Characters and conflicts of myth that Madelyn Miller presents in Song of Achilles have numerous parallels to people and situations in the contemporary world. Miller focuses on individuals who become caught up in impersonal forces, especially the hardships imposed by war. The varying abilities of the main characters to survive the war are strongly shaped by their upbringing. Today as well, we can see how parental values and goals affect children, whose desires and long-term objectives are shaped by both their personalities and their need to become independent from the older generation’s control. These struggles are clearly shown in the love between Patroclus and Achilles, as well as the way that each young man negotiates his identity in compliance with or rebellion against his parents’ influence.
The youths struggle, both separately and together, to understand the meaning of gender roles in relationship to love and loyalty. As Patroclus moves out of his own father’s sphere, he is influenced by both of Achilles’s parents. Ironically, it is Achilles’s father who provides a model of pride and acceptance, while his mother tries to instill courage based in fierce risk taking. Both then and now, we see gender roles crossing boundaries.
Another commonality between past and present is the way a mature child can teach their parent. After experiencing both love and loss, Achilles is able to teach his mother valuable lessons about love.