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With poise, articulation and dramatic passion, Madeline Miller '00 MA '01 read from her breakout novel, "The Song of Achilles," Monday night at an event presented by the Brown Bookstore. Miller read two passages to a small but engaged audience, answered several questions and then stayed to sign copies of her book and speak to students, faculty and staff on a more intimate level. 

Miller's book tells the story of Patroclus, a young exiled prince who eventually builds a strong connection to Achilles, the famed Greek hero of the Trojan War. Patroclus is a small part of the classic story of "The Iliad" and a friend to Achilles. His death drives the fearless fighter into a passionate rage on the battlefield of Troy. 

In the short excerpts Miller shared with the audience, Miller read about the early life of Patroclus, her novel building the young man's story into the epic myth as a foil to Achilles. Miller told the audience that her goal was to "(sew) him into the Achilles legend," adding that from the time she realized she wanted to write about "The Iliad," the narrator she imagined was always Patroclus

"Who could be ashamed to lose to such beauty?" Patroclus narrates. Miller read some of the moments when the young prince develops his deep love for Achilles. As the young boys play, Patroclus is filled with feelings that he cannot understand. It is young love at its finest.

"My tongue ran away from me," Miller read. In the excerpt, Patroclus feels completely devoid of worry when with Achilles. 

Miller's sense of voice for the relatively unknown classic character is clear and flowing, showing a keen sense for the full story of her narrator. Miller was a classics concentrator during her time at Brown and also earned a master's degree in classics from the University. 

As an academic in classics, Miller said she was always drawn to Patroclus' death in "The Iliad" and wondered why Achilles was so passionately devastated at the loss of a little-known character. Achilles reacted to the death "at a whole other level," she said. 

Though her background in classics certainly influenced the discovery of her topic, what she has done is all original, said Joseph Pucci, associate professor of classics, who was Miller's mentor during her time at Brown. The voice and imagination of the life of Patroclus "is really all her," he said.

Pucci said that if students want to write like Miller, they should just write every day in order to be true to their topic and to discover their passion. 

Miller's own process writing the book was "very messy" and took 10 years, she said. After five years of writing, she threw away a complete draft and started from scratch, she said. Miller said at first she felt she could not find Patroclus' voice. It was epic poetry, but not with the lyricism that she wanted.

Despite the length of Miller's process, the author still feels drawn to the myths. People keep returning to these stories because "they really speak to the human experience," she said. They capture the "love, pain, loss, ambition and joy. ... All the world is in Homer." 

Miller's time at Brown was an "expansive experience" that gave her the confidence to try Patroclus' story, she said. While at Brown, Miller directed the Shakespeare play "Troilus and Cressida," which centers on Homer's myths. Though she had never directed a play before, Miller said she always wanted "to participate in these legends in a more active way."

Even after 10 years with classic stories, Miller is still interested in other characters, and she said she would "love to stay in Homer's world for another book."



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