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Feminist and Will to Power Lens

Greek mythologies and the characters of Greek myths have had a pivotal importance in shaping human civilization. The aim of this paper is to analyze the literary elements that Miller uses in order to portray the feminist aspect as well as the distinct power dynamics that existed in the ancient Greek mythologies. Mythologies represent a genre in literature that gives the readers a window to peek at the past that was rich with diversity. Homer’s The Iliad is considered to be one of the three major epics of Greek Mythology, it follows the story of the trojan war and undertakes the narrative discourse of dealing with the events that surrounded the trojan war.

However, Homer’s narration, modern critics believe, was filled with prevalent stereotypes regarding power and gender which did not give the characters enough space to pan out and follow their own destinies. The modern era saw the emergence of the retelling of ancient myths which created a niche in literature for the characters that were not dealt with the importance and sensibility that they deserved. The song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is one such story. The present paper will analyze the novel with a feminist as well as a ‘will to power’ lens and will focus on evaluating the author’s process while creating the masterpiece.

Miller uses the novel, ‘The Song of Achilles’ as a tool to write back to the ancient society that dared to commit harm to characters who deserved more love and care. Miller published the book in 2011, centuries after the publication of three original Homeric epics, and being a modernist writer, she dared to choose the topic of Achilles and Patroclus’s love story as the underlying theme of the novel. Miller is a feminist writer and she undertakes, in her works, the tropes of women’s writing. This process can also be seen in another of Miller’s works, Circe, which follows the story of a nymph who was exiled and who is known in history as the witch who turned Odysseus’s men into pigs, nut, Miller manages to narrate the story from Circe’s own point of view. Similarly, through this book, Miller aims to tell the story of a love that was entirely pious in its existence and yet was denied throughout history by writers and historians (Marturano).

Looking at the story within the spectrum of a feminist lens, it can be understood that Miller employs a narrator who is extremely sensitive to the atrocities that were forced upon the lives of women in the ancient Greek era. Ever since the beginning of the novel, Miller undertakes the process to state that the ancient Greek heroes, as well as gods, were extremely cruel towards women. Patroclus’s own mother, Philomela, was treated as a ‘simple’ individual who did not deserve enough importance in the creation of history merely because of her lack of intellectual capability. Throughout the course of the story, Menoetius can be seen constantly frowning upon the fact that he has a ‘simple’ wife. Miller traces how brutally his mother is treated by Menoetius, the father of Patroclus, examining the concepts of patriarchy, she analyzes the ways in which the women were treated as famished beings who existed solely to either pleasure or praise the superior sex, the men of their lives.

Treatment of Women in Ancient Greek Epics

Further, Miller traces how women in the ancient world were treated as properties that can be ravaged and owned by men as per their convenience. Throughout the narration, women can be seen being raped and kidnapped just because the men of the story believed that they can either take their revenge or feed their hunger for power by destroying the individuality of women who ‘belonged’ to the enemy. While following the story, Miller manages to include the women who were brutally treated by Homer in his epic by incorporating their bodies as tools that exist as a remembrance of a time when women could be ‘claimed’ by men.

Through the incorporation of a feminist lens in the story, Miller is able to generate a theme of the will of power as well where she mourns the fact that women were mostly marginalized in the ancient Greek epics. However, as Miller is a modern writer, she gives equal importance to the fact that while on one hand women were treated brutally by the Greeks, on the other hand, the goddesses in Greek mythologies were extremely powerful, and no one could make the mistake of overpowering them as their powers controlled the turn of events that took place throughout the course of Greek history.

While the Greek gods were also extremely influential, Miller focuses on the Goddesses, giving the story an arc where she aimed to balance the power equation among genders. While tackling this issue, Muller also manages to portray the paradox that existed in this equation. While giving her female characters power and portraying that most of the time the power that was given to these characters resulted in events that were entirely unruly and which always benefited others, she examines how the power that existed in female identity in ancient Greek was nothing more than an illusion. The employment of this trope by Miller represents the utter literary genius that exists in her writing style.

Miller examines how the power that was ‘given’ to the female identity was used as a tool by the male existence under the façade of ‘unruly’ goddesses. Even the fact that women change the course of events is not entirely true as they cannot afflict changes actively. The figures of the mothers of both Achilles and Patroclus stand in an utter contract of their sons and their husbands, they are women who are rendered powerless and senseless because of the male dominance in their lives.

