The Theseus Novels

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Name: The King Must Die
The Bull from the Sea
Creator: Mary Renault
Date(s): 1958, 1962
Medium: books
Country of Origin: South Africa
External Links:
Cover of The King Must Die.

Cover of The Bull from the Sea.
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Mary Renault's two Theseus Novels (The King Must Die, 1958; The Bull from the Sea, 1962) focus on the life of Theseus, a hero in Ancient Greek mythology. However, rather than simply novelizing the myth, Renault attempted historical fiction, using contemporary archæological knowledge of the period in order to create a plausible narrative.

The King Must Die is the first book. It focuses on Theseus’ childhood and young adulthood, covering his upbringing in Troizen; brief reign as Kerkyon in Eleusis; acceptance by his father Aigeus (King of Athens); enslavement in the Bull Courts of Crete (where he kills the Minotaur); seduction of Ariadne; and return to Athens by way of Naxos.

The Bull from the Sea covers Theseus’ reign in Athens; the battle with the Kentaurs; his coastal raids with Pirithoos; abduction and marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and the birth of their son Hippolytus; marriage to Phaedra; Hippolytus’ death ; and Theseus’ own downfall and death.

Book Discussion

There has never been a chapter-by-chapter discussion of either of the Theseus novels within the maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community. Nonetheless, there have been discussions about certain aspects of these books, always sparked by a fan re-reading them.

The King Must Die is also still taught in some high schools, leading to one fan asking the maryrenaultfics community about discussion points to use with students.[1]

In Their Own Words

In 2008 maryrenaultfics began a project which involved ‘interviews’ of characters from Renault’s novels. Questions were posed of Theseus, but in the end no one opted to answer them. Theseus appeared briefly in 2008 in the ‘As Overheard’ thread. In 2009, both Hippolyta and Theseus appeared as part of the five year celebrations. Particularly notable was the post in which Hippolyta went hunting for provisions. The characters appeared again in posts in the Christmas series. In particular, Theseus supervised cutting and setting up the Christmas tree ("Ding, Dong, Merrily on High").

For more details please see the article about the ITOWverse

Fan Fiction

Relatively little of the fan fiction which has developed from Renault’s books has been based on the Theseus books. Nonetheless, some has been written, and while stories are not written in this universe every year, it nonetheless always is nominated for the Yuletide fanfiction exchange.


Notable Stories

Alternative Universe


  1. ^ The King Must Die: discussions with teenagers
  2. ^