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The King Must Die
Mary Renault
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The King Must Die (Theseus #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  5,553 Ratings  ·  420 Reviews
In myth, Theseus was the slayer of the child-devouring Minotaur in Crete. What the founder-hero might have been in real life is another question, brilliantly explored in The King Must Die. Drawing on modern scholarship and archaeological findings at Knossos, Mary Renault’s Theseus is an utterly lifelike figure—a king of immense charisma, whose boundless strivings flow from ...more
Published (first published 1958)
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Kate McAllan Hi Elinore

Great question! The book was written just after Michael Ventris deciphered Linear B, which revealed so much more about the Mycenaean and…more
Hi Elinore

Great question! The book was written just after Michael Ventris deciphered Linear B, which revealed so much more about the Mycenaean and Minoan worlds and which added richness to knowledge already discovered by excavators such as Evans. Many more texts have been added to the list of those discovered and translated, and many discoveries made about the site (including understanding more about the 'palace' at Knossos and the settlement around it), meaning some details could no doubt be added. The book is an interpretation of the material found viewed through myth, and this is still valid. While academic interpretations of material, Bronze Age texts and later myths are constantly changing and being refined, the essentials—that the large building at Knossos was a centre with an underground series of corridors and rooms, that Athens had relations with Crete, that some shrines were set in the countryside, etc—still stand. Current debate about kingship, whether the building at Knossos was a palace occupied by a king, etc, is complex and unresolved. In short, no doubt Renault would have changed some details with the benefit recent research, but I my view is that her interpretation still stands as being a possibility. Others might see the world she writes about somewhat differently, but they probably would have done so in the 1950s as well.

What I love about the books is that Renault uses the material culture so well. She doesn't labour her descriptions of objects; they are just there. Part of the reason her view of the world still works in the story is that she doesn't just stamp a medieval or modern view of kingship and courts, religion and even gender on the deeper past but makes it something different, apart and alien. (less)
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Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The past, they say, is a foreign country. One might even go so far as to say that it is another world full of strange wonders and people who both fascinate and repel. I imagine that is why history so intrigues me and I definitely approach the subject with a heaping portion of romance as I in no way attempt to diminish the veneer and lustre which the intervening ages bring to previous eras. Despite this fascination I generally find myself of two minds when it comes to historical fiction. While th ...more
Tiffany Reisz
May 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love you, prideful, arrogant, honorable, brave, noble, horny all the time Theseus.
I found myself rooting about in my memory, struggling to recall the Greek mythology that I studied as an undergraduate student, as I evaluated this lovely historical fantasy. My memory is rather hazy, but I think that Renault did a remarkably lovely job of formulating the myth into a plausible tale.

I had to love Theseus’ young-man enthusiasm, his gung-ho attitude, and his willingness to plunge into whatever the Gods presented to him and attempt to succeed at it, whether it is wrestling, chasing
I hoped to enjoy Mary Renault's work a lot. I'm not a classicist so much now, but I'm still interested, and a plausible retelling that tries to put a bit of history into fantastical myth is usually worth a look, in my view. And this was, in some ways: realistic up to a point, detailed, exciting at times...

I just really didn't like Theseus, the narrator and central character. I thought he was smug, and it rankled, especially when he was smug about breaking women's power. There are a few positive
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Iset by: No one
Perhaps my most major criticism of the entire book is that it does get off to a bit of a slow start. Renault's attention to details and wonderfully sophisticated use of language are usually a big treat, but we are thrown right into the thick of it straight from the off and what's going on is left to the reader to figure out. As a result some readers may feel for the first couple of chapters that the conjunction of confusing situation, complex language and lack of initial events or action renders ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Assigned in High School
This book was assigned to me in high school, and after that I quickly read every historical novel by Renault I could get a hold of. It's certainly one of the books responsible for making me interested in both history and historical fiction.

Along with Robert Graves, Mary Renault is my gold standard in historical fiction--but especially Renault. I think because more than any other author, she gave me the sense that the people in other times, though complex and human, aren't simply moderns in stra
Brilliant retelling of the story of Theseus! I started this novel more as a duty than as enjoyment, but was soon plunged into the world of Bronze Age Greece. I can see why this novel has survived all these years and why Renault is a classic. However I have to ask myself, were this novel published in 2015 for the first time, would it be as popular as it was when first published in 1958?

In Troizen, Theseus finds out he is heir to the king of Athens, by his strength in lifting a sword [similar mot
Dec 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The King Must Die is the tale of Theseus told as if it were realistic, historical fiction. It is a retelling of the classic myth about Theseus’ adventures and most notably, his fight with the Minotaur on the island of Crete. However, the author introduces more plausible accounts for the instances throughout the myth. I really enjoyed how the author tells this story, but maybe that was because of my bias and soft-spot for all historical fiction. However, I did enjoy the idea of creating plausibl ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reading
‘For a man in darkness, there is only one god to pray to.’

‘The King Must Die’ is a historical novel by Mary Renault, first published in 1958. Set in Ancient Greece: Troizen, Corinth, Eleusis, Athens, Knossos in Crete, and Naxos, it traces the early life and adventures of Theseus, one of the heroes in Greek mythology. Ms Renault’s story constructs a story around Theseus which, while not a simple retelling of the myth, could form the basis of it. The story begins in Troizen, the land of Theseus’s
I am always excited to find a new author to admire. Of course, Mary Renault is not new to the world. She was born in London in 1905 and died in 1983, having built for herself a reputation for vivid historical novels, many of them set in Ancient Greece. She was named by J F Kennedy as his favorite author. I have meant to read her for years and am so pleased to have found a wonderful writer with a great deal of scholarship and intelligence backing up her fiction.

The King Must Die is the first of
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Goodreads Librari...: Description 4 24 Feb 03, 2014 08:11PM  
  • Homer's Daughter
  • Achilles
  • The Beacon at Alexandria
  • Jerusalem
  • The Songs of the Kings
  • The Song of Troy
  • Eromenos
  • The Return from Troy
  • Black Ships (Numinous World, #1)
  • Alcestis
  • Lavinia
  • Ransom
  • King and Goddess
  • Memnon
  • Penelope's Daughter
  • Sword at Sunset
  • King Hereafter
  • Tides of War
Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander
More about Mary Renault...

Other Books in the Series

Theseus (2 books)
  • The Bull from the Sea (Theseus, #2)
“A man is at his youngest when he thinks he is a man, not yet realizing that his actions must show it.” 40 likes
“It is not the bloodletting that calls down power. It is the consenting.” 3 likes
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