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Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, [1932], at

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Chapter Four


HOWEVER, this woman would have given him her comb and even her hair as well, for love. If he did not ask it of her, it was because of his scruples; Chrysis had very precisely demanded a crime—not any ancient jewel, thrust into the hair of a young woman. That is why he believed it his duty to consent to some shedding of blood.

Still, he might have considered that the oaths one makes to women during the crises of love may be forgotten in the interval without great injury to the moral value of the lover who has sworn them; and that, if ever this involuntary forgetfulness needed to cover itself with an excuse, it would surely be in a case where the life of another assuredly innocent woman lay in the balance. But Demetrios did not pause to reason in this way. The adventure which he pursued was really too curious for him to trifle with its violent incidents. He feared lest he regret, later, having effaced from the intrigue some scene which, though short, was necessary to the beauty of the whole. Often but one virtuous qualm is necessary to reduce a tragedy to the commonplace of normal existence. The death of Cassandra, he mused, was not an indispensable fact in the development of "Agamemnon," but if it had not taken place, all the "Orestes" would have been spoiled.

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That is why, having cut away Touni's hair, he folded the engraved ivory comb in his garments and, without reflecting further, undertook the third of the labors commanded by Chrysis: the rape of the necklace of Aphrodite.

He was not obliged to consider entering the temple by the Great Gate. The twelve hermaphrodites who guarded the entry would doubtless have let Demetrios pass, in spite of the prohibition which halted all the profane in the absence of the priest; but there was no reason why he should prove his futile guilt so naïvely, since a secret entrance led to the sanctuary.

Demetrios turned into a part of the deserted woods where lay the Necropolis of the High Priests of the goddess. He counted the first tombs, turned the door of the seventh, and closed it behind him.

With great difficulty, for the stone was heavy, he raised the funeral slab under which a marble stairway led downward, and descended, step by step.

He knew that one could make sixty paces in a straight line, and that afterward it was necessary to follow the wall by touch in order not to collide with the subterranean stairway of the temple.

The full coolness of the earth-depths calmed him, little by little. In a few moments he arrived at the end.

He ascended, he opened.

The night was light outside and black inside the divine enclosure. When, with care he had gently closed the too sonorous door, he felt himself full of tremors and as though surrounded by the cold of the stones. He dared not raise his eyes. The black silence terrified him; the obscurity peopled itself with unknown

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beings. He laid his hand on his forehead like a man who does not wish to awake for fear of finding himself living. At last he looked.

In the full moonlight, the goddess, upon a pedestal of rosy stone, laden with pendent treasures, appeared as though living. She was nude, softly tinted in feminine tones; she held in one hand her symbolic mirror, and with the other adorned her beauty with a seven-fold necklace of pearls. One pearl, larger than the others, silvery and elongated, shone upon her bosom like a crescent moon between snowy clouds. And they were the true holy pearls born of the water drops which rolled in the shell of the Anadyomene.

Demetrios lost himself in ineffable adoration. He believed in truth that Aphrodite herself was there. He recognized his work no longer, so profound was the abyss between what he had been and what he had become. He held forth his arms and murmured the mysterious words by which the goddess is supplicated in the Phrygian ceremonies.

Supernatural, luminous, impalpable, naked and pure, the softly palpitating vision hovered upon the stone. He fixed his eyes upon her although he feared lest the caress of his look make the delicate hallucination evaporate into the air. He advanced very gently, touched with his finger the rosy toe, as though to assure himself of the existence of the statue, and, incapable of stopping, so much she drew him to her, he ascended until he stood beside her and, placing his hands upon the white shoulders, gazed contemplatively into her eyes.

He trembled, he swooned, he laughed with joy. His hands wandered over the arms, the cold, hard waist, descended, caressed.

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[paragraph continues] With all his strength he strained himself to this Immortality. He looked at himself in the mirror, he lifted the necklace of pearls, took it off, swung it, gleaming, in the moonlight, and replaced it timidly. He kissed the curving hand, the round neck, the undulous bosom, the partly opened marble mouth. Then he drew back to the edge of the pedestal and, beholding the divine arms, gazed tenderly at the adorable bowed head.

The hair, dressed in the oriental manner, lightly veiled the forehead. The half-closed eyes elongated, smiling. The lips were parted as though swooning from a kiss.

Silently he disposed the seven rows of round pearls upon the dazzling breast and descended to the floor to see the idol from a distance.

Then it seemed to him that he awoke. He recalled what he had come to do, what he had wished, nearly accomplished; a monstrous thing. He blushed to the temples. The remembrance of Chrysis passed like a gross apparition before his memory. He enumerated everything dubious in the courtesan's beauty: the thick lips, the puffed hair, the languid gait. He had forgotten her hands, but he imagined them large to add an odious detail to the image he repulsed. His state of mind became like that of a man at dawn who could not explain to himself how he could have permitted himself to be tempted the evening before. He found neither an excuse, nor even a serious reason. Evidently he had been, for a day, victim of a sort of passing madness, a physical unrest, a malady. He felt himself cured, but still dizzy with intoxication.

To complete the return to himself, he leaned back against the wall of the temple and remained a long time standing before the statue. The light of the moon continued to descend through the

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square opening in the roof; Aphrodite shone resplendent; and, as her eyes were in the shadow, he sought their gaze . . .

So the night passed. Then the day came and the statue took in turn the glowing rosiness of the dawn and the golden reflection of the sun.

Demetrios had ceased to think. The ivory comb and the silver mirror which he bore in his tunic had passed from his memory. He abandoned himself gently to serene contemplation.

Outside, a tempest of bird cries clamored, piped and sang in the garden. The voices of women talked and laughed at the foot of the walls. The agitation of morning surged up from the awakened earth. Demetrios was filled only with delicious emotions.

The sun was already high and the shadow of the roof had moved when he heard a confused sound of light feet ascending the outer steps.

It was doubtless a sacrifice which they were about to offer the goddess, a procession of young women coming to fulfill vows or pronounce them before the statue for the first day of the Aphrodisian Festivals.

Demetrios wished to avoid them.

The sacred pedestal opened in the rear in a fashion known only to the priests and the sculptor. There the Hierophant stood to dictate to a young girl whose voice was clear and high, the miraculous utterances which issued from the statue on the third day of the festival. Through it, the gardens could be reached. Demetrios entered and paused before the bronze-edged opening which pierced the thick stone.

The two golden doors opened heavily. Then the procession entered.

Next: Chapter Five. The Invitation