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The King Must Die

Mary Renault

Book Four: Chapters 3–4

Book Four: Chapters 1–2

Book Four: Chapters 5–6

Summary

Chapter 3

They move along the road, and Theseus finds out that Asterion is the King's son, called the Minotauros. They see Knossos Palace, the House of the Axe. It is so huge that none can speak for a moment. The palace is so big that Theseus feels like weeping at the sight. They notice that there are no walls, and Theseus realizes that the walls of Crete are the seas that the King's ships control. They enter the palace and go to a huge room with a great throne in it. King Minos enters, wearing his bull mask, and there is a short ceremony before they leave and move farther into the palace. Theseus notes that the Cretans call the palace the Labyrinth. Next they move into a room with a huge statue of the Mother, and from behind the goddess, a woman dressed identically to the statue emerges. She accepts tokens from the nobles, who point to members of the group. Theseus realizes that only wealthy nobles can afford to dedicate a bull-dancer. They are led to another room, where a bull is being sacrificed, and the same woman in the garb of the goddess is there. Theseus asks who she is, and a man, shocked, tells him she is "Ariadne the Holy One, the Goddess-on- Earth." She cleanses him, because he has shed the blood of kinsmen, and Theseus answers her questions, telling her who he is. He desires her and has to keep himself calm. A man named Aktor comes to take them and is told to train them as a team. They enter the Bull Court, and are looked over by all the youths. One boy, clearly the leader of them all, called the Corinthian, sizes them up and talks to them. They learn that they are the first team to be kept together and that only the King had ever dedicated an entire team before Asterion did it.

Chapter 4

The bull-dancers all live and eat together, with the girls separated at night to protect their virginity. The boys could go all over the Palace at night. Although he never sleeps with the girls of the Bull Court, Theseus learns it is not hard for a bull-dancer to get a woman. Only years later would he be with a woman like those of the Bull Court, and she he carried dead off of a battlefield in his arms. He is glad, however, that she died before she saw what happened to their son. In the Bull Court, they say the bull that kills you is born knowing your name. They practice using the Bull of Daidalos, named after its original designer. The bronze horns were supposedly his own handiwork. The bull-leapers gain the glory, for they grasp the bull's horns and fly off them when his head rears. The catchers catch them when they land, and each member of the team is critical to the life of everyone else. They learn how to dodge the bull and also that they cannot harm him, for the god lives inside him. Theseus learns that the Cretan bulls have been bred for the dance, and the intelligent and quick ones are used for sacrifice. The ones in the dance are huge but not fast or smart—but they are still bulls.

Then they go to watch the bull-dance. Everyone salutes Ariadne and calls her Goddess. The Corinthian makes a spectacular leap, and then another girl tries, but she fails and clings to the horns. Theseus learns that her team does not like her and will not help her. The Corinthian rushes in to save her, beckoning to someone else, but no one goes with him. He holds onto one horn as long as he can before he falls and is speared. Theseus makes the Cranes swear a new oath to hold the life of each as precious as their own. A boy gives him a bracelet that the Corinthian wanted him to have. They go get their bull in the pasture, and name him Herakles. Then they learn that Asterion is not really the King's son but the Queen's, by a bull-leaper, and that the King treated him poorly. But he is very powerful, and he considers them his slaves.

Analysis

When Theseus gives us information about his old age, he reveals important information about the development of his character. Theseus tells his story as a man who is at peace with his fate, even though there have been some terrible events in his life. Although he is a slave in Crete, Theseus speaks of the lives of the bull-dancers with fond remembrance, and it seems he enjoyed his time there. Perhaps this is because of the freedom he felt, for their only job was to dance for the bulls and the Cranes dedicated themselves to doing so. In fact, they only way that they could survive was by dedicating themselves to their work, because the end of the Corinthian provided Theseus with a telling lesson. He realized that no matter how good one person was, they could still die in the dance if their team did not back them up. His decision to make the Cranes take a new, stronger oath after they have seen the dance is motivated by the desire to bind them more firmly together and impress upon them the certainty that the fate of all is in the hands of each. But there is also a pleasure in such an act, and Theseus learns that they all feel better once they swear the new oath because in trusting each other they no longer have to depend solely on themselves.

Ariadne the Holy One shows the conflict between the status of humans and the status of the gods. The Cretans worship Ariadne as if she were the Goddess, which troubles him, because people cannot be placed as high as the gods. The gods forbid it, and they will cast down those who attempt to raise themselves up too high. Theseus knows that Ariadne is a woman, and he desires her because of her beauty, but he is puzzled that she should be worshipped as a deity rather than respected as a Priestess. However, much of Cretan tradition seems strange to Theseus, because the people at court seem not to value their gods in the same way that he is used to. The customs and actions of Cretans are strange and they treat the bull-dancers as if they are not human. Theseus realizes that the Minotauros was not angered by his actions in the harbor because he does not consider Theseus to be a person. An animal cannot really insult a man, and so he is not of any concern to Asterion.

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