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The King Must Die

Mary Renault

Book Four: Chapter 10

Book Four: Chapters 8–9

Book Five: Chapter 1

Summary

In the morning, Theseus realizes that there will be another earthquake, and after it occurs people understand that he can tell when they will occur. He hears that the native Cretans are worried because the poisoning of the bull offended Poseidon. Theseus' head is woozy and he thinks that there is going to be a great earthquake—Poseidon is angrier than any of them could imagine. He says they must break out because the house will collapse around them. The girls are leaving for their quarters, and he tells Thalestris to break out with their arms as soon as possible. Hippon and Iros, two of the boys, are to dress as girls and bribe the guard to let them into the girls' quarters and Thalestris and the girls will rush out at that moment.

The god's fury that resounds in his head is too much for Theseus to take, and he yells out that Poseidon is coming and that the House of the Ax will fall. But then he gets control of himself, and runs to stop those who are in panic. Two guards burst in, someone tells them its all merely horseplay, and then the girls come rushing into the hall and kill the guards. The boys and girls mingle, grabbing weapons, and panic threatens, but Theseus reminds himself he is a King, and yells for silence. He knows they cannot go into the Labyrinth, but must get outside. The great gates of the Bull Court that are never opened have to be broken down. They ram the Bull of Daidalos into the door and burst it open. Outside, they find no guards, and learn that the servants fled and the other Cretans are watching a ritual dance. Theseus has Amyntor hide everyone in the garden near them and rushes to get Ariadne. She is leading the dance. As he approaches the dance floor, Theseus sees the Labyrinth in front of him and then he sees Ariadne leading the women. He can feel Poseidon's anger getting closer, and as he jumps to her the god strikes. While the earthquake destroys the House of the Ax, Theseus lies in ecstasy, as the weight of his terrible burden of warning leaves.

Theseus saves Ariadne, and is cheered by the bull-dancers and the native Cretans, who have heard his warning and fled. Suddenly they all want vengeance, and charge forward to avenge themselves. They learn that Asterion is already taking part in the ritual to make himself the new Minos. They charge at the guards while a fire rages through the ruined Labyrinth. While the others fight, Theseus goes with the Cranes through a secret passageway, and they find Asterion wearing only the bull mask of Minos. Theseus charges him, interrupting the rite, and after a battle he stabs Asterion with his dagger. Theseus puts on the mask, raises Labrys, and sacrifices the King.

Analysis

In the novel's system of morality, belief in the gods prevents an empty, materialistic lifestyle. The gods return the respect of those who believe by protecting them physically. Unlike the Hellene nobles, the native Cretans still believe in the gods, and they know that Poseidon is angry from the poisoning of the bull. Theseus' premonition only serves to warn them of what they know is already coming. The nobles, on the other hand, continue on with their lives as if all were well, unaware of the impending trouble. The catastrophe that strikes destroys the Labyrinth, and ruins the home of King Minos. Asterion hastily tries to have himself made Minos, even though the earthquake has already crushed his power. Whether it is a natural disaster, or actually the anger of Poseidon, the earthquake does quickly what seemed inevitable. The nobles could not have continued living the way they were. Asterion, power hungry as he was, might have become a dictator, but the way of life at their court was doomed to fail. By making a mockery of the gods they made a mockery of themselves, for the sacrifices and the rituals demonstrate respect for life and respect for the kingdom. When the nobles began to stray from the gods, they lose touch with what was important in life. Belief in the gods centers around the necessities of life—it is the gods who bring good harvests, who keep away floods, earthquakes and famines, and who look out for the people's well-being. To the native Cretans these are all still important. But the nobles do not fear for anything because their lives seem all but assured to them. The earthquake proves that one can never be completely secure. No matter how much wealth or power one accumulates, it can all always be lost. When people start to forget that fact, they get lost themselves.

In his great desire to become king, Asterion compromises the sanctity of the one remaining important ritual—the bull-dance. Although already a complete spectacle, since it is performed with slaves and the nobles bet on the rituals, the bull-dance at least still involved boys and girls attempting to save themselves from a bull. But Asterion attempts to use even this ritual for his own purposes. Those who believe in the gods believe also that it is the duty of the king or queen to look after the people, and sometimes that involves yearly sacrifices, as in Eleusis before Theseus. Other times it means the king must go when he is called, as Theseus learned as a child. But the belief binds the people together with a common cause. Their kings are chosen, and chosen in order to serve their needs. Asterion would have used the people to suit his own purposes and then glorified in his power. The nobles have taken everything for granted to the point that they no longer even think about the fact that there are other people whose lives they depend upon. Not just kings, but all manner of nobles have a household that they rule, and they need those people to live. A lord does not grow his own food, harvest his own wheat, cook his own meals, and sew his own clothes. When, as in Crete, those people are taken so for granted that their livelihood no longer matters, there is bound to be trouble.

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