The King Must Die

Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Gods

The gods act frequently in Theseus's story, in great and small ways. Yet Renault's book is an historical novel, and she clearly is not suggesting that these goods actually exist or play a role in the events of the world. Rather, the gods symbolize nature. Mother Dia, worshipped by everyone but to the Minyans the only true deity, is very reminiscent of Mother Nature. She is the living earth, and is active all the time. Of the gods that the Hellenes worship, Poseidon, the god of the sea, is the most prominent. The seas are often unpredictable and can be very harsh, and it is easy to see how they could be conceived of as controlled by a higher power. Poseidon is also the earth-shaker, responsible for earthquakes. Theseus is able to foresee earthquakes, but he thinks that he feels the god's anger rather than some natural effect. Such spectacular and destructive occurrences seem like they should be the work of a higher power. The gods are nature personified, and Renault shows us how easily it is to believe in them.

Moira

King Pittheus explains moira to young Theseus as "the finished shape of our fate." Pittheus says that we are born to seek out moira. Unlike our fate, which is set out before us beyond our control, moira symbolizes our destiny, that which we make of ourselves. We will all die, and we do not have so long to live, but what we do with the time we have—that is our moira. We do have a fate, and we cannot escape it, but the gods do not control what we do within the bounds of that fate. Our moira is what we are fated to seek out. Throughout the book, moira is used almost as an explanatory device. When Theseus kills Kerkyon, and becomes King in Eleusis, he knows that he was fated to do so, but he also knows that it is not his moira to be in Eleusis. Moira is our freedom to live despite the certainty of dying.