Characters from The Song of Achilles
Son of the king Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis, he was the greatest warrior of his generation, as well as the most beautiful. The Iliad names him “swift-footed” and also praises his singing voice. He was raised by the kindly centaur Chiron, and took the exiled prince Patroclus as his constant companion. As a teenager, he was offered a famous choice: long life and obscurity, or short life and fame. He chose fame, and sailed to Troy along with the other Greeks. However, in the ninth year of the war he quarreled with Agamemnon and refused to fight any longer, returning to battle only when his beloved Patroclus was killed by Hector. In a rage, he killed the great Trojan warrior and dragged his body around the walls of Troy in vengeance. He was eventually killed by the Trojan Prince Paris, assisted by the god Apollo.
A Trojan noble, the son of the goddess Aphrodite and the mortal Anchises, renowned for his piety. He fought bravely in the Trojan war, but was known best for his adventures afterwards. As Vergil tells in the Aeneid, he escaped the city’s fall and led a group of survivors to Italy, where he married a native princess and founded the Roman people.
Brother of Menelaus, he ruled Mycenae, the largest kingdom in Greece, and served as the over-general of the Greek expedition to Troy. During the war he quarreled often with Achilles, who refused to acknowledge Agamemnon’s right to command him. Upon his return home after Troy’s fall, he was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. Aeschylus depicts this incident and its aftermath in his famous tragic cycle The Oresteia.
The king of Salamis and descendent of Zeus, known for his enormous size and strength. He was the second greatest Greek warrior after Achilles, and memorably stood against the Trojans’ attack on the Greek camp when Achilles refused to fight. However, after Achilles’ death, Agamemnon chose to honor Odysseus as the most valuable member of the Greek army. Ajax went mad with grief and rage, and killed himself. His story is movingly told in Sophocles’ tragedy Ajax.
Born a princess of Cilicia, near Troy, she became the loyal and loving wife of Hector. She hated Achilles, who killed her family in a raid. During the sack of Troy, she was taken captive by Pyrrhus and carried back to Greece. After his death, she and Helenus, Hector’s brother, founded the city of Buthrotum, which they built to resemble the lost Troy. Vergil tells their story in Book 3 of the Aeneid.
Achilles’ charioteer, skilled at handling his divine, headstrong horses. After Achilles’ death, he served his son Pyrrhus.
Taken captive by the Greeks in their raids on the Trojan countryside, Briseis was given as a war-prize to Achilles. When Achilles defied him, Agamemnon confiscated her as a punishment. She was returned after Patroclus’ death, and in Book 19 of the Iliad, she and the other women of the camp mourn over his body.
A priest who advised the Greeks, encouraging Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, and to return the captive slave-girl Chryseis to her father.
Chryses and Chryseis
Chryses was an Anatolian priest of Apollo. His daughter, Chryseis, was taken as a slave by Agamemnon. When Chryses came to retrieve her, offering a generous ransom, Agamemnon refused and insulted him. Enraged, Chryses called upon his god Apollo to send a plague to punish the Greek army. When Achilles publicly urged Agamemnon to return Chryseis to her father, Agamemnon erupted, precipitating their dramatic rift.
Daughter of King Lycomedes, and princess of the island kingdom of Scyros. To keep him from the war, Thetis dressed Achilles as a girl, and hid him among Deidameia’s ladies-in-waiting. Deidameia discovered the trick and secretly married Achilles, conceiving the child Pyrrhus.
The King of Argos. Known for both his guile and his strength, Diomedes was one of the most valued warriors in the Greek army. Like Odysseus, he was a favorite of the goddess Athena, who in Book 5 of the Iliad grants him supernatural strength in battle.
Oldest son of Priam and crown prince of Troy, Hector was known for his strength, nobility, and love of family. In Book 6 of the Iliad, Homer shows us a touching scene with his wife, Andromache, and young son, Astyanax.
