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The Bull from the Sea Paperback – July 10, 2001
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Theseus's homecoming is marked by tragedy. His father Aigeus dies on seeing his ship come in with a black sail, thinking Theseus is lost. An old crone warns him, "Loose not the Bull from the Sea!" and, thanks to an encounter with a fearsome white bull imported from Crete, Theseus believes he's met the curse and dispelled any danger to himself or his reign. He attempts to settle down, eventually betrothing himself to young Phaedra, daughter of the dead king Minos of Crete.
Unfortunately for Phaedra, Theseus's friend Pirithous (a wonderful scoundrel) leads him off on an adventure to the Black Sea. There, Theseus encounters Amazons--notably, their young leader Hippolyta, with whom he falls in love. And his life takes a strange turn, for better and for worse.
Theseus continues to be cocky, but as the story goes along his tone changes; he becomes wearier, more cynical, with the passage of time and grief. Hippolyta is vividly portrayed, a grave young woman full of honor and bravery, who helps Theseus create a life in Athens that keeps his restlessness contained. When the Amazons come to reclaim their queen, Theseus and Hippolyta make a believable pair; the depiction of the battles are Homeric, thrilling and poetic. But when Theseus wins the war and loses Hippolyta, he loses a vital part of himself as well--the king is swiftly replaced by the adventurer.
All the elements of the myth are accounted for.Read more ›
The long series of disasters that, to us 21st century folk, just looks like the worst of luck, can in fact be traced directly to the flaws in Theseus' character: for, although heroic, he is far from perfect. His virtues are great, but so are his weaknesses; and pride is both the best of his virtues and the worst of his weaknesses. The phrase "train wreck", used by at least two other reviewers, is supremely apt because it connotes inevitability and terrible consequences stemming from an apparently slight cause.
Yet, just when things look blackest and he is sure of dying in disgrace, old, crippled, and forgotten by gods and men alike, Theseus is touched by a divine grace that fulfils his fate and completes the pattern of his life. The harmony of this novel is as perfect and satisfying, in its way, as that of a Bach cantata. If you can read the closing pages without at least wanting to cry, you probably have not fully understood the story.
Instead, I would describe what is done in this book as literary restoration. Ms. Renault has taken well-known stories about a famous Greek character and made them more accessible to the modern reader. By staying within what is known about the character, that limits an author's ability to create a modern novel. For example, if Theseus was idle for many years (as he was on occasion), Ms. Renault is stuck with that as part of her story. By contrast, a historical novelist could simply invent interesting things for such a flat period, and not have to worry about dealing with any story limits other than general credibility.
Mary Renault has done an outstanding job of fleshing out the life of Theseus from the time he returned from Crete after escaping from the Labyrinth and became King of Athens until his death. We especially learn a lot about what kind of thoughts drove him as he united the Greeks, established law and order, and reformed religion.
The ancient Greeks always seemed larger than life to me as a child. They were playing on a cosmic scale, with gods and goddesses lurking behind every bush. Often with little room to maneuver, they suffered from complications of the gods' preoccupations with their own quarrels. The fate of civilization always seemed to be in the balance.
Yet these people did not seem real, despite their appeal.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
the second of a pair of novels personalizing the life story of Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens, as told by the hero himself - read first The King Must Die, it strongly... Read morePublished 4 days ago by Amazon Customer
I am very impressed with all of Renault's writings, as capture the times about which they are written graphically.Published 4 months ago by Dr. Stephen King
Best books I've read all year. I bought it because I read it was Gore Vidal's favorite novel and JFK's favorite writer. Made me curious. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Tiffany Reisz
Why all the questions about sex and violence for this book? Anyone familiar with Mary Renault's superb writing, recreating mystical people from legend into real characters, and in... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Dana Skolfield
This is a marvelous book, one of two that made Mary Renault's reputation as a peerless writer of historical fiction. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Douglas C.
This is the continuation of the story of Theseus beginning with his return to Athens and his assumption of the kingship following the death of his father. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Eugene F. Kriegsmann
One should read The King Must Die first. This sequel is interesting, but not as good.Published 14 months ago by Kristin Ohman