Circe and The Song of Achilles

Taking periodic breaks from marathoning through Stephen King’s bibliography has proven necessary. After reading the brilliant A Thousand Ships last week, the same friend that turned me on to that book was kind enough to lend me two more retellings of stories from ancient Greece. The books were Circe and The Song of Achilles, both by Madeline Miller. I found both of them to be fascinating, compelling reads that I had a damn hard time putting down. Both books put relatively minor characters from those well-known stories front and center and gave me completely new perspectives on characters that I was familiar with. I absolutely loved both of these.

Circe

Circe is the daughter of the titan Helios, most famous for her role in The Odyssey where she turned Odysseus’ men to pigs and spent a year as the famed king’s lover. The novel recounts the story of her life, from her childhood to discvoering her talents for witchcraft to her exile on Aeaea. Throughout the novel, she encounters several figures from Greek mythology. Some of the best parts of the book detail her interactions with these figures. Her witnessing of Prometheus’ punishment for bringing humans fire is both beautiful and violent. Her interactions with Daedylus are some of the most fascinating passages in the novel. The great engineer is a fantastic character in his own right–strong, wise, and compassionate. Her creation of the sea monster Scylla is another standout scene. Circe herself makes a compelling charcter. She grows from a lonely girl into a fierce and strong woman. When Circe finds love with Telemachus at the end of the novel and goes on adventures of her own, my heart cheered for her. When reading The Odyssey, I had never considered what the rest of Circe’s life might have been. Miller creates a compelling, beautiful, and at times tragic story around her. Writing about this book now, I want to read it again. It was INCREDIBLE.

The Song of Achilles

While Achilles is the ttlle character, the story is told from the perspective of his companion, Patroclus. I had always found Achilles an interesting character. This novel gives an interesting perspective on the well known warrior. It is a coming of age tale, and a romance, and a war novel, all rolled into one endlessly readable packaage. Patroclus, exiled by his father, finds himself in the court of Achilles father and is almost instantly intrigued/smitten by the young Achilles. Eventually, Achilles selects Patroclus as his companion and the two quickly become inseperable. Their relationship evolves from friendship into a budding romance before being cut tragically short on the battlefield as depicted in The Iliad. Miller’s portrayal of the young Achilles is fascinating. There is a stoicism to him as a young boy and he commands attention on every page while he embraces his destiny as the greatest warrior the world has ever known. There is no mystery as to why Patroclus falls so deeply in love with him. One of the more interesting sections of the novel finds the two young boys staying with Chiron, the centaur, as his students. It is here that they learn the skills necessary for their later battles and where they fall in. love and consummate their relationship. The recounting of the Trojan War is another standout section. Achilles is an impressive warrior and his defiance of the completely unlikable Agamemnon makes for good reading. The heartbreak Achilles feels at Patroclus’ death is echoed by the reader. The beautifully tragic conclusion of the novel is perfect. I LOVED this book.

2 responses to “Circe and The Song of Achilles”

  1. Madeline Miller gave me recs for Siani! Siani had a phase of loving Greek mythology and I send a message to Miller to ask for books she thought were worth seeking out. It was so cool that she responded to me.

    Like

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