To tell the truth, my knowledge of Achilles before picking up this book was just limited to Troy and his Achilles heel. I watched the movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt, long long ago, but I did not know by then that the flow of events portrayed in that movie was so far from the Iliad by Homer. Only after reading this movie that I came to realise how sophisticated the story of Achilles was, and why he was regarded as one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology.
Although Achilles was most associated with the Trojan war, it was nice to be introduced to the young boy long before the war started, and knew how he grew up to be the warrior that he was known to be. And it was very interesting to learn how his story intertwined with the story of Patroclus, his friend, soulmate, partner, lover and most loyal associate. I never heard about Patroclus, and never knew about that relationship before, so it was really an eye opener for me, and it showed how open and liberal society was, thousands of years ago. Does it mean we are going backwards, and turn more stereotyping and close minded as we become more modern?
Another refreshing aspect of the book was that the story was told from the view point of Patroclus, and not Achilles. Achilles was the center of attention, so it would be good to avoid the limelight, and look at how events unfolded from the backstage. In that case, Patroclus offered a perfect position for telling the story, from the time of his birth, to his struggle to find a place in the society at that time, to the evolution of his relationship with Achilles, to his eventual demise and what came after that. I came to know a lot more about Achilles and the people around him, not just the hero Achilles, but the young man Achilles, who was very much human, with love and hate, anger and sorrow, frustration and satisfaction. He was proud, but not to the level of the gods in Olympus. He was powerful, but he was still a mortal. And he had a great, beautiful, albeit non-traditional love. Such a 360 degree view of the hero we came to love was quite rare, and exciting.
As much as I love Achilles, I felt even more connected to Patroclus, and his life and his journey. It was interesting to see how he felt from grace, and redeemed himself through his efforts and actions, and ended up winning the love and respect of all the soldiers who witnessed his heroic final act. He was the perfect example that people should be given a second chance, and one mistake, no matter how big, should not close all the doors in front of that person forever. He killed one person, but he saved many, and those should be counted when judging if he were a hero or a villain. He might not get the recognition that he deserved, but he had the undivided love of Achilles, and for him, that would be enough.
Seeing how much the two men loved each other, I could feel the pain of Patroclus when Achilles lost his way and was overcome with pride and selfishness. And I could feel even more clearly the pain of Achilles when Patroclus died. A big part of Achilles died with him that day, and from that day on, he was not himself anymore. He had no more joy, no more happiness, just a warrior who knew no fear, even the fear of death, and to him, his eventual death must have been a relief, for he finally could be reunited with his best friend and lover. Therefore, even though the ending was sad, it was the best that could happen in that situation, and it was a consolation that they were finally together again.
The book also delved into the complicated relationship between Achilles and his mother, the goddess Thetis. Here I love the way the author interpreted the reason for their love-hate feeling towards each other, and the role it played in the big picture of his life. And I learn why Achilles was born. I don’t think all those details are present in the original Greek myths, and that is the reason why the book is so successful: It weaves together the disjointed stories, and add its own interesting insights, stories, connections and interpretations. Well done Madeline. I cannot wait to get hold of and devour another book of yours in a near future.