FREE E-PUB ⚑ The King Must Die ♂

For a man in darkness, there is only one god to pray to The King Must Die is a historical novel by Mary Renault, first published in 1958 Set in Ancient Greece Troizen, Corinth, Eleusis, Athens, Knossos in Crete, and Naxos, it traces the early life and adventures of Theseus, one of the heroes in Greek mythology Ms Renault s story constructs a story around Theseus which, while not a simple retelling of the myth, could form the basis of it The story begins in Troizen, the land of Theseus s grandfather, King Pittheus Theseus believes that he is the son of the sea god Poseidon, and when he discovers that he can sense earthquakes, he considers this is proof of his heritage When he is seventeen, after lifting a stone to recover his father s sword, he learns that his father is Aigeus, King of Athens He decides to travel to Athens, but along the way he unexpectedly becomes the King of Eleusis To be a king , I thought, what is it To do justice, to go to war for one s people, make their peace with the gods Surely it is this Theseus eventually reaches Athens, meets his father and then volunteers to become one of the fourteen bull dancers demanded as tribute by the King of Crete He does not know whether he will survive, or whether he will return to Athens to see his father It is a saying of the Bull Court that the longer you live there, the longer you may In this book, Theseus is made real by Ms Renault s knowledge of archaeology, culture and history He pays homage to Poseidon, but recognises the other gods who are part of the world in which he lives The whole book is magnificent, but I especially enjoyed Theseus s experiences in becoming a bull dancer This novel and its sequel, The Bull From the Sea published in 1962 are two of the best works of historical fiction I ve ever read Theseus s adventures are well legendary, but what works best in this novel is the realistic context and plausible life that Ms Renault has created for him Man born of women cannot outrun his fate Better then not to question the Immortals, nor when they have spoken to grieve one s heart in vain A bound is set to our knowing, and wisdom is not to search beyond it Men are only men Jennifer Cameron Smith I found myself rooting about in my memory, struggling to recall the Greek mythology that I studied as an undergraduate student, as I evaluated this lovely historical fantasy My memory is rather hazy, but I think that Renault did a remarkably lovely job of formulating the myth into a plausible tale.I had to love Theseus young man enthusiasm, his gung ho attitude, and his willingness to plunge into whatever the Gods presented to him and attempt to succeed at it, whether it is wrestling, chasing bandits, governing, or acrobatics Oh, to have that youthful energy later in life I also appreciated that although Poseidon speaks to Theseus, that he doesn t literally appear and conduct a conversation with the young man We just take Theseus word about what he is experiencing when he receives communication from the deity it remains his personal experience, not requiring the reader to join him in his faith.In addition, I found Renault s version of the shift from matriarchal to patriarchal society in the ancient world to be believable.I can see where I will be revisiting some of the classical tales in the near future, to restore my memories and prepare to readof Renault s charming fiction It was Jo Walton s excellent book, Among Others that inspired me to pick up this novel and I am very glad that I did. FREE E-PUB ⚖ The King Must Die ♽ In Myth, Theseus Was The Slayer Of The Child Devouring Minotaur In Crete What The Founder Hero Might Have Been In Real Life Is Another Question, Brilliantly Explored In The King Must Die Drawing On Modern Scholarship And Archaeological Findings At Knossos, Mary Renault S Theseus Is An Utterly Lifelike Figure A King Of Immense Charisma, Whose Boundless Strivings Flow From Strength And Weakness But Also One Steered By Implacable ProphecyThe Story Follows Theseus S Adventures From Troizen To Eleusis, Where The Death In The Book S Title Is To Take Place, And From Athens To Crete, Where He Learns To Jump Bulls And Is Named King Of The Victims Richly Imbued With The Spirit Of Its Time, This Is A Page Turner As Well As A Daring Act Of Imagination I was amazed by how this portrayal of ancient Greece hinges on the description of specific practices How Theseus is treated in formal and personal situations, how he expects to be treated, and what happens he enters into cultural contexts foreign to him all do so much to bring the world to vivid life I learned about how far you can get by writing short insights into expectations of who does what and how. This book was assigned to me in high school, and after that I quickly read every historical novel by Renault I could get a hold of It s certainly one of the books responsible for making me interested in both history and historical fiction Along with Robert Graves, Mary Renault is my gold