Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction

Characters from The Song of Achilles: Mortals


Son of the king Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis, he was the greatest warrior of his generation, as well as the most beautiful.  The Iliad names him "swift-footed" and also praises his singing voice.  He was raised by the kindly centaur Chiron, and took the exiled prince Patroclus as his constant companion.  As a teenager, he was offered a famous choice:  long life and obscurity, or short life and fame.  He chose fame, and sailed to Troy along with the other Greeks.  However, in the ninth year of the war he quarreled with Agamemnon and refused to fight any longer, returning to battle only when his beloved Patroclus was killed by Hector.  In a rage, he killed the great Trojan warrior and dragged his body around the walls of Troy in vengeance.  He was eventually killed by the Trojan Prince Paris, assisted by the god Apollo.


A Trojan noble, the son of the goddess Aphrodite and the mortal Anchises, renowned for his piety.  He fought bravely in the Trojan war, but was known best for his adventures afterwards. As Vergil tells in the Aeneid, he escaped the city’s fall and led a group of survivors to Italy, where he married a native princess and founded the Roman people.


Brother of Menelaus, he ruled Mycenae, the largest kingdom in Greece, and served as the over-general of the Greek expedition to Troy.  During the war he quarreled often with Achilles, who refused to acknowledge Agamemnon’s right to command him.  Upon his return home after Troy's fall, he was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. Aeschylus depicts this incident and its aftermath in his famous tragic cycle The Oresteia.


The king of Salamis and descendent of Zeus, known for his enormous size and strength.  He was the second greatest Greek warrior after Achilles, and memorably stood against the Trojans’ attack on the Greek camp when Achilles refused to fight.  However, after Achilles' death, Agamemnon chose to honor Odysseus as the most valuable member of the Greek army.  Ajax went mad with grief and rage, and killed himself.  His story is movingly told in Sophocles’ tragedy Ajax.


Born a princess of Cilicia, near Troy, she became the loyal and loving wife of Hector.  She hated Achilles, who killed her family in a raid.  During the sack of Troy, she was taken captive by Pyrrhus and carried back to Greece.  After his death, she and Helenus, Hector’s brother, founded the city of Buthrotum, which they built to resemble the lost Troy.  Vergil tells their story in Book 3 of the Aeneid.


Achilles’ charioteer, skilled at handling his divine, headstrong horses.  After Achilles’ death, he served his son Pyrrhus.


Taken captive by the Greeks in their raids on the Trojan countryside, Briseis was given as a war-prize to Achilles.  When Achilles defied him, Agamemnon confiscated her as a punishment.  She was returned after Patroclus’ death, and in Book 19 of the Iliad, she and the other women of the camp mourn over his body.


A priest who advised the Greeks, encouraging Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, and to return the captive slave-girl Chryseis to her father.

Chryses and Chryseis

Chryses was an Anatolian priest of Apollo.  His daughter, Chryseis, was taken as a slave by Agamemnon.  When Chryses came to retrieve her, offering a generous ransom, Agamemnon refused and insulted him.  Enraged, Chryses called upon his god Apollo to send a plague to punish the Greek army.  When Achilles publicly urged Agamemnon to return Chryseis to her father, Agamemnon erupted, precipitating their dramatic rift.


Daughter of King Lycomedes, and princess of the island kingdom of Scyros. To keep him from the war, Thetis dressed Achilles as a girl, and hid him among Deidameia’s ladies-in-waiting.  Deidameia discovered the trick and secretly married Achilles, conceiving the child Pyrrhus.


The King of Argos.  Known for both his guile and his strength, Diomedes was one of the most valued warriors in the Greek army.  Like Odysseus, he was a favorite of the goddess Athena, who in Book 5 of the Iliad grants him supernatural strength in battle.


Oldest son of Priam and crown prince of Troy, Hector was known for his strength, nobility, and love of family.  In Book 6 of the Iliad, Homer shows us a touching scene with his wife, Andromache, and young son, Astyanax.


The legendary most beautiful woman in the world, Helen was a princess of Sparta, daughter of the queen Leda and the god Zeus (in the form of a swan).  Many men sought her hand in marriage, each swearing an oath to uphold her union with whoever prevailed.  She was given to Menelaus, but later ran away with the Trojan prince Paris, setting in motion the Trojan War.  After the war, she returned home with Menelaus to Sparta.


Son of Zeus and the most famous of Greek heroes.  Known for his tremendous strength, Heracles was forced to perform twelve labors as penance to the goddess Hera, who hated him for being the product of one of Zeus' affairs.  He died long before the Trojan War began.


King of Crete and grandson of King Minos, of Minotaur fame.


Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, promised in marriage to Achilles, and brought to Aulis to appease the goddess Artemis.  Her sacrifice made the winds blow again, so that the Greek fleet might sail to Troy.  Her story is told in Euripides’ tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis.


King of Scyros, and father of Deidameia.  He unknowingly sheltered Achilles disguised as a girl in his court.


Brother of Agamemnon and, after his marriage to Helen, the king of Sparta.  When she was kidnapped by Paris, he invoked the oath sworn by all of her suitors, and with his brother led an army to retrieve her.  In Book 3 of the Iliad he dueled with Paris for possession of Helen, and was winning before the goddess Aphrodite intervened on Paris' behalf.  After the war, he and Helen returned to Sparta.


The aged king of Pylos, and former companion of Heracles.  He was too old to fight in the Trojan War, but served as an important counselor to Agamemnon.


The wily prince of Ithaca, beloved by the goddess Athena.  He proposed the famous oath requiring all Helen’s suitors to swear a vow to uphold her marriage.  As his reward, he claimed her clever cousin Penelope as his wife. During the Trojan War, he was one of Agamemnon’s chief advisors, and later devised the trick of the Trojan horse.  His voyage home, which lasted another ten years, is the subject of  Homer’s Odyssey, and includes the famous encounters with the Cyclops, the witch Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, and the Sirens.  Eventually he returned to Ithaca, where he was welcomed by his wife and grown son, Telemachus.


Son of Priam who became the judge of the famous "beauty contest" between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, with the golden apple as a prize.  Each goddess tried to bribe him, Hera with power, Athena with wisdom, and Aphrodite with the most beautiful woman in the world.  He awarded the prize to Aphrodite, and she in turn helped him spirit Helen away from her husband Menelaus, thus starting the Trojan war.  Paris was known for his skill with a bow and, with Apollo's help, killed the mighty Achilles.


The son of King Menoitius.  Exiled from his home for accidentally killing another boy, Patroclus found shelter in Peleus’ court, where he was fostered with Achilles.  He is a secondary character in the Iliad, but his fateful decision to try to save the Greeks by dressing in Achilles' armor sets in motion the final act of the story.  When he is killed by Hector, Achilles is devastated and takes brutal vengeance upon the Trojans.


King of Phthia and father of Achilles by the sea-nymph Thetis.  The story of Peleus overpowering the shape-changing Thetis in a wrestling match was a popular one in antiquity.


Long-time friend and counselor of Peleus, who went with Achilles to Troy as his advisor.  In Book 9 of the Iliad, he spoke of having cared for Achilles when he was a baby, and vainly tried to persuade Achilles to yield and help the Greeks.


The Trojan princess whom Pyrrhus sacrificed at his father's tomb, before leaving Troy for the voyage home.


Elderly king of Troy, renowned for his piety and his many children.  In Book 24 of the Iliad, he bravely made his way into Achilles' tent to beg for his son Hector's body.  During the sack of Troy, he was killed by Achilles' son, Pyrrhus.


Formally named Neoptolemus, but called "Pyrrhus" for his fiery hair, he was the son of Achilles and the princess Deidameia. He joined the war after his father's death, participating in the trick of the Trojan horse, and brutally murdering the old king of Troy, Priam.  Vergil tells the story of his part in the sack of Troy in Book 2 of the Aeneid.

Awards & Honors

Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize (now The Women’s Prize for Fiction)

New York Times Bestseller

Massachusetts Must-Read of 2013; Finalist for the Mass Book Award

Stonewall Honor Book, American Library Association

Shortlisted for the UK Independent Bookseller Award

Shortlisted for Stonewall’s Writer of the Year

Finalist for the Chautauqua Prize

Semi-finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

Reviews for The Song of Achilles

“Others have penned imaginative riffs on Homer’s epics, not least Margaret Atwood in her witty and wise The Penelopiad. Yet Miller’s fantastic first novel—shortlisted for the Orange Prize—seems singular in its scope and scholarship. . . Miller has combined scholarship with imagination to turn the most familiar war epic into a fresh, emotionally riveting and sexy page-turner. Patroclus follows Achilles into battle, but it is their magnificent and very modern love story that makes this an epic." ―The Independent

“A wildly romantic retelling of the Trojan Was as a story of longtime companions narrated by Patroclus. Miller plays with the historical record as established by Homer. . . and puts a sexy new narrative spin on the ancients that is surprisingly suspenseful. Some of the suspense comes from curiosities, like who will tell the story after Patroclus dies, but most of it comes from the urgency of Miller’s storytelling. . . bringing those dark figures back to life, making them men again, and while she’s at it, us[ing] her passionate companion piece toThe Iliad as a subtle swipe at today’s ongoing debate over gay marriage. Talk about updating the classics.” ―Time Magazine

The Song of Achilles becomes a quiet love story, one so moving that I was reluctant to move on to the war and Homer’s tale of perverted honor and stubborn pride. But Miller segues into that more public story with grace. Her battle scenes are tense and exciting, as the young, half-divine Achilles comes into his own. . . Informed by scholarship, her imagination blends seamlessly with incidents from The Iliad. In prose as clean and spare as the driving poetry of Homer, Miller captures the intensity and devotion of adolescent friendship and lets us believe in these long-dead boys for whom sea nymphs and centaurs are not legend but lived reality. In doing so, she will make their names known to yet another generation, deepening and enriching a tale that has been told for 3,000 years.” ―Washington Post, Click here for full review.

