Madeline Miller met with students at Lincoln High School over Zoom this Monday, answering questions about her writing process for the novel Circe, how she became interested in Greek mythology, and why she omitted Achilles’ famous heel from Song of Achilles.
The student who introduced Miller, Lia, said that Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles is her favorite book of all time. In her introduction, Lia said, “I remember reading passages that I loved outloud to my friends at lunchtime, and crying in my bed at midnight when I finished the book. Three years and five rereads later, I’m still in love.”
“What initially sparked your interest in Greek mythology?” Lia later asked Miller.
Miller said that she initially encountered Greek mythology through her mom, who read them to her as bedtime stories. “She read me a little bit of the Iliad and the Odyssey. She read me the first line of the Iliad, which begins, ‘Sing, goddess, of the destructive rage of Achilles.’ and I was immediately like, why is he so angry? Why is it destructive?”
Miller said she was drawn to the realism of the stories and that they felt like they were about flawed human beings.
Another student asked how Miller’s process for writing Circe differed from writing Song of Achilles.
“The process with Circe was actually surprisingly similar,” said Miller. “The first five years were just me trying to find the voice of this character.” Miller said that she was struggling to let go of the voice of Patroclus, the narrator of Song of Achilles, since she had lived with him in her head for so long. “I knew I needed to let go of him, and Circe needed to have her own voice.”
But, Miller said, but narrators had traits in common: “They both are observant, they’re both honest, and they’re both pretty earnest.”
One student asked how she decided which myths were needed to tell the story of Song of Achilles. Miller said that both Circle and Song of Achilles came out of a feeling of anger. She was angry that the interpretation of Patroclus and Achilles as lovers had dropped out of the discussion in any classes she was in, in both undergraduate and graduate level classes. “I felt like there was a mystery here, who is this Patroclus and why does he mean so much to Achilles?”
Miller said she started at the beginning, though Homer gave us the end. “If it wasn’t going to be this, I wasn’t going to write a book about the ancient world.”
There were twenty-four students and teachers who attended the event. Thank you to our partners at Lincoln High School, who made this event possible: Lori Lieberman, and Principal Peyton Chapman. Special thanks to the Lincoln High School Romance Book Club. Thanks to our Literary Arts staff and especially Olivia Jones-Hall for her work coordinating this visit.