The Legend of Theseus Mary Renault’s The King Must Die is a retelling of the story of Theseus, King of Athens. To abbreviate the story: Theseus was the grandson of Pittheus, king of Troizen, but he was also the son of Aigeus, the king of Athens. On his way to Athens, Theseus becomes King of Eleusis, and earns a reputation in war. He goes as a slave to Crete, where he becomes a Bull Dancer. King Minos, fearing him, sends him to the Labrynth to die by the hands of the Minotaur. Much to everyone’s surprise, Theseus navigates the Labrynth(with some help from Minos’ daughter Ariadne) and kills the monster. After liberating Crete, Theseus becomes king of Athens. This is the portion of the life of Theseus’ life that Renault covers, though the story is changed in several places. Renault’s take on the story is a more realistic take on things, but Theseus’ belief in the Posiedon is one of the most important relationships in the book.
The Acropolis in Athens
Making A Myth Real We, of course, don’t believe in Minotaur’s in our age. Renault instead makes the Minotaur a normal human, who is trying to take over Crete, and Theseus slays him for King Minos, to help the Cretans. In Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor, he states his belief that it is not so much whether or not we believe the literal contents of a story, but more about what we can take from the story. Theseus was a great leader, a hero who accomplishes staggering feats. Renault takes some of the mystical elements from the story, but he is impressive all the same. Just the fact that this book was written is proof of how in love we are with Greek stories and heroes. This is an attempt at making a fantastic story more real; adding an element of common humanity to the characters and events.
Knossos Palace in Crete
The Underdog The Story of Theseus is the story of a hero who triumphs despite incredible odds stacked against him. In Eleusis, a land ruled by women for centuries, he inspires the men to take charge, and becomes a powerful king. In Crete, given no chance to survive fighting the bulls, he survived and killed a corrupt leader. When Theseus gets to Athens he has ascended to great power, but he chooses to go to Crete a slave. Why would he give up his power as a king and prince to be a slave? Well, Posiedon did give him a sign to do so, but he did it because we all love an underdog story. How else could Stallone make 6 Rocky movies and only one gets bashed on? Theseus is the ancient Greek “Itallian Stallion,” and the Minotaur, Asterion, is his Ivan Drago. This means “Mick” must be Posiedon, Rocky’s guide; someone he can look up to.
Bull leaper in Crete
Fudge the Ending The part of the story Renault leaves out is the tragic end, where Theseus son dies, he gets trapped in the underworld, Athens goes to hell in a hand basket, and our hero is murdered on his way to Crete. Renault left this out because her book wasn’t supposed to be a whole life story, it was Theseus recounting his glory years as a hero loved by many. To reference another classic 1980’s film; Red Dawn includes an ending similar to this. The Wolverines fight against a force they couldn’t possibly beat, but triumph time and again. They gain popularity across occupied America(Just as Theseus was loved in many places), but are eventually defeated. Their own daring in the face of a better equipped enemy is their end, not unlike Theseus overconfidence in war that undid him. If we love an underdog, we also love seeing the underdog lose. Plus the Wolverines looked cool.
King Aigeus Sees a black sail coming, and believes it means his son has died. Before he can learn he is wrong, he commits suicide.
Wrapping Up… Theseus is a hero everyone can get behind, because he’s really just a normal guy. A normal guy born into royalty, but a normal guy nontheless. That’s the reason this kind of story can still thrive today, because there’s something in all our hearts that wants to prove that a lower person can beat all the odds and come out on top. Theseus had an unhappy end, but it’s the triumph that we love.Maybe he isn’t the heavyweight champion of the world, but he stayed standing till the last round. After reading from Foster’s book, as well as The King Must Die, it’s clear that stories from the Greeks are very much how we model our own stories. They are not the singular source that we draw from, but their stories are a significant well from which modern writers draw. Western society will likely always be inspired by the models set forth by the ancient Greeks.