“You don’t need to be familiar with Homer’s The Iliad (or Brad Pitt’s Troy, for that matter) to find Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles spellbinding. While classics scholar Miller meticulously follows Greek mythology, her explorations of ego, grief, and love’s many permutations are both familiar and new. . . Miller treats the men’s mutual sexual passion with refreshing straightforwardness and convincingly casts their love in such mythic proportions that we’re convinced when Patroclus declares, “He is half of my soul, as the poets say.”” ―O Magazine

“Madeline Miller’s brilliant first novel, The Song of Achilles, is the story. . . of great, passionate love between Achilles and Patroclus, as tragic as that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. . . Even for a scholar of Greek literature, which Miller is, rewriting the Western world’s first and greatest war novel is an awesome task to undertake. That she did it with such grace, style and suspense is astonishing.” ―Dallas Morning News

“Next to the daughter-killing Agamemnon, Achilles was my least favorite character in The Iliad. . . How accomplished is Madeline Miller’s debut novel? Darned if she didn’t make me like the guy in Song of Achilles. Miller, a scholar of Latin and Ancient Greek, brings a remarkably conversational style to her Homeric retelling and manages to inject urgency and suspense into a tale whose outcome is already a foregone conclusion.” ―The Christian Science Monitor

“Miller’s debut novel. . . is a tour de force of history, mythology, politics, and devotion. . . What Miller adds is depth, and life, to every character and facet of the story. . . Immersion into Miller’s world, with descriptions reminiscent of Mary Renault at her best, and not a single false note in the dialogue, is a true pleasure. Readers may suffer from withdrawal as they reluctantly finish this book, and this reviewer hopes to see more soon from this talented author.” ―Historical Novels Society, Editor’s Choice Review

“One of 2012’s most exciting debuts is Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, a prequel of sorts to The Iliad that traces the rise and fall of the Greek golden boy of myth. A young classics scholar who specialized in adapting classical tales for a modern audience at the Yale School of Drama, Miller has penned a seductive, hugely entertaining backstory that lends complexity to Homer’s virile action-adventure by imagining the intimate friendship between Achilles and the devoted Patroclus, who meets his end fighting in the Trojan War on Achilles’s behalf. Scouring ancient Greek texts for every mention of Patroclus, Miller conjures a lonely child whose sympathetic vulnerability becomes the foundation of the bond. The boys grow up together, becoming not simply companions but soulmates. The resulting novel is cinematic—one might say epic—in scope, but refreshingly, compellingly human in detail.” ―

The Song of Achilles retells The Iliad like you’ve never read it before. . . in a realistic account of history and fantasy. . . Madeline Miller’s knowledge of ancient Greek history and her affinity toward the classic myths intensifies the novel and heightens the experience for the reader. Seamlessly blurring the lines of reality and time, Achilles is an amazing, spellbinding page-turner that I couldn’t put down until I’d read it cover to cover, twice!” ―Instinct Magazine

“With this novel, we can fall in love again: for Madeline Miller has made blind Homer sing to her. . . It has the magnificence of myth; it has the passions of humanity. . . Madeline Miller avenges the girls left behind while their brothers and husbands and sons “spoke to Plato.” Her Homer has sung to her, and the result is The Song of Achilles.” ―Bryn Mawr Classical Journal

“Miller skillfully weaves tender scenes of the boys’ relationship with breathtaking descriptions of battles and their bloody aftermath. [Her] degrees in Latin and Greek as well as her passion for the theater and the history of the ancient world have given her the tools to create a masterly vision of the drama, valor, and tragedy of the Trojan War. Readers who loved Mary Renault’s epic novels will be thrilled with Miller’s portrayal of ancient Greece.” ―Library Journal, *Starred review*

“A captivating retelling of the Iliad and events leading up to it through the point of view of Patroclus: it’s a hard book to put down, and any classicist will be enthralled by her characterisation of the goddess Thetis, which carries the true savagery and chill of antiquity.” ―Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History and The Little Friend, in The Times

