[Edit: Originally published on June 4, 2016]
I was in middle school, seventh, possibly eighth grade, when I attempted to struggle my way through the Iliad. I did it. I don’t remember it, but I did it. Either way, years later when I was just starting college, I heard about The Song of Achilles. It was the story of Patroclus and Achilles from the Iliad, but more accessible and with a focus on all the gay shit.
It was the first LGBTQ book I ever read and boy did I need it. [Edit: This was not actually the first book LGBTQ book I ever read, but it was the first book I read after I came out. There was a book I forgot about. Whoops.] I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about my gender identity or sexuality at the time. I was trying to feel it out but I was being hammered with a million things that made me doubt and I was scared and this book was a life-line for me. Something queer I could hold on to. I can’t remember how many times I read it that summer. It was the one book I brought to Canada with me when we went to visit my mom’s extended family. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know and I was being misgendered 24/7, but I had my binder and I had this book.
The Song of Achilles, the story of Achilles and his lover Patroclus, is told from Patroclus’ perspective. We don’t meet Achilles right away. We meet him early, but he isn’t named until later. We meet Achilles when Patroclus meets Achilles, because this is after all Patroclus’s story of Achilles and Patroclus does not meet Achilles properly until he is ten. From there we see them go from friends to lovers.
The lovers part is what is so important about this book. This is not a book about the Trojan War, thought the Trojan War does happen in it. This is not a story about Achilles though it is about Achilles. It’s first and foremost a story about Achilles and Patroclus. There is a reason that Patroclus is the narrator.
Patroclus allows us to see the human behind the legend that is Achilles, but we also can never forget that Achilles is half-god and more importantly, we get to see Patroclus. We get to Patroclus grow alongside Achilles. I knew the name Achilles long before I knew the name Patroclus. I think it’s time more people learned about Patroclus.
Now does this book answer the eons-old question of did Achilles top or bottom. No it doesn’t. But it far beats out the adaptations where they try to tell you that Achilles and Patroclus were cousins. They weren’t they were lovers and The Song of Achilles gives you their story.
The biggest warning I would give for this book would be for rape, and discussion of rape. The scenes where this happens are sparse, and you should be able to skip over them without interfering with your understanding of the story.
You can find the book here.
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