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The King Must Die

Mary Renault

Book Five: Chapter 1

Book Four: Chapter 10

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

Summary

Book Five: Naxos

Chapter 1

The earthquake has destroyed many ships, and killed many people with flooding. Theseus and the bull-dancers sail away in a ship that they find stranded in an olive field. Before they leave, they see the native Cretans rise up and seize power, killing many of the Hellenes. Some lords flee, and a few who were good to their people are allowed to stay. Theseus plans to return to Crete as a king. He is proud of the fact that all of the Cranes have survived and are sailing back with him. They pass the island of Kalliste, where a volcanic eruption brought half the land into the sea. They land on the island of Dia, whose capital city is Naxos. The people there, who worship the Mother, are amazed by Ariadne, and carry her in a litter to the Palace. The Queen welcomes them, and Theseus looks at the King, who seems distracted, and then realizes that he will be killed the next day at the feast of Dionysos. The Queen invites them to stay for the feast, and Ariadne accepts, although Theseus wishes that she had not.

The next day the king is brought in a ship onto the sacred island, and goes up into the hills. Everyone is drunk, and all of the women go along to the island. Everyone begins going off into the hills. Theseus waits for Ariadne but she does not return. He learns that she is with the Queen in the front. Theseus runs up into the hills, and looks for her. Some of the women begin dropping away from the carriage and finding men, and Theseus drinks more and searches for Ariadne. He soon sleeps with a girl. He sees another girl watching them, and the three of them stay together for a while. The day goes by, and people begin returning from the hills. Theseus waits for Ariadne, and finally the procession passes by, looking tired and stained with blood from the sacrifice. He waits until the chariot goes by, and then turns to go back, but he sees Ariadne inside. He runs up to the chariot, which is pushed by two priests. She has passed out, and Theseus thinks that the older priest slept with her on the mountain. Ariadne is unharmed, but there is blood all around her, and when she opens the hand that lay on her breast Theseus sees the most horrid thing he has ever seen—something that causes him to be sick. The older priest talks to Theseus and tells him he cannot understand some things, but Theseus can only think that what he has seen is horrible. He cannot bring her back to Athens after what he has seen. Theseus makes sure that Ariadne will be honored there and then tells the priest to explain to the Queen why they leave that night. Theseus feels sad to have left her, but knows he cannot do otherwise. After gathering his companions, they set sail that night.

Analysis

The feast is a ritual that Theseus does not understand in the same way that he understands the customs of his own land. The citizens of Dia worship similarly to the way the Eleusinians did before Theseus, and the tradition of killing the king each year is not one that he favors. He cares deeply for Ariadne, and when he finds her, he is concerned that she may be hurt. But when Theseus sees the object that she holds in her hand it changes his entire view of the situation. The narrative does not reveal what the object is; it is likely that it is the dead King's heart. Her participation in a ritual that is so completely foreign to Theseus makes it impossible for Theseus to accept her. For Theseus, what makes Ariadne's participation in the ritual so terrible is that Theseus knows that Ariadne is not really in contact with the Mother. She has told him in Crete that she makes up her oracles ahead of time, and, like the other nobles, she considers the sacrifices to be barbarian customs. The possibility that she has taken part in such a sacred ritual without the belief that is required is something that Theseus cannot accept. Ariadne, who does not believe in her role as Goddess-on-Earth, but nonetheless accepts the position, is intricately involved in a time-honored sacrifice of the King, which Theseus rebukes.

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