So I mentioned in my last post that I am a tricky customer… well you are about to find out just how tricky a customer I can be. Because, despite what follows in this review, I actually really liked this book. I thought it was very compelling, with great characters and a sweet romance. And yes, it made me cry.
For that reason (and I’m gonna break with tradition by saying this now) I gave this book 4/5 bananas:
However, I studied Classics at uni and this didn’t quite match up with my understanding of the history or literature. Now this isn’t anything personal, I just don’t know if there’s ever a case where two classicists agree on any interpretation (at least in my experience 😉 )
Let’s start with some of the issues I had with the book as an interpretation of the Iliad. Some of my issues were merely niggling ones- like Patroclus not being a warrior (which made no sense because Miller had to adhere to the myth of having him kill Sarpedon)- yes he was gentle (epios) but in Greek terms that also means being harsh with your enemy. Little things- like explaining supplication and the blatant (and yet slightly out of place) nod to hubris also got on my wick as well. Then there were the slightly bigger issues- like the fact that Achilles really, really didn’t remind me of the Achilles of the Iliad- sorry but he’s just not that nice!– in order to make the plot still work, the author had to give him a personality transplant halfway through. Even then, his menis seemed more like a temper tantrum than the rage of someone who was practically a demi-god.
So that wasn’t great- but it wasn’t my biggest problem. Because from a historical perspective, I thought the way Patroclus saved Briseis was a *fundamental* misunderstanding of Greek culture. There is *no way* that they would have been rescuing the women from Agamemnon’s harem- for historical accuracy’s sake I have to point out that Greek culture was so misogynistic that it wouldn’t have been considered cheating on a male partner to be with a woman- being with a woman didn’t count. Which brings me onto another issue- gay relationships and pederasty (now known as paedophilia) were super common and totally socially acceptable- because according to some social commentators being with a man who was your equal was seen as the only way you could actually experience love- again women just didn’t count.
Still, I did like the humanising of the myth and liked how the gods weren’t missed out (as they are in so many retellings). And for the most part, I really have to praise this as a wonderful vision of the story and say that it has a brilliant power to evoke emotions. Overall, there were aspects I really loved about Song of Achilles, I just think that I will always struggle with retellings of the Iliad.
Phew- I feel bad after all that! Well- am I the only one that has difficulty with some retellings? Am I the only one that really struggles with this? Let me know in the comments!