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The Song of Achilles Summary and Key Themes

If you want a modern retelling of the Iliad, you have to check out “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller.  

In this tale, we dive into the legendary Trojan War through Patroclus’ eyes, exploring his profound bond with Achilles. Amidst ancient Greek myths, they confront destiny’s unyielding grip and the relentless quest for glory, redefining heroism in a saga that echoes through time.

The Song of Achilles Summary

Once upon a time in ancient Greece, there lived a young prince named Patroclus, more of a wallflower than a warrior, who unintentionally lands himself in big trouble. 

How big? 

Well, he accidentally kills a nobleman’s son (oops!) and gets exiled to Phthia, a twist of fate that changes his life forever. 


Because he meets Achilles, the super cool, demi-god-like son of a king and a sea nymph.

Achilles, being the charismatic and kind soul he is, decides Patroclus is his new best friend. This friendship blooms into something more, a deep, heart-fluttering romance

But Achilles’ mom, Thetis, is not having it. 

She’s like the ultimate helicopter parent and tries everything to separate them – think ancient Greek drama at its peak!

Our lovebirds end up training with Chiron, a centaur who’s basically the Yoda of Greek mythology. Fast forward, and war is brewing over Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships. 

Achilles’ dad is like, “Son, time to be a hero!” 

But Thetis, knowing a prophecy that Achilles will meet his doom if he fights in Troy, hides him in Scyros, dressed as a girl. Surprise! Achilles becomes an accidental husband and soon-to-be dad.

Patroclus, heartbroken but determined, tracks Achilles down. But the secret’s out when Greek big shots Odysseus and Diomedes show up. Achilles, torn between love and glory, chooses to join the war, knowing it’s his ticket to eternal fame.

Fast forward to the Greek army, stuck because of no wind. Turns out, the goddess Artemis wants Agamemnon’s daughter sacrificed. Yikes! Achilles is dragged into this messy business, causing major beef between him and Agamemnon.

As the war against Troy intensifies, Achilles becomes a legend on the battlefield, while Patroclus, the softer soul, finds solace in helping the wounded. Drama unfolds when Agamemnon snatches away Briseis, a woman Achilles and Patroclus had vowed to protect. 

Achilles, in a major huff, refuses to fight. Talk about a lover’s spat with epic consequences!

The Greeks start losing, badly. Patroclus, unable to stand seeing his pals suffer, hatches a plan. He dresses up as Achilles, thinking he’ll scare the Trojans and then bounce. But, plot twist! He gets carried away, kills a big-shot Trojan, but then – oh no – Hector, Troy’s MVP, kills him.

Achilles, now heartbroken and furious, re-enters the war, avenges Patroclus by killing Hector, but then gets killed himself. The story could have ended on this tragic note, but there’s a ghostly twist. Patroclus’ spirit is stuck wandering because Achilles’ son, under Thetis’ influence, leaves Patroclus out of Achilles’ tomb.

But don’t worry, this tale has a happy ending! Thetis, finally seeing the love between Achilles and Patroclus, adds Patroclus’ name to the tomb. And voila! The lovers reunite in the afterlife, happily haunting together forever.

And that, dear friends, is the rollercoaster ride of love, war, and destiny in “The Song of Achilles”!

the song of achilles summary

Also Read: All The Light We Cannot See Summary and Key Lessons

Key Themes

1. The Complexity and Value of Love

The novel portrays the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus as one of deep, abiding love that transcends the boundaries of traditional friendships and romantic relationships of their time. 

This love is not only central to their personal happiness but also influences their actions and decisions throughout the narrative. The lesson here is about the transformative power of love and its ability to bring out the best and sometimes the worst in individuals. 

Patroclus’s love for Achilles drives him to acts of great courage and ultimately to his tragic end. 

Their story shows that love can be a source of strength, guiding individuals to overcome obstacles and societal norms, but it can also lead to vulnerability and personal tragedy.

2. The Pursuit of Glory vs. The Value of a Humble Life

Achilles is constantly torn between his desire for kleos (glory) and a simpler, more peaceful life with Patroclus. 

The book underscores the ancient Greek concept of glory and honor as pivotal cultural values. However, it also presents the other side of this pursuit – the loss of a peaceful life and the potential for happiness in simpler, less celebrated existences. 

This lesson is particularly relevant in today’s success-oriented society, where personal achievements and public recognition often overshadow the importance of personal contentment and the value of unremarkable, everyday experiences.

Also Read: All Your Perfects Summary and Key Lessons

3. The Inevitability of Fate and Human Agency

In Greek mythology, fate plays a dominant role, and this is evident in the book. 

The characters are often aware of their destinies, particularly Achilles, who knows about the prophecy of his early death. Despite this, they exercise their agency, making choices that align with or sometimes rebel against their fates. 

The novel suggests that while fate may set the parameters of our lives, how we live within these boundaries is a matter of personal choice and moral courage. 

Patroclus, despite not being destined for greatness, chooses a path of compassion and loyalty, impacting those around him and leaving a lasting legacy. 

This teaches us about the power of individual choices and actions, even in the face of unchangeable outcomes.

Final Thoughts

“The Song of Achilles” is arguably a perfect retelling of a classic Greek epic, focusing on the human aspects of its legendary characters. 

Miller’s narrative delves deeply into the emotional and psychological dimensions of Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship, offering a fresh perspective on the ancient tale. 

The novel skillfully blends themes of love, destiny, honor, and the human cost of war, leaving a lasting impact on its readers.

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