A mythical retelling of The Iliad, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is Patroclus’ story. Miller’s beautiful prose in The Song of Achilles, which was shortlisted for the Stonewall Writer of the Year award, enthralled the masses and left many of us hungry for more. Here are a few of our suggestions if you’ve already devoured Miller’s other bestselling novel, Circe.
Song of Achilles is primarily a love story, telling the story of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship from the time they were boys to the time they fought in the Trojan War. As they are mentored by the mythical centaur Chiron, their friendship blossoms into love. Madeline Miller takes us on a heartbreaking journey of love and loss as she and her companions are swept away to fight for the Greek king Agamemnon. If you’re looking for more books like The Song of Achilles, we’ve compiled a list of five that we think will satisfy your craving.
The Silence of the Girls: A Novel by Pat Barker
Pat Barker’s latest novel, The Silence of the Girls, was released in 2018. In a way, Barker’s book is similar to Miller’s The Song of Achilles in that it tells the Iliad from Briseis’s perspective. Briseis is taken from Achilles by the sadistic Agamemnon, who has sentenced her to be his bed slave for the crime of killing her entire family. After a series of unfortunate events, Achilles is forced to leave the Greek war effort, as is documented in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad. Briseis, on the other hand, is a minor character in the epic, and she only speaks a few lines. For Barker’s modern retelling of the Trojan War, she gives us a new perspective from a woman who has long been written off as an afterthought.
The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
This was Renault’s second novel to feature male homosexuality as a major theme, and it became a best-seller among the gay community when it was published in 1956. Set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War, young Alexias comes of age in a new adult world where his power and status are undercut by war’s corrosive effects on society. Socrates’ controversial teachings begin to enthrall him. Lysis is one of Socrates’ students with whom he forms a close relationship. The effects of famine and conflict are vividly conveyed by Renault’s masterful depiction of Ancient Greece.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
In 2005, Canongate released this novella by Canadian author Margaret Atwood as part of the first set of books in the ‘Myth’ series. During the time her husband Odysseus is fighting in Troy, Penelope is forced to raise her son Telemachus alone, fending off hundreds of suitors who want to dethrone Odysseus and claim Penelope as their own, all while bringing up her son alone. The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature nominated book shows the dark side of the Odyssey and the suffering of the women at its heart.
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Princess with the Flaming Hair, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, won the Locus Award for best novel. The modern retelling of Ursula’s story is a stunning improvement over Virgil’s Aeneid, in which she barely speaks a word. King Turnus of Rutulia is the preferred suitor for Lavinia according to her overbearing mother Amata. Lavinia, on the other hand, has other plans—she dreams of the famous Aeneas whom she has been told about by the ghost of Virgil, here simply referred to as ‘the poet’. As Lavinia’s fate has been decided, she knows that her decision to marry Turnus will lead to war because Aeneas has her heart.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
This year, Haynes’s novel, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, explores the Trojan War mythos from the perspective of lesser-known characters. Creusa, Aeneas’ silent wife, awakens to find her beloved Troy engulfed in Greek flames, and even the goddesses, whose conflict is a primary cause of the war itself, are among the mythical women who are brought to life. A retelling of Oedipus and Antigone from the perspective of the cruelly cursed women who were left out of the myth, The Children of Jocasta, is also a work by Haynes.
The Iliad by Homer
Naturally, no list of books like The Song of Achilles would be complete if it did not include Homer’s Iliad, which served as inspiration for the novel.
The Iliad chronicles the Trojan War in one of history’s most renowned epic poems. If you’re interested in Greek mythology, this poem is a must-read. It covers the 10-year war between Achilles and Agamemnon, the many battles and heroes, and the rage of Achilles after the death of Patroclus.
Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship was beautifully explored in The Song of Achilles, which was based on the Iliad’s questions about the nature of their relationship.
The Odyssey by Homer
Last but not least, no list of books like Circe would be complete without mentioning The Odyssey, just as no list of books like The Iliad would.
Odysseus’ ten-year journey home to Ithaca from the Trojan War is the most famous part of Homer’s other epic. To name just a few of Odysseus’ adventures in this epic tale, the hero faces off against Scylla and Charybdis, escapes the Sirens, deceives Cyclops Polyphemus, and is held captive by the nymph Calypso for an extended period of time.
Despite the fact that most people are familiar with these stories, the epic takes up only a small portion of it. On Ithaca, the interesting plot involves Odysseus’ son Telemachus and his wife Penelope, as well as the way Odysseus has to thwart the suitors’ advances.
The most common English-language translation of The Odyssey is by the late classicist Robert Fitzgerald, published in 1965, but I recommend reading the 2017 translation by Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate Homer’s epic into English.
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Among the best books to help you understand the myths behind these modern retellings is Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton.
This book, which was first published in 1942, is a must-have for anyone interested in mythology from the ancient world, including the Greek, Roman, and Norse. It’s possible that, despite its age, you learned about Greek mythology from this book in school.
Classic Greek and Roman myths, such as the origin of the Olympians, Heracles and Jason’s Golden Fleece, and Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon, and Patroclus, are all included in this timeless collection.
A good companion to books like The Song of Achilles and Circe is Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which shows how Miller skillfully expanded upon established myth and humanized some unsympathetic characters.