Achilles back into battle. In The Song of Achilles, Patroclus is significant not only in relation to Achilles, but as the lens through which we see the other players.
Although Achilles soon is recognized as the greatest Greek warrior, it is the story of Patroclus — as Achilles’ aide-de-camp, as his friend and lover, as a medic for the Greek army, as protector of a captive girl over whom Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel, bringing disaster upon the Greek camp — that interests Miller more. Meanwhile, Achilles, who cannot function without Patroclus’ help, remains remote and godlike. Even for a scholar of Greek literature, which Miller is, rewriting the Western world’s first and greatest war novel is an awesome task to undertake. That she did it with such grace, style and suspense is astonishing.