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The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault

The Bull from the Sea (1962)

by Mary Renault

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Theseus Myth (2)

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More with Theseus if I remember rightly. Of the more fun ones. ( )
  Bruce_Deming | Feb 5, 2016 |
Continuing the story of Theseus after his return from Crete, ascending to the throne of Athens upon his father's death, this is the tale of an heroic life lived large and bold and self-assured. A model of manly behaviour, balancing the duties of kingship and an inerrant sense of fair play and justice with a desire for adventure that takes him on pirating voyages with his friend, Pirithoos. He carefully forges a stable kingdom and yet roams near and far in search of glory and plunder. One such voyage brings him the true love of his life, won in single combat, the Amazon warrior priestess, Hippolyta. The tragedy of Hippolyta lays the seeds for the tragedies of his later years, as their son grows to manhood, and the bull from the sea waits to strike.

The writing is simply superb. Utterly beautiful. Sensuous and earthy yet redolent with unquestioning belief in the supernatural forces that control their lives. There is simply no division between the natural and the supernatural, and Renault's success in conveying this makes her books magical and thrilling and gorgeous and filled with mystery. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Sequel to Renault's King must die, this is her retelling of the further story of Theseus. He returns to Athens, claims his throne, lifelong friendship with Pirithoos, liaison with Hippolyta and birth of their son, Hippolytus, marriage with Phaedra, her attempted betrayal and murder. Then Theseus breaks off his narrative right before his death on the island of Skyros. Very enjoyable, but I didn't feel it was quite up to Renault's usual standard, just a continuation of the Theseus myth. ( )
  janerawoof | Jul 11, 2015 |
Well, as a neopagan, I'm attracted to the old tales, although I'm often--well, usually--repelled by the way that they're told. {Either it's one of these scholars that you can trust to ossify everything with their wooden thinking, or else.... well, we'll get to that.} I guess I have a sort of morbid fascination to see how they get butchered.... I'm usually a little suspicious, or at least wary or something.

I mean, usually--well, almost every single time--they're just crass exploitations of the material; the mythology gets strip-mined for names of large hairy-tooth-y things to get killed. The result is something sorta ugly and pointless. (Brad the Ugly maimed Kyle the Grotesque, splattering a hideous amount of gore across a nearby wall. Quite sad, and enormously repulsive. Turn it off, turn it *off*.) Now, this obviously wasn't completely unrelated to that, {in the genre (sci-fi/fantasy/historical), stupid fights, as well as.... carefully manufactured period clothes and the outer life but *not* asking the mystic questions of a Jung or knowing what life feels like, like an Austen....} but it did seem to promise that naked women with lots of adrenaline/hormones would be running around trying to kill men, so I was hoping for some thrills. {The idea being that dirt is good for the garden, although even the best sex narrative is usually over-wrought and over-thought, not really like a song or a gallery, but whatever.} I guess some people might judge that, but some people can be very strait-laced and "correct", and not usually to their benefit. {Humorlessness is not the great panacea it is represented as being....} And I'm not really quite sure why or how you could take so seriously [~i.e. with pretensions] something so obviously about sex.... {I guess the trick is that *nothing* is *really* about sex--houses are really just bricks, mattresses are really just feathers: the materials of abstraction, made of indivisible atoms....}

I mean, no matter what you think about the Ancient History of Greek things, there's obviously a layer of non-literality in it; the whole world is not like the middle-school "dance" with all the boys standing awkwardly on one side of the room, and all the girls awkwardly on the other side, with a clean break. But that's what you would need for this sort of pseudo-"nationalism" or whatever to really make sense, a clean break, with all the women living in one corner of the strategic wall map, and the men on the other. But that's clearly not reality, which is why true Amazon stories are relatively uncommon, despite having a raging storm of hormones at their disposal--an uncommon combination-- because it's all just so hard to conceptualize at any extended length. It's one thing to almost casually toss a girl with a gun and a grudge into a story at some PC-determined ratio, but the more seriously you take it, and the more extreme you make it, the less sense it starts to make, and especially the more seriously it's meant to be taken--no jokes! no laughing! we have real anger, bitterness and malice to deal with!-- the less chance the story has of working in any real way.... {When everything's got to be about their own problems (or whatever makes them angry) because of their rampant negativity, and everything's got to a fight and a bitter struggle because of their inability to take any mirth from anything: that's when you know that there's a problem, that it's not okay....}..... And this book, although not *especially* bitter, was mostly rather dry and serious, incidentally had a pretty meandering plot--it is hard to maintain that perfect-tension, militarized-middle-school-dance scenario-- which is one of the reasons why it doesn't do so well. And although that's not surprising, I guess I have a morbid fascination--that phrase is just perfect for this situation, cue the creepy morbid 1800s Totentanz interlude-- with stories like this, to see them just crumble under the weight of their own incomprehensibility, albeit probably with a few fantastic Fourth-of-July 1812-Overture explosions of flare....

