Historical fiction is definitely one of my favorite genres. I have read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller before, but wanted to re-read it this summer.
Song of Achilles
This is a familiar story for anyone familiar with the Western literary canon, but unlike the traditional telling, The Song of Achilles looks at The Iliad and the Trojan War through the eyes of Patroclus, Achilles' lifelong companion.
You know the story: Paris steals Helen from Menelaus and that launches a thousand ships to wage war on Troy. During the conflict, Agamemnon, Menelaus' brother, steals a slave girl from Achilles. The greatest warrior that ever was refuses to fight for the Greeks any longer, so Patroclus dons Achilles' armor instead and is slain by Prince Hector of Troy. Achilles kills Hector and drags him around the walls of the city. Then Paris kills Achilles. The difference in this re-telling is the narrative that leads up to the war.
Pederasty in ancient Greece was a socially accepted and acknowledged romantic relationship between an adult male (the erastes) and a younger male (the eromenos) usually in his teens. Homosexual relations between men of the same age was much more rare. When I read The Iliad in my Western Civilization class in college, the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles was described as a deep connection or friendship; there may have been speculation that they were lovers, but it certainly wasn't the prevailing theory. Miller roots her story in that exact interpretation: she portrays Achilles, Aristos Achaion "the best of the Greeks", as a man in a loving, life-long relationship with Patroclus. They became lovers as teens and remained together until death.
Miller's story is told through Patroclus' eyes...oddly, even after his death, he still narrates the tale. I found this a highly enjoyable take on the story. Miller develops Patroclus and Achilles as fully fledged characters, depicting them from childhood all the way through adulthood. She paints a sincere devotion between them; though both briefly experiment with sex with women - Achilles even marries and has a child -, they never stray too far from each other and Achilles refuses to leave Patroclus despite intense pressure from his mother, Thetis. This is a solid read for fans of historical fiction and/or classical re-tellings. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Fish - Eyes and All
There isn't a whole lot of food in this book. But a few passages from their time with Chiron stand out. "Every evening and every morning we helped with meals, churning the thick goat’s milk for yogurt and cheese, gutting fish. It was work we had never been allowed to do before, as princes, and we fell upon it eagerly. Following Chiron’s instructions, we watched in amazement as butter formed before our eyes, at the way pheasant eggs sizzled and solidified on fire-warmed rocks" (pg. 75).
They ate beef stew and lots of fruit. Then I was inspired to make a whole roasted fish that was simple but completely embodied eating well, in my mind. "The meal was very good that night, roasted fish dressed with lemon and herbs, fresh cheese and bread, and he ate well" (pg. 34).
I know there are a lot of people who don't like to eat whole animals: fish with eyeballs, shrimps with heads, etc. But we love it! So I decided to share whole oven-roasted black bass. That's what was fresh at the market the day I made this dinner.
serves 3 or 4
2 whole black bass, gutted, but head and tail intact
freshly ground salt
freshly ground pepper
organic herbs (I used parsley)
organic lemon wedges or slices
Also needed: parchment paper-lined baking sheet
Lay your fish on a parchment paper and preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle the inside cavity of the fish with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slices and herbs along the inside. You can secure the fish with a toothpick or twine. I just folded it closed and placed it on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Place some lemon slices on the top. Then sprinkle the outside of the fish with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and place in the oven. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes - until the flesh is opaque and the skin is browned and crisped. Serve immediately.