Though The Iliad is often considered one of the greatest literary works of all time, there is a lot that is left out of this epic poem, especially in regards to Achillesh and Patroclus. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller provides the background that is missing in The Iliad and Miller answers all of the questions that readers were left with after finishing the poem. Her book dives further into the character of Thetis, showing a side of her that Homer doesn\’t present in the poem. Miller also provides the reader with a better understanding of Achilles’s devastation in reaction to Patroclus’s death because it showcases their relationship before the war. Miller’s The Song of Achilles functions as a background story that gives 21st century readers a better understanding of the characters and their relationships in The Iliad.
Thetis, the immortal mother of Achilles, plays a pivotal role in The Iliad. She is seen as the caring, doting mother who will do anything for her child. Thetis is often seen coming to Achilles’s rescue, like when she goes to Zeus on his behalf to convince him to aid the Trojans during the war and when she goes to Hephaestus for a new shield because Hektor has taken Achilles’s armor. Thetis is the classic mother figure except for the fact that she is immortal and she has a son that isn’t. The Iliad shows her constantly trying to help Achilles and come to terms with his mortality since she can’t save him from death despite the fact that she is a goddess. Achilles’s fate is constantly discussed in the poem, especially by Thetis, like when she says “Ah me,/ my child. Your birth was bitterness. Why did I raise you?/If only you could sit by your ships untroubled, not weeping,/since indeed your lifetime is to be short, of no length.” (Homer 1.413-416). She is clearly concerned for her son and will do anything to help him, but Thetis is conveyed much differently in The Song of Achilles. Miller presents a side of Thetis that is not shown in The Iliad, the side that only cares for her son and disregards anyone else. Thetis is described as an immortal goddess who despises all mortals, especially those in the company of her son. When Achilles is sent off to be taught by Chiron and Patroclus follows, Achilles has to explain that Thetis doesn’t want Patroclus around her son because “he is a mortal and not a fit companion” (Miller 80). Thetis also expresses to Patroclus how Achilles will be a god (Miller 53). With this description of Thetis, it is easier to understand the relationship that she has with Achilles in The Iliad and why she is constantly running to his aid. Miller expands on the struggle of Thetis as an immortal mother to a mortal son because she wants her son to be a god. But Homer shows how she has accepted his fate and understands that he is destined to die early.
The most important aspect of Miller’s response to The Iliad is the way that she is able to interpret Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship. Patroclus was killed during the war and Achilles was devastated, crying to his mother that “my dear companion has perished, /Patroclus, whom I loved beyond all other companions, /as well as my own life” (Homer 18.80-83). Achilles is so upset about Patroclus’s death that even when he does go back to fight in the war, he can’t eat and all he cares about is avenging Patroclus. It’s hard for the reader to understand why Achilles grieves over Patroclus in the way that he does because Homer doesn’t explain their relationship very well. Miller does. The reader learns about how Patroclus and Achilles met each other because he was exiled and sent to live with Peleus. Through a series of events, the two eventually become close companions to the point where they sleep in the same room. When they’re on the beach together Patroclus says, “he has looked at me a thousand times, but there is something different in this gaze, an intensity I do not know” (Miller 63), making the reader believer that there are romantic feelings between the two teenagers. Their true feelings for each other would explain Achilles’s behavior in The Iliad after Patroclus is slain. Achilles reacts more like a widowed lover than a friend who has lost his comrade. Miller’s book compliments Homer’s epic poem because it explains the character’s behaviors and why they react to things the way that they do.
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