“To re-write Homer’s Iliad as a modern novel was a bold move—but it has paid off superbly. . . I read this book awestruck with admiration for the quality of its writing, its narrative pace and its imaginative depth. If I were to give a prize for the best work of fiction I’ve read this year, this would be the runaway winner. As a first novel, it heralds the arrival of a major new talent.” ―Reader’s Digest

“For a whistlestop tour around the life and times of Achilles, you’d be hard pressed to find a better guide than Madeline Miller. . . This accomplished and enjoyable novel. . . is original, clever, and in a class of its own. . . an incredibly compelling and seductive read. Her skill is considerable: she has to make us believe in Achilles and Patroclus almost as if they were modern-day characters in a Hollywood movie. . . It’s an entirely successful piece of writing, sitting comfortably between literary and commercial genres. It does what the best novels do—it transports you to another world—as well as doing something that few novels bother to: it makes you feel incredibly clever.” ―The Independent on Sunday

“With language both evocative of her predecessors and fresh, and through familiar scenes that explore new territory, this first-time novelist masterfully brings to life an imaginative yet informed vision of ancient Greece featuring divinely human gods and larger-than-life mortals. She breaks new ground retelling one of the world’s oldest stories about men in love and war, but it is the extraordinary women—Iphigenia, Briseis, and Thetis—who promise readers remarkable things to come as Miller carves out a custom-made niche in historical fiction.” ―Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review*/Pick of the Week

“Only the finest of historical novelists are able to adequately convey the sheer strangeness and otherness of the past, particularly the ancient past. By this criterion alone, Madeline Miller shows exceptional promise. . . a remarkably fresh take on one of the most familiar narratives in western literature. . . It is quite an achievement.” ―The Times

“Miller draws on her knowledge of Classical sources wisely. . . [she] is particularly good at characterization. . . The novel is well paced, engaging and tasteful. For a writer of Miller’s training and talent, the characters of The Iliad and The Odyssey offer a wealth of further story-telling possibilities.” ―The Times Literary Supplement

“[The Song of Achilles is] brilliant at conjuring a world where capricious gods and unbreakable prophecies are simply part of life, and at capturing the tangled amorality of politics and war, like some delirious fusion of Game of Thrones and Jean Genet. . . the story wonderfully brings home how eye-poppingly weird and gripping classical mythology really is.” ―Word

“Beautifully done—sensitive and scholarly, without sacrificing the page-turning qualities of an unashamed romance.” ―The Metro

“Extraordinary. . . Beautifully descriptive and heart-achingly lyrical, this is a love story as sensitive and intuitive as any you will find.” ―Daily Mail

“An original page-turning homage to The Iliad. . . Miller’s prose is vividly atmospheric, retelling the siege of Troy in all its heroic devastation.” ―Marie Claire

“If every first novel I read was as accomplished as this one is, it would say much for the future of publishing. This deft pairing of subject and craftsmanship is enormously impressive, and makes the book stand out as something original and fresh and beautiful. . . it’s on my ‘best of the year’ list.” ―Cornflower Books 

“This is a terrific novel. Miller’s style (uncomplicated) and her language (modern) is a winner. This book, in my opinion, deserves a wide readership. I was enthralled from beginning to end. I shall now tackle the dustier Iliad with vigour (well, perhaps restrained vigour) thanks to Miller for whetting my appetite. Highly recommended.” ―The Bookbag

“Miller’s prose flows easily and poetically, and she treats the relationship between the two men with sensitivity and skill. . . A fascinating debut.” ―Sunday Herald

“I loved the book. The language was timeless, the historical details were slipped in perfectly. I hope Song of Achilles becomes part of the high school summer reading lists alongside Penelopiad.” ―Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

“Mary Renault lives again! A ravishingly vivid and convincing version of one of the most legendary of love stories.” ―Emma Donoghue, author of the bestseller Room

The Song of Achilles is at once a scholar’s homage to the Iliad and a startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist. Madeline Miller has given us her own fresh take on the Trojan war and its heroes. The result is a book I could not put down.” ―Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder

The Iliad turns on Achilles’ pride and his relationship with Patroclus, but Homer is sparing with the personal—so much so that, though we believe in their friendship, we do not understand it. The Song of Achilles brings light to their love. This is a beautiful book.” ―Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey

“Madeline Miller takes the ancient art of the rhapsode, the singer of Homeric tales, and makes it sing again. The mutual devotion of Patroclus and Achilles is at the heart of a world so richly imagined that we seem to walk through it with them. . . Reading this book recalled me to the breathless sense of the ancient-yet-present that I felt when I first fell in love with the classics.” ―Catherine Conybeare, Professor of Classics, Bryn Mawr College

“A real page-turner. It’s a gripping narrative and vividly told.” ―Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx