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The Bull From The Sea (2004)

The Bull from the Sea (2004)
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4.07 of 5 Votes: 4
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0099463539 (ISBN13: 9780099463535)
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The Bull From The Sea (2004)
The Bull From The Sea (2004)

About book: 4.5 starsMary Renault’s _The Bull from the Sea_ takes up where The King Must Die left off and continues the legendary story of Theseus and his kingship of Attica. There are some differences between this volume and its predecessor, most notably in the fact that the scope of this tale is much broader. Whereas the first volume concentrated primarily on Theseus’ youth and time in the bull ring of Crete and covered the time involved in a fair amount of detail, this volume is much more a précis of many events, covering a much wider range of time. Important events and periods are singled out, however, and expanded upon with more than enough detail to satisfy. I never had the sense that the tale was in any way rushed or incomplete and the broader scope perhaps allowed for a more elegiac tone to the novel, which is appropriate given the ending to Theseus’ tale. This is a memoir giving the wider story of Theseus’ kingship and deeds after the defining moment of his youth has passed. Even though this memoir comes from the hand (voice?) of Theseus himself and is often told very much in overview I was impressed with the way in which secondary characters came to life. For example with only a chapter seen from Theseus’ POV and the things he is able to glean from implication we learn a lot about the entire youth and development of his son Hippolytos. Theseus’ great friend Pirithoos, his wives Hippolyta and Phaedra and his other son Akama are also all very well depicted even when painted with minimal brush strokes. Another thing that struck me with Renault’s Theseus saga (and this volume in particular) was the deft way in which many other legends and tales from ancient Greece were woven into the fabric of his tale without taking anything from the tale being told, but also without detracting from their own importance. These include the legend of the famous bard Orpheus, the tragedy of the king Oedipus, the existence of the Centaurs and the apparently contradictory traditions of both their training of the heirs of kings and almost bestial gluttony and lust, the tale of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, and even echoes of the coming Trojan War in a cameo by the young hero Achilles. As with The King Must Die Renault is able to retain the mythic stature of these stories while making them much more ‘realistic’.For all of the many events that make up the career of Theseus Renault tells a tight tale, woven deftly with nary a thread left astray. We very much see him here as Theseus the King (as opposed to Theseus the wandering hero, though the latter is never wholly absent from his nature or actions) and we see him constantly trying to live according to the guiding principle of his life, learned in first trials of his youth: “To stand for the people before the gods, that is kingship. Power by itself is the bronze without the gold.” Despite the fact that he is a heroic figure whose deeds may often seem larger than life he is also a man whose ultimate tragedy is born of the foibles of his own human nature. In the end Theseus comes to learn, perhaps too late, that all of his choices and actions, along with the fate he has willingly embraced, have a price: “Fate and will, will and fate, like earth and sky bringing forth the grain together; and which the bread tastes of, no man knows.” The taste may be bitter at the end, but the sweet was no less great and is ultimately not erased by his tale’s conclusion.Highly recommended.Also posted at Shelf Inflicted

