The Bull from the Sea Essay - Critical Essays

Mary Renault


The Bull from the Sea did not excite the same critical interest as did The King Must Die, and in general the novel suffers from comparison with its predecessor. Yet many of the techniques used in the earlier novel are evident in the sequel. Renault’s famous insistence on historical accuracy is once again obvious in The Bull from the Sea. Although Renault was not academically trained in classical culture, her extensive reading and research enabled her to write fiction that gives her readers a real sense of the culture and everyday life of the Greeks. In this novel, she combines history, myth, and legend with a greater emphasis on psychological realism to create the story of the mature Theseus.

As in The King Must Die, Theseus’ personality pervades the novel, and his detailed, lively descriptions of the settings and circumstances of his life hold the reader’s interest. While the earlier novel focused on Theseus’ physical adventures, however, this novel is much more psychologically based. An older, more thoughtful Theseus narrates a story that is largely a chronicle of his thoughts and feelings, in particular his responses to the people around him. The Bull from the Sea centers on his relationship with Hippolyta, Hippolytos, and Phaedra. His reactions to them define Theseus’ character, as his earlier exploits in The King Must Die shed light on who he was.

Theseus’ love for Hippolyta is treated sensitively and even romantically by Renault. As an Amazon warrior, Hippolyta represents everything that Theseus’ culture rejects in females. She is physically powerful, emotionally and socially independent, and resistant to acting and dressing in conventionally feminine ways. In personality and demeanor she is much more like Theseus himself, and it becomes obvious in the novel that in loving...

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