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The King Must Die

Mary Renault

Important Quotations Explained

Book Five: Chapter 2, Author's Note, and The Legend of Theseus

Key Facts

"Moira?" he said. "The finished shape of our fate, the line drawn round it. It is the task the gods allot us, and the share of glory they allow; the limits we must not pass; and our appointed end. Moira is all these."

King Pittheus explains to the young Theseus the concept of moira. Theseus searches for the place of his moira, the area where he is destined to live out his days. He finds it in Athens, but it becomes clear that there is more for him to do then he ever would have dreamed. Life and death are moira, a notion that allows Theseus to maintain perspective. He does not fear for his life, because he knows that as long as he lives it well, whenever he dies it will be according to his moira, just as all that he will have done will have also been his moira. It is an all-encompassing notion that describes both existence and our role in it.

Men would be as gods, if they had foreknowledge.

Theseus thinks about why he used to get excited when seeing Amazon girls in the Bull Court. Later on, he marries an Amazon, and she bears him a son, but their relationship is tragic. He points out that we cannot tell where the future will take us, and that if we could, we would be like gods, because we could guide our lives. Theseus does not wish that he could have known what would happen, for that knowledge would not have made his life easier. He merely says that what makes us different from the gods is that our lives are full of surprises. Sometimes we would not want to go through with them if we could tell what was going to happen, but it is our destiny to do so.

The truth is that what had not been tried in a thousand years was not worth doing. But even beauty wearied them, if it was not new.

Theseus describes the pottery that he sees while visiting some of the Cretan nobles. He has realized that the nobles have become bored with life because life no longer challenges them. Their well-being is assured, and as a result, they spend all of their time searching for innovation. Cretans are the best potters in the world, but they are sick of their pottery. Theseus learns that the Cretan nobles are too removed from what really matters in life. They represent a warning to those who would accumulate wealth and property to the point where they think everything is assured. At that point, life no longer consists of the constant attempt to stave off death but rather must be defined by some other endeavor. Newness is what these nobles live for.

Asterion had offered me gold; he had put wine and dressed meat before me to the sound of music. But he had made my standing mean, and hurt my pride in myself when it was my whole estate. It is what any man will have blood for, who is half a man.

Theseus and the bull-dancers are free, but they fight because they want to kill Asterion. Theseus had been a slave, and Asterion injured Thesus's pride along with everything else. As far as Theseus is concerned, if anything is worth a battle, it is an insult to one's honor. Some things require vengeance, and although Theseus does not generally risk lives without cause, in this case everyone else is willing to risk their lives to avenge their honor. A life, it seems, can be worth losing; it is honor that cannot be lost. Theseus lives his life by that code.

Man born of woman 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 knowledge, and wisdom is not to search beyond it. Men are only men.

Theseus, in his old age, reflects on life. He sees that there is no escape from the fate that is set before us, and since we cannot escape fate, we should not question it. Theseus comes to a sad view of human life in the end. He realizes that life is sad by definition, because we all are doomed to die. Only the gods live forever, and so man's time is necessarily bittersweet. He feels that we would do better not to question but to attempt to enjoy it while we can.

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