standard in historical fiction but especially Renault I think becausethan any other author, she gave me the sense that the people in other times, though complex and human, aren t simply moderns in strange dress Renault s books were the first I can remember finding a sympathetic view of homosexuality This isn t to the fore in this particular book focusing on the mythic figure of Theseus probably why it was considered tame enough to be assigned to me in my Catholic High School , but I remember in my teens her depiction of a place and era that put no negative evaluation on homosexuality in novels such as The Last of the Wine and Fire from Heaven was a revelation to me, that yes, the past is a different country I also remember that it took the pagan religion of the time seriously and treated it sympathetically as just another system of belief That too stood out to me.This particular novel also made an impression on me because, like Mary Stuart s Crystal Cave about Merlin, it took a mythical figure I assumed was pure fantasy, and wrote a plausible tale grounding Theseus in the Late Bronze Age world and making him a real and appealing fleshed out figure telling his own story in an engaging voice I highly recommend both this book and the sequel, The Bull From the Sea And her novels of Alexander the Great starting with Fire from Heaven. And the picture of Socrates and Athens during Peloponnesian War in The Last of the Wine Just all of her historical novels are excellent, gripping reads. I hoped to enjoy Mary Renault s work a lot I m not a classicist so much now, but I m still interested, and a plausible retelling that tries to put a bit of history into fantastical myth is usually worth a look, in my view And this was, in some ways realistic up to a point, detailed, exciting at timesI just really didn t like Theseus, the narrator and central character I thought he was smug, and it rankled, especially when he was smug about breaking women s power There are a few positive female characters his mother, some of the bull leapers but really all the time it s an attack on the power women wield It claims to acknowledge the importance of that female power, and perhaps if things were different with Ariadne, it would have, but her doll like aspect, her childlike disconnection It just all rang the same note don t put power in women s hands.That was profoundly discomforting to read, regardless of how accurate it may be as a portrayal of the attitudes of the period.The other main problem was how much it dragged for me Layer on layer of detail, of embroidering the stories and explaining every detail The breathless moments during the bull leaping were the best part. This is a fictional imagining of the real life adventures of Theseus that ended up being the origin of the Ancient Greek myth of Theseus The story follows the same outlines of the myth less the direct interventions of the gods and minus the actual existence of minotaurs However, that doesn t mean the gods play no role in the story The narrative is in the first person voice of Theseus and he considers himself to be the son in a spiritual sense of Poseidon His faith in Poseidon leads to prayers and divine guidance that is similar to current day language used by Christian believers.If this story has any historicity it would have occurred circa 12th century BC when Minoan dominance was nearing its end As the story begins the surrounding nations are still required to pay tribute to Knossos Among these obligations included the sending of a certain number of young people each year to be bull dancers a form of bull fighting where a number of dancers are in the arena at the same time with the bull, and their role was to entertain the crowd by teasing the bull This includes such things as vaulting somersaults off the top of the bull when it charges Their life expectancy is short, and when Theseus volunteers to be a member of the contingent it is considered to be his death sentence view spoiler The young people to be sent are selected in a public lottery which I couldn t help but notice was similar to the plot to the book and movie, The Hunger Games The fact that Theseus is subsequently instrumental in putting an end to this subservience to a stronger alien power also echos the plots of Catching Fire and Mockingjay hide spoiler Perhaps my most major criticism of the entire book is that it does get off to a bit of a slow start Renault s attention to details and wonderfully sophisticated use of language are usually a big treat, but we are thrown right into the thick of it straight from the off and what s going on is left to the reader to figure out As a result some readers may feel for the first couple of chapters that the conjunction of confusing situation, complex language and lack of initial events or action renders the beginning of this book somewhat plodding However, once you get past that initial stumbling block, you won t be able to put this book down until the end The plot basically follows the Theseus legend, but