Essay: King Must Die

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¶ … King Must Die by Mary Renault first issued in 1958, and is a valuable example of historical fiction. Throughout the book, Renault ventures to create a plausible account, based on archeological findings and real information, for the widely known myth of Theseus and the Minotaur of Crete. In this sense, she begins a first-person narration, recounted from the hero's perspective, of the many events which serve to form Theseus as a capable leader up to the age of nineteen.

The present work's focus is to enlist the aspects which pertain to Renault's attempt to foray into the realm of Greek legends in realistic terms, and the manner in which she translates the ancient Mediterranean civilization in her literary onset.

As the legend of the Minotaur has it, Theseus is most memorable for killing the Minotaur, a supernatural monster imprisoned in an underground labyrinth by the king of Crete, and fed on people. Allegedly, these were captured slaves, driven into the maze as unwilling sacrifices to the creature, and were given the option of finding their way out before being found and devoured. Being the young and bold heir of Athens, Theseus volunteers to be taken captive and brought to Crete as offering to the Minotaur. Aided by king Minos's daughter, Ariadne, he enters the labyrinth with a ball of thread that helps him find his way back after bravely slaughtering the evil creature.

Mary Renault took the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and constructed a novel starting from the historical circumstances which may have surrounded it. In fact, she used Plutarch's biography of Theseus, together with early 20th century archaeological discoveries such as the excavation of Knossos and thoroughly researched everything that has been discovered by archaeologists or anthropologists, to propose a sensible characterization of Theseus and develop a series of adventures that are literarily appealing as well as historically realistic.

The King Must Die achieves the major accomplishment of steeping deeply in the transitional mindset of the Mycenaean period in which the stories take place, where Crete held the hegemony over the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean area as a whole was barely emerging from the practice of fertility cults and going through radical religious and political transformations. Specifically, the matriarchal society model of human development was shifting into a culture where multiple sky-gods were favored, and men as gender took the autocratic stage.

Furthermore, Renult's novel amply describes the manner in which pre-Indoeuropean queens' temporary consorts were ritually sacrificed again and again as a symbol for the dying and rising god of vegetation, and for the sake of the kingdom's future when their term ended. Persephone of Elesius, who makes Theseus her consort, informs him that "the law is that the king must die" (Renault 37), thereby clarifying the tradition that the novel's title is also inferred from. In this general context, Theseus might be perceived as the embodiment of transformation and the symbolic leading agent of change: "One should go like a man, not like an ox" (Renault 75).

The Cretans and the Greeks' cultural conceptions… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/king-die/5999896.