But anyway, to pedal back a few steps. I guess there are basically two obvious problems with these ancient stories: the old and the new. Old: they went through a bottleneck at one point, where they only survived in writing because some prudish monk living high in an ivory tower several miles off the coast of nowhere decided to copy them down, a slight diversion from Latin lessons, theology, and the lists of the kings. But still nothing too risky, which is why your average Great Greek Story is going to be about military heroes, conquering kings, wars and strife, innocent things like that, and not the secrets of Aphrodite's seduction techniques. Now, those are religious secrets--remember, this is paganism-- but you know what I mean. Something about kingship and judicial loftiness might appeal to the princes of the Church and their secular goombah allies, but not almost ever perfumed passion or anything like that. You can strain you eyes looking for love goddess in Homer, but you'll only find her in the margins of some military story: usually getting told to sod off, you know. {And Homer was one of these blood-and-iron characters, sure.} So that's the old limitation, and the new one is not unlike it: the old times are "supposed" to be about History and Great Greek blah-blah, so nobody's going to write a story called, "The Duck From The Lake", about a Hermes devotee and his own particular method of augury/divination by birds, or perhaps specifically waterfowl. But where's the high-minded, heavy-handed nonsense in that? Much better, "The Bull From The Sea", because bulls can kill you, and the sea is large.... therefore the religion is more authentic this way, or whatever. Actually though, the religion--due to the heavy Rationalism of History-- is rather scrupulously "documented" in an anthropological sort of way, but it's also largely de-mythologized, at least to some degree. There's not much magic and wonder, or even symbolism. [This is not the Land of Wonder.] It's more formulaic than that--everything has to come back to the battle plans of the war king, or perhaps the rebellious rumors of the serfs or whoever. It's very largely politicized: this is what the war king had to do to be an effective pirate, I mean, negotiator. Which means you better like a certain sort of stilted way of speaking: Words cannot erase what blood has written, *slow laugh* ha-ha-ha. You get numb to it, but you know, just because they were illiterate pirates doesn't mean they didn't spend more time reading Tolstoy than listening to rock music or whatever. {Tolstoy, by the way, probably considered somebody like Joseph Haydn to be right on the edge on hedonism, let alone Mozart or--well, that's enough about that.} People in the past acted like the guys from BBC documentaries, didn't you know that?

So perhaps knowing all that, you might begin to understand what I mean when I say that books like this (sci-fi/fantasy/historical continuum) tend to strip-mine mythology, and leave behind an ugly mess. {It may be a novel, but it's a very rigid one, and it never quite abandons--despite what is technically a first-person narrative--the outsider's perspective, the historian's position as outsider, peering over life's shoulder but never quite immersing in it.... it's almost remarkable how wooden it can be, saying 'I' and 'me' but still so detached.... it's an interloper from the outside, who can just name-drop their way to cultural authority--say 'Oedipus' and you're a Greek--and perhaps also a psychoanalyst! But this is what historians do; you fumble through a few sheaves of papers, and then you can say for other people what their identity is--Atlantis is like this; the witches want Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Queen Victoria/Queen of Swords/rich old widow who's head of the 'friends of the library' society/Harry Potter's sister, whoever you like) as their leader. What we need is some secularists who *without any emotional connection to us whatsoever* can tell us everything we need to know about ourselves. And what's that, you guessed it, historical-political dry bookish objective stuff. Gods develop like coal-mining techniques, or the co-ordination of infantry and artillery; they experience themselves as scientific-historical problems....} The only things that really happened were the wars, right. Now, especially if you're looking for the religion of the love goddess, this is quite a perversion, and even the pervy man-slaying Amazons don't really make things that much better. (Sometimes they even make it *worse*, by *legitimizing* the wars, and even spending more time persecuting the peaceful girls, than anybody else....) It's ironic--inexplicable, almost-- but princes ecclesiastical and even secular tend to despise Aphrodite, pass over the naked girls like they're not even there, and fixate on the "chaste" goddesses--because we are not soft, we are hard hard men! We can respect Artemis; we can respect Athena.... but stupid feminine goddesses? Please.... So, pagans and people interested (merely "interested") in paganism may be different somewhat, but they're not always as different as they think they are. (And I know, because I'm fucking *weird*; no maladaption is good enough for me, no matter how normal or typical-for-cookie-cutter-nonconformists or *whatever*....) So to lots of people, Artemis is THE goddess; she's painted quasi-monotheistically at times....

