‘Falling in love is glamorous hell’ writes Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in her poem ‘You’ collected in Rapture. Madeleine Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles has recently won the Orange prize for Fiction and lyrically explores the ‘rapturous’ territory of romantic and erotic love between two men. The love is made more complex due to one of the lovers being the half god Achilles and the other being a merely human, banished Prince named Patroclus.
Miller’s narrative is delivered in first person throughthe I/eye of Patroclus and here we recognise that the narrator’s self conscious awkwardness around Achilles is a sign of his growing fascination with the gorgeous young warrior.
”Patroclus.’ Achilles did not slur my name, as people often did, running it together as if in a hurry to be rid of it. Instead, he rang each syllable: Pa-tro-clus…”
Our names are all we have between our solitary state and the rest of the world. Patroclus is powerfully affected by Achilles’ attention, his respect for the dignity of his lonely companion. As Duffy knowingly declares in her Rapture collection, there is a moment where the beloved’s name becomes a ‘charm’ and that is the moment of falling in love.
Here Miller conveys the magic of Achilles’ attention to the awkward young boy Patroclus and suggests that the movement of his mouth in giving expression to his companion’s name is like a song. For Achilles ‘rang each syllable’. It is an early declaration of care and interest. It is the beginning of love. Our name sounds lyrical, even special when said by someone we love. Here there is tenderness and even subtle erotic knowing. Achilles is lingering through the syllables as he will later linger through the ecstatic exploration of his lover’s body over his own.
Next Entry: Meet Chiron the Centaur!
The Woman in Black
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