I greatly enjoyed this book. It surprises me a little that a piece of fiction this beautiful is not more widely popular.Like its prequel, The King Must Die, this book is a partial retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus. The story is unique in that the author reframes the supernatural events of the original story in a way that makes natural causes plausible. Theseus himself continues to believe in the gods, but instead of worshiping them he blames them for his misfortunes.The story is also remarkable for its frank inclusion of homosexuality. Renault herself was a lesbian, and same-sex romances feature in most of her historical fiction. Theseus himself is portrayed as straight, but several minor characters have lesbian relationships. Very unusual for a book published in 1962!I appreciated that Renault was able to include these details without becoming revisionist in her overall treatment. Indeed, this ability to tell a story that is substantively the same as the old familiar myths, while very different in tone and style, is one of the book's greatest strengths.Beyond these details, though, this book is simply an excellent piece of historical fiction. While the first book was the story of Theseus' ascension to kingship, this is the story of his betrayal and eventual downfall. The story is honest and sad, but also beautiful. Even as king, Theseus can't always succeed; he blames his fate on the gods, but I would just say "that's life".Some other reviews have criticized Theseus' character, in particular his behavior and attitudes toward women. And I would agree that Theseus is not intended to be perfect. However, part of it is simply that Theseus is an unusually honest picture of what an ancient Greek actually would be like. He is not intended to live up to the ideals of our own culture; he is intended to present an idea of virtue in a society very different from our own. Making Theseus a modern-day man in an ancient Greek's skin would have just been dishonest.
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Reviews
Jed L
The second, and last, book in the Theseus series is nearly as good as the first. Renault continues in this installment to write an engrossing and completely believable narrative for the legendary and mythical Theseus. This book picks up right where the first left of. To start Renault does a good job of gently reminding her audience of where the plot stands and of names and locations from the previous novel without beating them over the head or leaving them completely in the dark. This to me is a major feat and one of my least favorite aspects of sequels (either being told too obviously what just happened or being completely left in the dark with an intricate plot that is hard to remember).After resetting the stage Renault once agains attempts to find rational explanations for the feats that Theseus accomplishes after returning to Athens from Crete. I felt that this time around it wasn't quite as smooth. In the first book Theseus has good and complex movitations for all of his adventures. He is out to discover himself and his father and wants to protect and uphold honor and dignity. But in this book most of his adventures come about because he is bored. If the first book was a coming of age novel then the second is more of a midlife crisis novel. But Theseus experiences this midlife crisis at age 25! Which, in that day and age may have been closer to midlife than 45 is today. But the novel is still entertaining and I still maintain is a superior way to teach Ancient Greek mythology. At least as a starting point. Because these books give some wonderful context (much of which scholars have agreed is likely accurate and plausible) to the mythology that is missing in many of the plays and epics. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Renault puts the story in a modern context because there are still many aspects of Theseus' culture and lifestyle that are completely foreign. But she does create a vehicle for a modern reader to start to get a glimpse of what life, religion, and relationships were like at that time. It appears that Renault didn't write many more books, a series about Alexander the Great is calling my name, which is a shame as I wish she had written more books like this about this fabulously complex and dauntingly foreign time period.
Chris Gager
Just got started last night but already Theseus has disposed of the Bull of Marathon(the title bull). Many adventures await as well as his ultimate fate. As was foretold... So now he's met and taken Hyppolyta and put off Phaedra. The description of his Amazon/Scythian lover reminds me of Libby Riddles, a former Iditarod musher from years ago. In the SI article about her there was a picture of her naked from behind waistupwards. Scary beautiful... As we know, Theseus will be paying a price for his defiance of custom and tradition. It's interesting to read about him trying to ease out the dominance of Goddess/Earth Mother worship that is dominated by women. Kind of reminds me of "Dune" and the controlling witch cult(Bene Gesserit(sp?)). And now I'm done and find that this book is even better than "The King Must Die". It certainly covers a lot more time. Theseus' life as King of Athens, assuming he was a real person, is placed in the time between the exploits of Jason and Herakles(Hercules) and the Trojan War. Achilles is seen as a boy on Skyros just before Theseus' death. Aegeus, Hyppolyta, Hyppolytus, Phaedra, Medea, Minos, Minotauros, Oedipus, Antigone, Kreon, Ariadne and Menestheus are all part of the two-book saga. Interesting are MR's attempt to employ English in a way that must suggest the structure of ancient Greek. Also fascinating is the portrayal of a culture where pagan religious practice is so close to the hearts and minds and actions of people. Curses, prophesies, offerings, sacrifices(including human), myth and legend are all close at hand. also of interest is her portrayal of Hyppolyta as a paragon of alternative feminity. 4 1/2 stars...
Lisa (Harmonybites)
My introduction to Mary Renault was The King Must Die, the first of two novels about Theseus--it was actually assigned reading in high school. What impressed me so much there was how she took a figure out of myth and grounded him historically. After that I quickly gobbled up all of Renault's works of historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. The two novels about Theseus and the trilogy centered on Alexander the Great are undoubtedly her most famous of those eight novels.This book is the sequel to The King Must Die. It's no less remarkable in taking the bare bones of myth and giving it flesh, transporting you into the world of the past and making Theseus credible as a person who lived and breathed, and not some fantastic figure. If I enjoyed this less--well, it's definitely the more melancholy work. The King Must Die was about Theseus the hero, and it's a great adventure story. This one, well, is more Greek tragedy than Greek myth, and after falling in love with Theseus in the first book, it's sad to read of his undoing. I'd still name this one of the best works of historical fiction I've ever read, one that cemented my love of historical fiction and fed a hunger to learn more about Ancient Greece.
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