Renault is not afraid to take detours and make alterations in order to make the storyhistorical than mythological and for the sake of plausibility and believability Obviously this walks a fine line between improving on and butchering the legend, but Renault judges that line to perfection She even explains why she deviates from the conventional idea of Theseus as a huge, muscled man after the model of Herakles namely because a youth chosen for bull leaping in Krete would have had to have been slight, quick and agile rather than big and hulking, and because Theseus is often shown in close hand to hand combat with brutish monsters and it seems unlikely that he could have overcome them by sheer strength alone,likely that he was a slighter build and relied on clever wrestling tricks of the trade rather than pushing power.The plot follows a good arc, though perhaps since it is strongly based on the legend we cannot attribute that pleasing character growth and story arc to Renault alone One of the arcs is in the way that the setting becomes evermetropolitan we begin in Theseus homeland, a bit of a provincial backwater of a kingdom to be honest, moving on to the city of Athens which is a glittering jewel of the Peloponnese as portrayed by Renault at this period, and finally Theseus ends up on the highly developed island of Krete More than anything else though, the arc of the story is Theseus coming of age From a boy struggling to understand his place in the world in Troizen and believing that he is the son of Poseidon, to the frustrated year king of Eleusis where he learns to use his wits to earn his powers and effect change, to the heir of Aigeus in Athens where he must learn the responsibilities that come with his position, and to the palace at Knossos where Theseus becomes true leader of his own little microcosm of society The developments in the plot seem natural and unforced, nothing leaps completely out of the implausible blue, but that s not to say that the story is in any way predictable unless you ve read the legend of Theseus before of course, but even then don t expect anything The quality of the writing is very high, but yet I found it fairly accessible as well, albeit the potential to come across as slightly plodding and slow in the first few chapters In terms of historical setting, Mary Renault s novel is completely groundbreaking The legend of Theseus is a well known story in Greek myth, the most famous episode in his tale being his confrontation with the fantastical half man half bull creature known as the Minotaur in the bowels of a twisted maze called the Labyrinth and aided by a ball of twine given to him by Princess Ariadne There have been many retellings of the legend, but Mary Renault s is the first attempt to find the history behind the myth Given this, this might be a good point to also discuss historical accuracy Keeping in mind that this was published in 1958 and our knowledge about this period of history has since moved on by over half a century, it s clear that Renault has put significant effort into the historical accuracy of the piece, and even some of the scenarios which we now know to be incorrect were the accepted interpretation by the academic community based on the knowledge of 1958 There s no magic involved, only plausible human stories Great stuff, highly recommended. Theseus the man behind the legendThe boy bull dancer against the Minotaurimage The secret birth of the Hero In the tradition of Moses and King Arthur his birth was surrounded by secrecy, his upbringing in a provincial town away from the eyes of his rivals This was to protect him until he could come to the aid of his father.The citadel of Troizen, where the Palace stands, was built by giants before anyone remembers But the Palace was built by my great grandfather At sunrise, if you look at it from Kalauria across the strait, the columns glow fire red and the walls are golden It shines bright against the dark woods on the mountainside.Our house is Hellene, sprung from the seed of Ever Living Zeus We worship the Sky Gods before Mother Dia and the gods of earth And we have never mixed our blood with the blood of the Shore People, who had the land before us.My grandfather had about fifteen children in his household, when I was born But his queen and her sons were dead, leaving only my mother born in wedlock As for my father, it was said in the Palace that I had been fathered by a god By the time I was five, I had perceived that some people doubted this But my mother never spoke of it and I cannot remember a time when I should have cared to ask her Poseidon god of the sea, horses and earthquakes The seven year old Theseus was to serve at the temple of Poseidon where he found the gift of the god.Another boy came to the sanctuary He said, Who is your father, towhead With a bold front and sinking belly, I answered, Poseidon That s why I am here image One day of midsummer, when I was ten years old, the noon stillness seemed heavier than I had ever