The legendary most beautiful woman in the world, Helen was a princess of Sparta, daughter of the queen Leda and the god Zeus (in the form of a swan). Many men sought her hand in marriage, each swearing an oath to uphold her union with whoever prevailed. She was given to Menelaus, but later ran away with the Trojan prince Paris, setting in motion the Trojan War. After the war, she returned home with Menelaus to Sparta.
Son of Zeus and the most famous of Greek heroes. Known for his tremendous strength, Heracles was forced to perform twelve labors as penance to the goddess Hera, who hated him for being the product of one of Zeus’ affairs. He died long before the Trojan War began.
King of Crete and grandson of King Minos, of Minotaur fame.
Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, promised in marriage to Achilles, and brought to Aulis to appease the goddess Artemis. Her sacrifice made the winds blow again, so that the Greek fleet might sail to Troy. Her story is told in Euripides’ tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis.
King of Scyros, and father of Deidameia. He unknowingly sheltered Achilles disguised as a girl in his court.
Brother of Agamemnon and, after his marriage to Helen, the king of Sparta. When she was kidnapped by Paris, he invoked the oath sworn by all of her suitors, and with his brother led an army to retrieve her. In Book 3 of the Iliad he dueled with Paris for possession of Helen, and was winning before the goddess Aphrodite intervened on Paris’ behalf. After the war, he and Helen returned to Sparta.
The aged king of Pylos, and former companion of Heracles. He was too old to fight in the Trojan War, but served as an important counselor to Agamemnon.
The wily prince of Ithaca, beloved by the goddess Athena. He proposed the famous oath requiring all Helen’s suitors to swear a vow to uphold her marriage. As his reward, he claimed her clever cousin Penelope as his wife. During the Trojan War, he was one of Agamemnon’s chief advisors, and later devised the trick of the Trojan horse. His voyage home, which lasted another ten years, is the subject of Homer’s Odyssey, and includes the famous encounters with the Cyclops, the witch Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, and the Sirens. Eventually he returned to Ithaca, where he was welcomed by his wife and grown son, Telemachus.
Son of Priam who became the judge of the famous “beauty contest” between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, with the golden apple as a prize. Each goddess tried to bribe him, Hera with power, Athena with wisdom, and Aphrodite with the most beautiful woman in the world. He awarded the prize to Aphrodite, and she in turn helped him spirit Helen away from her husband Menelaus, thus starting the Trojan war. Paris was known for his skill with a bow and, with Apollo’s help, killed the mighty Achilles.
The son of King Menoitius. Exiled from his home for accidentally killing another boy, Patroclus found shelter in Peleus’ court, where he was fostered with Achilles. He is a secondary character in the Iliad, but his fateful decision to try to save the Greeks by dressing in Achilles’ armor sets in motion the final act of the story. When he is killed by Hector, Achilles is devastated and takes brutal vengeance upon the Trojans.
King of Phthia and father of Achilles by the sea-nymph Thetis. The story of Peleus overpowering the shape-changing Thetis in a wrestling match was a popular one in antiquity.
Long-time friend and counselor of Peleus, who went with Achilles to Troy as his advisor. In Book 9 of the Iliad, he spoke of having cared for Achilles when he was a baby, and vainly tried to persuade Achilles to yield and help the Greeks.
The Trojan princess whom Pyrrhus sacrificed at his father’s tomb, before leaving Troy for the voyage home.
Elderly king of Troy, renowned for his piety and his many children. In Book 24 of the Iliad, he bravely made his way into Achilles’ tent to beg for his son Hector’s body. During the sack of Troy, he was killed by Achilles’ son, Pyrrhus.
Formally named Neoptolemus, but called “Pyrrhus” for his fiery hair, he was the son of Achilles and the princess Deidameia. He joined the war after his father’s death, participating in the trick of the Trojan horse, and brutally murdering the old king of Troy, Priam. Vergil tells the story of his part in the sack of Troy in Book 2 of the Aeneid.
Reviews“A startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist... a book I could not put down.” Ann Patchett, author of the Orange Prize-winning Bel Canto
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