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The King Must Die

Mary Renault


Book Four: Chapters 5–6

Book Four: Chapters 5–6

Book Four: Chapters 5–6

Book Four: Chapters 5–6


Chapter 5

Life in the Bull Court is strange. Theseus lives for the bull-dance. He becomes consumed by it, feeling that being a bull-leaper is all one could ever ask for in life. The team survives for three months without a single member dying, something that is unheard of in the bull-dance. Theseus becomes a great bull-leaper, known by everyone. He learns much about Crete, though he cannot understand why the nobles look down upon the native Cretans. Theseus receives a summons to a party thrown by Asterion, and he knows he must go. He goes to the Little Palace, where the Minotauros lives. The Palace displays Asterion's spectacular wealth, and Asterion treats Theseus as a toy for his guests to be amused by. At one point he calls Theseus over, and talks to him like a prize horse. Theseus sees that the other lords are as much in Asterion's power as he is, and it disgusts him. Asterion makes even Theseus' honor into an object of amusement. The other lords are kinder to him, and he learns from them that they no longer think much of the gods and that their honor does not mean much to them. Adultery means little to them, and they hold no grudges. Cretans are the best potters in the world, but Theseus sees that they have gotten bored with the beauty of their pottery and begin constructing horrid things, simply because they are new. Theseus realizes that the Cretan nobles are weary of life the way it is, because things have been so easy for them. One day he is taken to meet ten year old Phaedra, the King's daughter, who says she is in love with him. He tells her that if he lives he will be a King, and says she can marry him then.

Chapter 6

Theseus dreams of conquering Crete and knows that the native Cretans would help him. One day he meets Helike's brother, who has traveled to Crete to make offerings for his sister. Theseus explains that she is still alive and tells the boy to give a message to Aigeus, saying that Crete is ripe for the plucking. With the Cranes he begins to plan an uprising. One day Theseus is summoned to a feast but an old woman takes him aside and says there is no feast. She leads him, in disguise, to a trapdoor in the Labyrinth. Underneath he finds a passageway, and she instructs him to follow a thread that is tied to a column. Theseus walks along, with jars of grain all around him, and eventually sees a store of old arms. He marks the spot and continues marking his way so that he cold return. After much walking, he comes out underneath the large statue of the Goddess. He realizes that there is a woman in its shadow, covered in a robe. She asks him some questions, behind which Theseus can see no real purpose, and then he figures out that she is Ariadne, the Goddess-on-Earth. Finally he takes her by the hand and tells her not to be afraid.


Theseus and Asterion represent opposite ways of commanding respect. Theseus is respected because he is brave and noble, and, to the Cretans who see him as a slave, he is a great bull-dancer. The Cranes respect him because he has kept them alive, and the other bull-dancers appreciate that fact. Asterion gets respect because people cannot afford to disrespect him. He is extremely powerful, and his power stems from the tremendous wealth that he has accumulated. The other nobles do not even like him very much, but they respect him because they fear him. Theseus and Asterion use their power very differently. Although Theseus is in an entirely different situation then Asterion, he still treats people well and gains friends rather than enemies. Asterion glories in his power, content with the knowledge that none dare to oppose him. Theseus thinks not of himself but of those whom he has pledged to protect, and as a leader his first responsibility is to his people. Theseus is able to gain respect from those over whom he has no power, such as the Cretan nobles, whereas without his wealth, Asterion would be nothing. The major difference between their two ways of gaining respect is that Theseus gains loyalty.

In these chapters, Theseus demonstrates his natural ability to lead, no matter what his circumstances. Theseus is King of Eleusis, and heir to the throne of Athens, but in the Bull Court none of those titles matter. Because of his courage and intelligence, Theseus is still the leader of his people, the Cranes. Almost everyone likes Theseus—the bull-dancers because he has figured out ways for them to live longer, and the Cretans because he is a great bull-leaper. Though no longer treated as a King, Theseus at least gets treated with respect everywhere he goes. Asterion, however, does not respect Theseus. Asterion does not respect anyone else, either. He treats Theseus like an animal that he owns, but at the feast Theseus notices that the other nobles are treated even worse. He, at least, truly is a slave in Crete, and so he has no choice but to accept Asterion's treatment. The Cretan nobles, on the other hand, are not slaves but rather are considered people of power.

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