So I guess that brings me to some people's criticism of the book, which is essentially that there isn't *enough* Artemis-energy; which is ironic because the Amazon never stops fighting somebody or another-- {which is quite significant to the civilian: she never becomes one of us} she never hears about Juno and cooking is never discussed, even, much less learned (much less used as a tool of demean-ment). Please: we hunt the deer, and eat the meat raw; what's cooking?.... But warriors tell me that you're not supposed to change sides in a war; people get angry. So that's the warrior's perspective, you know. So people get angry at the author lady for letting the Amazons lose the war: don't you know you're not supposed to lose the war! In the words of fighting fool Rumble McSkirmish: "Winners don't lose".... So people get angry; it sets off all those internal security alarms; some people react to the Amazon girl not unlike the other Amazons (in the book) do: Internal Security Alert! Insurgent, be advised that you will be hunted down; resistance is futile. You don't change sides in *this* war, fool!.... Because who's most repugnant to the nationalist? The countryman who doesn't conform.... So, sometimes Amazons call themselves the 'subduers of men'--maim the man-slaves! break their spirit!-- but they're really the scourge of women, sometimes.... We're not soft like you, b--!.... Oh, yes, Artemis is "the" goddess, and don't you dare forget it, even for a moment....

{And this is probably the biggest point:} So, I mean really the problem that I had with the war king wasn't that he didn't like or respect his war woman, because he did; she was sufficiently like him, for him to respect her. Like the author lady herself, she's like a swirling speck of femininity that gets lost in a sea of masculinity, until she gets lost behind this man-image, or something. And this, of course, happens long before they ever meet, really. When they're introducing themselves to each other, she calls herself a "king". Well, there you have it, the girls don't need a separate character or different values or something, because they have their own little nationality, their own kingship. They're just another race of men.... Girls aren't okay being girls; when they're really super they're *men*--they're even, more, manlier men.... But anyway, yeah, the war king can respect his Amazon, despite, or almost *because* of his absence of regard for women generally. He doesn't have this really intense contempt I guess, just an almost casual dismissal and an almost total disinclination to take them seriously [~i.e. sincerely], or to consider them as anything other than a passing fancy.... unless, of course, they can fight, because if they can do that, they can be valid on a masculine scale.... And that's really quite sad; it's so limited. It's like, what do you say to someone who thinks that the point of life is stealing somebody else's sheep? What do you tell that guy? What do you tell the guy who's attitude towards women is basically that of tepid indifference.... Oh, you're right; I'll need an heir.... so maybe I could go find some sort of hairy muscular girl who has cleavage and yet isn't too distinct or special or anything.... Wow, okay, I see you've got it all figured out. Good luck, man. Good luck with that.

That, and even if there were a possibility of a more likeable character--like the son, maybe-- he would just sort of fade out into this vague horizon of dry impersonal writing.... I mean, I was waiting for something to happen for most of the book, and it usually just didn't.... Perhaps the goddess peasants will stage a revolt someday.... perhaps.... but then, not really. And this isn't a subtle book: either you fire the cannon in the 1812-Overture, or you don't; there's no *almost* firing; there's no *almost* pregnant. The pirates either attack or they don't; the goddess peasants either march out, torches and pitchforks in hand, to put an end to the rule of men, chanting, The king must die! The king must die!.... or, they don't. And they don't. [I suppose I should be glad that it wasn't written with the main purpose or whatever or distortion, but it's too serious to say so little, and if anything could justify being so wooden, it's not some story already and known and considered almost standard-issue already. What's the point if you don't put the life back in it? It could almost be a novelization of a few lines of that book that should be called Mythology-1942: Magic for the Age of Motor Oil, another text dressed with the soul of a machine.] Although the book does actually last until the king actually does die, as a boring old totard who can't swim so good anymore.... Not so much because there was a convincing plot-finale or wrap-up, but just because she'd decided that she'd exhausted the material, or covered it as much as she was going to. As though to say, There! Now I've told you everything!

*rolls credits* *fast talking* This has been a BBC/Friends of the Library Production. May not be re-transmitted or re-broadcast without the express written consent of a Peer of the Realm or one of Bronte sisters. Unauthorized pirating on the internet of this documentary is not allowed. May not be available in America (legally). If you experience side effects such as excessive throat clearing, eyebrow-raising, or looking-down-nose-ing, please call your doctor right away. This transmission should not be seen by pregnant women, small children, adolescents, young adults, the elderly, decent men, women in general, a few good men, or Mr. Right. Other terms and conditions may apply. May not be available in all shires. Please discontinue if used. That is all. Good day.