known it The grass of the grove was pale with drought the mat of pine needles muffled every sound No bird was singing even the cicadas were dumb the pine tops stood unmoving against the deep blue sky, as stiff as bronze When I wheeled in the tripod, its rattling seemed like thunder, and made me uneasy, I could not tell why I trod soft footed, and kept the vessels from chinking And all the while I was thinking, I have felt this before I was glad to have done, and did not go to the spring, but straight outside, where I stood with my skin prickling Up came Simo and said to me, Well, son of Poseidon Have you been talking to Father I could not endure his voice sawing at the stillness The offended silence seemed to brood around us Go away I said Can t you feel Poseidon is angry He stared at me then gave a jeering whinny As it left his mouth, the air above us was loud with whirring wings All the birds in the grove had left their trees, and hung above uttering their warning calls At the sound I tingled all over, body, limbs, and head I did not know what oppressed me so but Simo s laughter was past bearing I shouted, Get out and stamped my foot.My foot struck the earth and the earth moved.I felt a rumbling, and a sideways ripple, such as some huge horse s flank might give to shake off flies There was a great noise of cracking timber, and the roof of the shrine came leaning down toward us Men shouted, women shrieked, dogs barked, howled and suddenly there was cold water all about my feet It was pouring out from the sanctuary, from the rocks of the holy spring.I stood half dazed In all the din, I felt my head clear and lighten, like the air after thunder It was this, I thought I felt it coming Then I remembered how I had felt strange, and cried, when I was four years old.Everywhere in the precinct and beyond, people invoked Poseidon Earth Shaker, and vowed him offerings if he would be still Then close at hand I heard a voice weeping and bawling Simo was walking backwards, his clenched fist pressed in homage to his brow, and crying, I believe I believe Don t let him kill me As he blubbered, he backed into a slab of rock, and went down flat, and started to roar, so that the priests came running, thinking he was hurt He went on babbling and pointing at me, while I stood too shaken to be glad, swallowing tears and wishing for my mother No one was killed in the earthquake and of the houses cracked or broken, none fell right down My grandfather sent the Palace workmen with two new columns for the shrine they mended the conduit of the holy spring, and the water returned to its course again He came out himself to see the work, and called me to him I hear, he said, that the god sent you a warning I had been long alone with my thought, till I hardly knew the truth any longer but this came as true to me He knew such things, because he was priest as well as king My mind rested Henceforth, he said, you will know it again If it comes to you, run out of doors, and call to the people that Poseidon is angry Then they can save themselves, before the houses fall Such warnings are a favor of the god Try to be worthy At seventeen his mother leads him to the hidden shrine of Zeus where he will learn of his real fatherShe led me up to the sacred oak, and stopped and I saw at her feet a stone.I knew it I had found it as a boy, when Dexios and I first went tiptoe to the oak wood, daring each other under the gaze of the trees the dryads who live there stare harder into one s back than anywhere else I know It was an old gray slab put there for an altar, I suppose, when Zeus first hurled his thunder I had never met anyone there, yet often there were fresh ashes, as if someone had been offering Now they were there again, looking almost warm Suddenly I wondered if it was my mother who came Perhaps she had had some omen she meant to tell me of I turned to her, feeling gooseflesh on my arms Theseus, she said Her voice sounded hoarse, and I looked at her surprised She blinked, and I saw her eyes were wet Do not be angry with me it is no choice of mine I swore your father the oath gods dare not break or I would not do it I promised him by the River, and the Daughters of Night, not to tell you who you are, unless by yourself you could lift this stone For a moment my heart leaped up royal priestesses do not take such vows at the bidding of base born men Then I looked again, and saw why she had wept.She swallowed so hard that I heard it The proofs he left for you are buried there He said I should try you at sixteen, but I saw it was too soon But now I must Her tears ran down, and she wiped her face with her hands.Presently I said, Very well, Mother But sit over there, and do not watch me I crouched by the stone, and dug with my hands to find the lower edge Then I loosened it round, scraping like a dog the earth away, hoping to find it thinner at the other end But it was thicker there So I went back, and straddled it, and hooked my fingers under it, and pulled I could not even stir it.It