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The Bull From the Sea, Mary Renault, Pantheon Books, 343 pp
In her sequel to The King Must Die, Mary Renault completes her fictional retelling of the legend of Theseus, Greek hero, bull leaper, mythical son of Poseidon, ruler of Athens. In the way of larger-than-life heroes he comes to downfall and death. It is almost enough to make one give up hope in our dreams to either be heroes/heroines or be saved by them.
Then again, he had adventure, danger, pleasure, even love. In this latter part of his life he returns from Crete, puts his glorious bull leaper days behind him, and tries to settle down and be a good King. He does well, he makes his kingdom more just, and he prospers.
Theseus is a high energy restless dude though and likes to go off with his pirate friends. During one of those adventures he meets his female counterpoint, Hippolyta. Although she is sworn to the Amazon goddess, she gives it all up to go with him and be the love of his life.
Meanwhile, for political reasons, Theseus must wed Cretan princess Phaedra to whom he was earlier betrothed. He has a son by each woman. It does not turn out well.
One of the central themes of both novels is the conflict between those who worshipped the Earth Mother, a matriarchal belief system, and those who saw their Kings as intermediaries between humans and the Sky Gods. Theseus is the King who thwarts the Earth Mother traditions of old and brings about full patriarchy in Greece.
As any good feminist scholar knows, this is the age old battle of the sexes, lost by women long long ago. Whether or not the result has been or ever will be good for the people of Earth, it makes for great tales. The Legend of Theseus is one of them and Mary Renault tells it extremely well.
(The Bull From the Sea is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)