I'm sorry, I just needed to compare it to one of those medications that make you throw up, or something. It's so modern. Artemis is modernity's answer to everything; it's as cliche as.... as the nationalist-jingoist, I guess. 'France first, hon-hon-hon; je suis *absurdly French pronunciation* Napoleon. Hon hon hon.' Yeah, if there's a real Artemis that's actually worthy of worship, she must be pretty embarrassed by all her secular fan mail.... [Because it really is one of those mediocre things that are the product of their time, and not the nature of the thing itself. New enough for rationalism, old enough to be stiff and lifeless. New enough for Artemis antagonisms and the-gods-insinuate-against-the-goddess-in-order-to-be-insinuated against, old enough for.... (Freudian-era Joe Campbell or) well, for it to sound a bit like WWI man Robert Graves, or the rather Victorian 'Golden Bough' guy--Graves and the Golden Bough especially run together in my mind, it becomes the White Bough--all of whom talk about religion as though it were a form of calculus, to one degree or another: even the poet mocked for his sentimentality often reads like a grammarian, and Frazier of the Bough especially wrote about twelve volumes of the most mathematical sort of writing.... even by the early 60s, the world of high civilization still far exceeded its emotional realization with its technical achievement, and even for the new scholars--Karen Armstrong writes about the History of God according to the 90s formula-- advice like, 'Take extra care not to lose what you feel' is utterly optional.... The point is to write about the economy of ancient Arabia--I mean, Islam!--to impress your friends, then drop in a few facile comments about politics to show your relevance, or else why you can prove that "Artemis" etymologically means "annoying little girl from science fiction movies".... and the novel here isn't just related to drawing upon or whatever this sort of writing, it just doesn't even have much independence from it, it's just more like a servant to it, like a servile simplification: I'll take the Truly Historical theories, and add some dialogue.... kinda make it a pseudo-historical narrative like Mythology-1942.... (Make sure there's some fighting for the Battlefield 1942 crowd....).... There are plenty of intellectuals who don't really take popular novels seriously, and historical stuff is supposed to appeal to them, so it's not surprising that the art takes a back seat to the pseudo-facts.... Just say "I" alot, that makes it personal.... they would only be made uncomfortable by feelings.... and the virgin warrior goddess king isn't embarrassed by caricatures of herself as the nationalist ideologue beyond the reach of reason.... She who guards her discontent....]

I know I would be pretty embarrassed. But if we're gonna start talking about all the fake gods who have stupid friends, you know whose name is going to come up. And you know that nobody wants that to happen.

Better to honestly believe in love, than to become a cliche in the hands of an angry goddess.... (Don't go on a date or I'll kill you!)It's just a little bit more flexible, somehow. Just keep your options open, right. Maybe I will go on a date; maybe I don't have to burn down every citadel on this large strategic map.

Maybe the next time I'll write a book, it'll have characters and plot and a fleshly vigor to it, instead of a cold vigor mortis.

*shrugs* Real life is an option. [~But some things are not okay.]

(7/10) ( )
1 vote | fearless2012 | Dec 6, 2014 |
Published four years after The King Must Die, this book picks up the thread of Theseus’ story once again. Having brought down the ancient Cretan house of Minos, he comes home to Athens flushed with glory, accompanied by his loyal team of bull-leapers, the Cranes. But the joy fades quickly: Theseus is greeted by news of his father’s premature death; and, for all the Cranes, the Athens they return to seems smaller and more provincial than the city they left...

For the rest of the review, please see my blog:
http://theidlewoman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/the-bull-from-sea-mary-renault.html ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Mar 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
"Its fascination lies in the intricate interweaving of the Theseus stories with other myths, in the superb recapturing of the classic way of life, and most of all in the sheer magic of the telling."

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Renaultprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dyer, KrisNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fick-Lugten, A. W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schindler, MaxCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To J. M. as ever
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It was dolphin weather, when I sailed into Piraeus with my comrades of the Cretan bull-ring.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
(from the back of the book) This is the story of the hero Theseus, King of Athens. The book opens with his triumphant return from Crete after slaying the Minotaur to mount the throne left empty by the death of his father Aigeus. Out of the many classical myths that surround the exploits of Theseus the King, Mary Renault has fashioned a magnificent novel of adventure, including the tale of Teseus' famous capture of the Amazon Hippolyta who became the love of his life and the crux of his fate.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375726802, Paperback)

The Bull from the Sea reconstructs the legend of Theseus, the valiant youth who slew the Minotaur, became king, and brought prosperity to Attica. Chief among his heroic exploits is the seduction of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, who irrevocably brought about both his greatest joy and his tragic destiny.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:38 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A fictionalized rendition of the heroic exploits of Theseus, King of Athens, beginning with his triumphant return from Crete after slaying the Minotaur.

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