The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller
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The Song of Achilles Characters

The main characters in The Song of Achilles are Patroclus, Achilles, and Thetis.

  • Patroclus, the novel’s narrator, is a gentle Greek prince who grows up alongside Achilles and becomes his lover. During the Trojan War, he serves as a healer and ultimately dies while fighting in Achilles’s place.
  • Achilles is a half-mortal, half-divine prince prophesied to be the Greeks’ greatest warrior and to die at Troy. After Patroclus’s death, he is driven mad with grief.
  • Thetis is a sea nymph and Achilles’s mother. Though she has always disapproved of Patroclus, she agrees to reunite him with her son in the underworld.


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Last Updated on April 2, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682


Patroclus, the novel’s narrator and a Greek prince, is a gentle person who loves Achilles above all else, almost from the time they first speak to each other. He grows up with Achilles, and the two fall in love. Though Patroclus hates battle, he is willing to follow Achilles anywhere, including into the Trojan War. Once there, Patroclus finds meaning in caring for others: the men, in the medical tent, and the young women whom Achilles rescues at Patroclus’s behest. Caring about other people gives Patroclus the courage to do extraordinary things, including going into battle in Achilles’s armor and fighting the Trojans in his place. It is Patroclus’s death in battle that motivates Achilles’s return to the fight.

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Achilles is the son of a human king and a sea goddess and is the subject of many prophecies. He is the greatest of the Greek warriors and has known his whole life that he will be. As a boy, he is gentle and innocent. He takes Patroclus as his companion and ultimately falls in love with him. When called upon to fight in Troy, he comes into himself as a legend in his own right. Achilles becomes prideful and eventually callous, with his love for Patroclus the only thing tying him to human care. He is unconcerned with the suffering of others until Patroclus dies, and the loss of his gentle lover drives him to mad violence. His death comes as welcome to him.


Thetis is Achilles’s mother and the unwilling wife to his mortal father, King Peleus. She despises Patroclus as a weakling that her son has an unreasonable affection for. Throughout the book, she tries to protect Achilles with all her godly powers, manipulating him and his knowledge of the prophecies to keep him out of danger. Despite all her cunning and the cold-blooded actions she takes on her son’s behalf, she fails to keep him from dying at Troy. Though she has been contemptuous of Patroclus all his life, it is Thetis who takes the final act of pity in carving Patroclus’s name on the shared tomb. Her communion in grief with Patroclus brings her to care about his reunion with Achilles, so she takes the action that will make it possible.

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Latest answer posted November 24, 2020, 10:07 pm (UTC)

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Odysseus is the prince of Ithaca, the clever and ruthless man who originally had the idea to make all the suitors swear to protect Helen. He pretends innocence but is always carefully calculating about everything he does. When Achilles is disguised as a woman, Odysseus manipulates Achilles into revealing himself in order to recruit him for the war. Serving as a close member of Agamemnon’s council, Odysseus is sometimes a go-between for him when Agamemnon wishes to communicate something to Achilles. Odysseus is also the main character in Homer’s Odyssey, the sequel to the Iliad.


Agamemnon rules the kingdom of Mycenae and has the most powerful army in the Greek world. It is his brother Menelaus whose wife, Helen, is stolen, giving Agamemnon a reason to attack Troy. Chosen to be general over all the Greeks, Agamemnon is very conscious of his status and is constantly making political maneuvers. Achilles’s pride angers him, and that anger grows over the course of the book. When he takes Briseis from Achilles, he creates the battle of wills that dooms Patroclus, Hector, and finally Achilles.


Briseis is a Trojan woman who is captured early in the war. Achilles requests her as his war prize because Patroclus asks him to. Patroclus becomes friends with her, teaching her Greek. Briseis and Patroclus provide comfort to the other women Achilles rescues, teaching them and caring for them. Briseis falls in love with Patroclus, but he gently tells her that he does not want a wife. They remain close. When Achilles is willing to let Agamemnon rape Briseis, Patroclus’s rage leads him to choose Briseis’s safety over what Achilles would want. This loving action also undermines Achilles and increases the tension between Achilles and Agamemnon.

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