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The King Must Die

Mary Renault

Book Four: Chapter 7

Book Four: Chapters 5–6

Book Four: Chapters 8–9

Summary

Theseus sleeps with Ariadne and returns to the Bull Court before morning. They spend their nights together, and she tells him that her father, Minos, is sick with leprosy. She knows Asterion found a way to infect her father with the disease. Asterion has been gathering power while the king wastes away so that none will dare oppose him when Minos dies. He learns that Asterion rules already, as king in everything but name. This state of affairs horrifies Theseus, because a ruler needs to be dedicated to the gods in order to properly lead the people. Ariadne tells Theseus that it is a Cretan tradition for a new Minos to throw a ring into the sea. Asterion tried to do so, but Theseus unknowingly thwarted him and then threw the ring himself. She tells him that Asterion is also gathering the loyalty of Cretans.

Theseus tells the Cranes what he knows, without mentioning Ariadne, and he begins moving the old weapons that he found to an easily accessible spot. The Cranes have been together for three seasons, and they do their best to keep fresh and ready all the time. The girls have hidden daggers in their sleeping chambers, and Theseus and Amyntor discuss their plans. Theseus takes the bull-dance very seriously, and always listens in case Poseidon should have anything to tell him. He mentions that now Poseidon no longer speaks to him, since his son died on rocks near the sea. Theseus felt the warning and told his son, "Beware the wrath of Poseidon." His son thought he was cursing him, and Theseus was too angry to correct him. Now the god is silent.

Ariadne takes Theseus to speak with King Minos, following threads through the underground maze. Theseus speaks with the King, and learns that Minos wishes him to marry Ariadne. Theseus pledges to him that he will marry her. Theseus is shocked to see that Minos does not believe in the gods. Minos tells him that Asterion will marry Ariadne in order to keep his power, for the Cretans respect the Goddess. He tells the King of his plan to get help from his father, although in his heart, Theseus does not think ships will come. He tells Minos that Poseidon will send a sign.

Analysis

The Cretans' lack of belief in the gods has caused them to enter a state of ennui. Theseus appears to have come at the right time to save Crete from Asterion, yet Crete is different from anywhere else he has been. In Eleusis, before he came, the Mother was supreme, and he changed some of the traditions, but in Crete the traditions no longer have any meaning. The Cretans believe in the Goddess and honor their traditions, but the nobles of Hellene blood think that belief in the gods is just a barbarian habit. Even Minos does not believe in the gods. Theseus does not even question the existence of the gods—Poseidon speaks to him directly. Yet here he meets a large group of people who consider the belief itself to be absurd. Theseus has seen that they seem bored of life, and find anything new enchanting. Without the belief in the gods, they no longer take any meaning from the rituals. And since the rituals give no meaning, they are left to find it somewhere else in their lives. But they seem to be unable to do so. Asterion would use the Cretans' beliefs and dislike of the Hellenes to help him gain power but the only thing he believes in is power itself. The Cretan nobles do not have much reason to live their lives in any particular way. Their survival is not in question, because they all have wealth enough to get along fine. They mistreat and dislike the Cretan natives, so they make no attempt to make the lives of the people of the kingdom better. Therefore they spend their time enjoying one pleasure after another, endlessly seeking something new to keep them occupied.

But Theseus, who can hear Poseidon, cannot understand such a way of living. Perhaps his inability to understand is caused by the fact that he is a good ruler who lives for his people. He alludes to a time, later in his life, when the voice of the god leaves him. Theseus lets his son go out into danger when he knows there is an earthquake coming, and after that the god speaks no more to him. The sadness that comes through from the older Theseus who tells the tale of his youth is comparable to the weariness of aged Minos, trying to stay alive only long enough to see that Asterion does not take control of Crete. Minos cares only that his enemy does not gain control and that his daughter is safe, but it is questionable how much he really cares for his people. Theseus always cares for his people, but his son's death seems to have crushed much of the passion that life had for him. It may be a part of the nature of being a king that makes it difficult to rule for many years without becoming inured to the troubles of the kingdom. Aigeus is no longer a great King, and Theseus sees this and thinks that it is because his father has fought wars for so long. Ruling a kingdom takes a toll, and after many years it may be impossible to keep the same optimism and idealism of youth. Theseus hears Poseidon in his youth, and the god does not speak to him when he becomes older. When he is young the voice of the god inspires Theseus to do always what is right and just, but perhaps as he gets older he sees that justice is not always served, and he becomes hardened to the ways of life. Certainly in Crete, Minos is weary of life, and it may be the requisite toll that comes from ruling an empire for years.

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