For instance, even though Thetis, Achilles’ mother, is a nymph, she is raped by his father which makes him the progeny of assault. Throughout the course of the novel, Thetis can be seen relentlessly working towards establishing the power that was brutally taken away from her by the assault inflicted upon her by the men in her life and she aims to commit to this through Achilles, as he is a man who, she believes, will not ravage her as others did.

The powerlessness of both the female figures is extremely important as it propels the story of Achilles and Patroclus forward. This very occurrence establishes that the men of Greek civilization could walk towards their destiny only if the women surrounding them surrendered to the notion of utter powerlessness. Female powerlessness and the oppression of the female identity thus become one of the major underlying forces of the novel that drives the plot to its ending, an ending that Miller beautifully defines with the overwhelming courage that exists in love.

Empowerment of Female Characters

Another aspect of the novel that shook its readers and made them realize the utter importance of its existence is the fact that the novel deals with a love story that breaks the prominent conventional norms regarding gender. Through this book, Miller undertakes the creation of a historical and classical work of art where she examines the actual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Up until now, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was defined by historians as that of friends or brothers, maybe in order to hide the homosexual aspect of their relationship. But Miller explains through her book that homosexual relationships were quite common in ancient Greece and that the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus was of fated lovers and nothing else. This narrative discourse that Miller undertakes helps define the power paradigm that existed between these prominent characters. Apart from the fact that ancient Greek gods used the female characters and the powers that they possessed in order to abuse their existence, through this book, Miller also evaluates the power dynamics of Achilles and Patroclus.

Achilles is considered to be one of the greatest Greek warriors while Patroclus is somehow always remembered as the frail, fragile and vulnerable friend of Achilles who dies amid the war because of his seemingly ‘stupid’ decision to adorn Achilles’s armor and fight on his behalf when he is inevitably and unfortunately killed. But Miller manages to underline the underlying connotation of this event, she manages to describe the love that existed between the two warriors, and how this love was so powerful as well as pious that it moved Patroclus to sacrifice himself for his beloved.

This arc that the story undertakes gives Miller the ability to create a work that belongs to the niche of Queer studies. A part of literature that has been majorly neglected for the most part of the world’s history but is now gaining the importance that it always deserved. By creating male characters who are hopelessly in love with each other, Miller manages to portray that vulnerability that exists in masculinity. At various points of their lives, Achilles and Patroclus are forced to depict the vastness of their masculine powers by their parents so that they could show the world that they have produced powerful offspring. Miller beautifully gives the baton of narration to Patroclus, a character who has been wronged by history in every turn of the events that took place in his life. Ever since the beginning of his life, Patroclus was constantly frowned upon by his father because of his ‘unmanly’ stances and because of the fact that he was not able to accomplish the masculine space in ancient Greece, the way that his father had wanted. The concept of the will of power comes into the narrative through the very fact that Patroclus’s father constantly decides on his behalf in order to make him more masculine so that he can portray the qualities that have been enlisted to manhood.

Similarly, Achilles’s life and his decisions are constantly overshadowed by the influence that his mother, Thetis, has over him, whose fate, in turn, is shaped by the will of Gods and the power that they possess. Miller explains how Thetis was given as a reward to Peleus and even though she is a Goddess, she is made to suffer through the exalting and humiliating process of being ‘possessed’ by a god. Thus, it can be stated that the novel follows a specifically structured pattern of the cycle that defines the power dynamics that existed in ancient Greece.

In conclusion, it can be stated that Madeline Miller, through her novel, ‘The Song of Achilles’, portrays the prevalent norms regarding the imbalance of power between genders that existed in ancient Greek civilization. Looking at the novel through a feminist as well as a ‘will to power’ lens, the present paper analyzed the portrayal of gender as well as oppression in the novel while also undertaking a thorough discussion regarding Miller’s employment of a distinct trope through which she explains how the power that does exist in the female gender is used by the men as a tool with which they can toy. The paper majorly focused on the characters of Thetis and Philomela and analyzed through the incidents that take place in their lives and the way that the men in their lives treat them, how the female identity was continuously consciously smothered and faded into the background by the male characters.

References

Marturano, Melissa. "Ovid, Feminist Pedagogy, Toxic Manhood, and the Secondary School Classroom." The Classical Outlook 95.4 (2020): 147-151. April 2022. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/26983714>.

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