You might be familiar with the term “sapphic,” which is defined as “relating to sexual attraction or activity between women.” You might know of the word's origins, which date back to the ancient Greek poet Sappho, who famously wrote verses on her attraction to women.
But what about the love between two men? What is that called?
The word is less commonly known, though it shares a Greek tradition. It is called "Achillean," in honor of the mythical hero and his companion Patroclus.
The true nature of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has long been debated. Homer's Iliad depicts a deep bond between the two but stops short of naming them lovers.
Plato, however, explicitly calls Achilles and Patroclus lovers in his Symposium. He writes, "The love of Achilles, like that of Alcestis, was courageous and true; for he was willing to avenge his lover Patroclus, although he knew that his own death would immediately follow."
Plato here refers to the prophecy that defined the Trojan War: That Achilles, the champion of the Greeks, would die after the fall of Hector, who was the champion of Troy. Throughout the war, Achilles avoids challenging Hector, knowing that even a victory will spell his own demise.
However, after Patroclus is killed by Hector due to a series of errors and miscommunications, Achilles finds he can no longer stand aside. Thus begins the famous duel that leads to the fall of Troy and the death of Achilles.
The story of the Trojan War has been told a hundred different ways over the course of millennia. It has been recounted as an oral tradition, as a written text, as a big-budget Hollywood film. Movie-goers might recall 2004's Troy, where Patroclus is the cousin and protege of Achilles.
With such a wide array of retellings, the legend of Achilles seemed too popular, too well- established, to leave space for any originality. Then came Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles.
The Song of Achilles further popularized gay romance stories in science fiction and fantasy
The book, which is told through Patroclus's perspective, is less a war epic than an intimate love story between two coming-of-age boys. In some ways, The Song of Achilles is more a retelling of Cinderella than a Greek epic. Patroclus takes on the role of the downtrodden soul, forced into servitude, while Achilles becomes his Prince Charming. The work devotes more pages to the scent of perfume and tender, stolen glances than to the glory of battle or the Trojan Horse gambit.
The Song of Achilles makes explicit what Homer only implied, and the sweeping romance between Achilles and Patroclus remains Amazon's No. 1 bestseller in LGBTQ + Historical Fiction as of this writing, more than a decade after its release.
That is not to say the instant classic lacks action or the mythical elements that fantasy lovers adore. The Song of Achilles is rife with mythic characters like the centaur Chiron and the goddess Thetis.
Rather, it blends genres seamlessly between romance, LGBTQ+, and fantasy. If you're looking for more books that offer a compelling love story between two male characters without skimping on the fantasy or science fiction elements, these eight titles are worth trying.
The Lightning-Struck Heart
The setup for T.J. Klune's The Lightning-Struck Heart reads a little like The Song of Achilles. Sam Haversford assaults a group of "teenage douchebags" (per the book cover copy) and is pulled from his home to become apprentice to a powerful magician. He falls for Sir Ryan Foxheart, "the dreamiest dream to ever have dreamed," and struggles through a series of adventures while battling his own emotions.
However, where The Song of Achilles takes on austere questions of immortality and fate, The Lightning-Struck Tower is more interested in making you laugh. It's a book filled with banter, jokes, and ridiculous fun.
A Complicated Love Story Set in Space
The tagline for A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson says it all, really: "Love is complicated enough without also trying to stay alive."
Such is the push-and-pull for the three teens trapped aboard a spaceship called Qriority, which is about to explode. Neither Noa, nor DJ, nor Jenny even remember how they boarded the ship, but together they must face aliens and the perils of space while dealing with normal high-school drama like falling in love and attending the school dance.
The Red Scrolls of Magic
If you loved The Mortal Instruments and the other bestselling series in The Shadowhunter Chronicles, the Eldest Curses series follow Magnus Bane and his (spoiler alert) boyfriend Alec Lightwood, who are finally an official couple.
All they want is some time away on a European vacation together. When Magnus's past catches up to them, however, the pain are forced into action to stop a demon-worshipping cult ... a cult Magnus started as a joke.
One question plagues them both: Can the love and trust they share survive their secrets? What happens when the looming danger brings the truth to light?
They Both Die at the End
Even a sad ending can't steal the joy of the journey. In fact, in They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera makes a similar bet to the one Madeline Miller made in The Song of Achilles: knowing the end can actually make the moments before more meaningful.
Much of the fantastical elements in They Both Die at the End revolve around the Death-Cast, which can predict the date of someone's death. When Mateo Torres and Rufus Emeterio get the bad news, they decide to try and make a friend on their End Day.
There's an app for that: the Last Friend. It connects Mateo and Rufus, who begin the story as strangers but meet up to share one last grand adventure.
A Marvellous Light
When an administrative mistake lands Sir Robert "Robin" Blyth a mysterious position in the British Home Office, the only man who can clear things up is Mr. Edwin Courcey. That is because Edwin is a magician, and he and Robin must monitor the hidden society within England to ensure their magic is not discovered.
A curse soon threatens Robin's life, and Edwin has no choice but to take Robin home to his magical family. There, he hopes they can save him and help the pair identify the villains who threaten their way of life.
T.J. Klune, author of The Lightning-Struck Heart, had this to say about A Marvellous Light: "The prose is sublime, the world-building top-notch, and the magic system is fascinating and unique. But what made me the happiest is how delightfully queer this story is. Robin and Edwin have my whole heart, and I adored watching their relationship blossom."
Autobiography of Red
Heroes of ancient Greece. Coming-of-age romance. The moving portrait of a talented young man coming to terms with his identity. Does that sound familiar?
Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, which is based loosely on the 10th Labor of Herakles, published in 1998 (well before The Song of Achilles). The novella explores the relationship between Geryon, a boy who is also a winged red monster, and the roguish Herakles, who offers a fickle and frustrating sort of love.
The book, which has been praised for its lyrical prose, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The Times review called Autobiography of Red "a profound love story . . . sensuous and funny, poignant, musical and tender."
All That's Left in the World
A pandemic has killed off most of the world's population, including everyone Andrew and Jamie have ever loved. When they find each other, then, they have nothing left to lose. Perhaps that's why it's so easy to trust each other.
Both of them have secrets: There's something off about Andrew's story, and Jamie ... Jamie is beginning to fall for Andrew.
When they are forced from their shelter, the boys set out to find civilization. It's Jamie and Andrew against a broken world, and on the long road ahead, they must summon the courage to face their truths and fight for one another.
Silver in the Wood
Tobias Finch prefers his quiet existence with his cat and his cottage. Henry Silver wants to know more about the odd man who lives in his newly purchased forest.
In his eagerness, Henry digs up secrets of magic and the woods better that Tobias would have preferred to leave buried. The deliberate, atmospheric novella (it's just 92 pages) revolves around the dichotomy between these two men as they learn to put down literal and metaphorical roots.
Featured photo: Jim Makos / Unsplash