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The Song of Achilles as Political Statement

11/06/2012 12:34 pm ET | Updated Jan 06, 2013

I loved The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. But only today do I realize how much of a political statement it is. Gay marriage? Of course! Strong single parent families? Bring 'em on! Wars? Of course not!

How well Miller captures the relationship of Patroclus and Achilles, from their first meeting as boys, through the years of their education and maturation, and right into the Trojan War, where tragedy and fate and the Gods themselves cannot vanquish a love so true and so deep. But hell on wheels, both God and men sure do their very best to test the love, and to destroy it.

As much as The Song of Achilles is about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, it is also an exploration of parental love (and, indeed, single parenting). Thetis, goddess mother of Achilles; Priam, father of Hector; Lycomedes, father of Deidameia; Chiron, father of no one but father figure to Patroclus (so much so that he takes on the name, son of Chiron, when seeking to disguise himself): all represent different variations of parental love, demonstrated in so many different ways but each one very real to me, like a kaleidoscope of my own experiences of loving and protecting my children. I can imagine myself fighting for them -- and how horrible it is to imagine myself grieving for them, in the event of a terrible war.

And the Trojan War, as told by Homer in The Iliad and retold here by Miller, is a very, very terrible war. From the fateful choosing by Helen of Menelaus as her husband to her later dumping of hubby for the beautiful Paris, and the resulting launching of a thousand plus ships, Miller doesn't flinch (as Homer didn't flinch) from presenting the blood soaked brutality of battles, sieges, and division of the war booty.

And so it occurs to me that not only is The Song of Achilles a romantic love story and an exploration of parental love, but it is also, much like The Iliad, an anti-war polemic, powerful and convincing. Mitt Romney told Obama, "We can't kill our way out of this mess..." No matter who wins today, I hope he takes to heart that message: we cannot kill our way out. We have to pull out of wars and stop pouring money into them.

Contrast the peace of Patroclus and Achilles' youth, with the horrors of the years of battle, and the choice is clear: peace over war. Because in the end, it not Achilles' glorious moments in battle that bring him back to his mother Thetis; it is through Patroclus remembering and relating their shared moments of love and peace, that Thetis finally discovers who he really was: a beautiful soul and a loving man.