put me in a rage I seized the stone and worried at it,like a beast than a man, feeling my hands bleed and my sinews cracking I had forgotten even my mother, till I heard the sound of her skirt and her running feet, and her voice crying, Stop I turned to her with my face dripping sweat I was so beside myself that I shouted at her, as if she had been a peasant, I told you to stay away Are you mad, Theseus she said You will kill yourself Why not I said.image A harper told his tale of how the great lintels were lifted up to create Stonehenge.I had been dreaming and, being wakened, remembered my dream I had seen the Hyperborean sanctuary, great hoists and engines standing against a gray sky, great stones rising, and kings leaning on the levers And a thought came to me, sent straight from the god.I got up, and went out to the yard of the Palace woodman I found a short thick log and two longer ones, whose ends I trimmed to wedges I bound them up, and getting them unhandily on my shoulders for I was not used to carrying burdens set out for the oak wood.Sunrise glowed red as I climbed along the gorge when I reached the grove, I saw the altar slab all scattered with brightness, like the harper s robe I put down my load, and prayed to Apollo Paian Apollo, I said to him, Apollo Longsight If I am offending any god by this, send me an omen I looked up Blue had come into the sky and wheeling high above I saw an eagle He tilted his wing and swept away to the left, and the boughs hid him Well, I thought, no god could say better than that, and then, I should have come before to him For I had felt too much and reasoned too little, hearing what I was ready to hear, not what had been said There had been nothing at all about raising the stone with my bare hands only that I must do it alone.I worked the lever well under, and stretched my back the end of the stone rose up, and I kicked the fulcrum under Then, when I was going to bear down, I remembered there was something to get out from below when I let go of the lever, the stone would fall again I sat down to think, on the root of the oak tree and, seeing it stand above the ground, I saw my way It was lucky I had brought a longer lever It would just reach to wedge under the oak root.The bundle distasted me I wished my work undone, and the hidden fate left sleeping in the earth Then I shook myself like a dog, and snatched at the cloth and jerked it Gold tumbled and flashed in the light Some knowledge came to me, that I must not let the thing fall to the ground, that it would be a bad omen I am a man who can move quickly on a thought, and I caught it in mid air Then I knew why it must not fall It was a sword.The cloth had kept clean the hilt from earth I saw it was richer than my grandfather s The grip was a cunning knot of twisted serpents their outthrust heads made the guard, and their tails overlapped the blade, which, though green with time, was perfect still, the work of a master swordsmith I thought, A Hellene longsword He was a gentleman, at least His mother tells Theseus of his father and the land he rules There was a reason, she said She picked up the comb, and pulled her hair forward He said to me, If he has not brawn, he will need wit If he has neither, he may still be a good son to you in Troizen So keep him there Why send him to die in Athens In Athens I said staring What is his name I said I must have heard it, but I don t remember Aigeus, she said, as if she were listening to herself Aigeus, son of Pandion, son of Kekrops They are of the seed of Hephaistos, Lord of the Earth Fire, who married the Mother There was a reason, she said again We must find a ship, to send you to Athens This marks the true start of his many adventures Theseus walks along the Isthmus where he defeated many cruel robbers,He is welcomed in Eleusis as the Corn King, who reigns for one year and then is sacrificed he ends this tradition,At Athens the witch priestess, Medea, tries to poison him,His father greets him as son and together they vanquish the enemies of Athens,The Cretan tax gathers take Athenian young men and girls for the Bull Dance,Theseus takes the place of one.image The Cretan Bull will decide their fates and the fates of the Greek kingdoms Enjoy Many formed are the gods and the end men look for is not the end they bringMary Renault, The King Must Die A nice, detailed historical fiction well, let s call it mytholigical fiction, yes about Theseus, the founding hero of Athens Renault takes many of the Labors of Theseus and weaves them with the stories of Theseus, Aegeus, and Medea, and Theseus, King Minos, and the Minotaur.Structurally, it reminded me a bit of Knausgaard s book A Time For Everything where he takes the flood myths of genesis and humanizes them Both Mnausgaard and Renaut share the same gift for seeing the men and women behind the myth of deconstructing what the history might have looked like that created these origin myths I love this approach It, at once, is interesting, informative, and subversive.