Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
IT was a procession white and blue, yellow and rose and green.
Thirty courtesans advanced carrying baskets of flowers, snow-white doves with red feet, veils of the most fragile azure, and precious ornaments.
An old white-bearded priest, enveloped even around the head in a stiff unbleached material, walked before the young cortege and guided the file of bowed devotees toward the stone altar.
They sang, and their song was slow as the sea, sighing like the wind of mid-day, fitful as the breath of an amorous mouth. The first two bore harps which, sustained in the hollow of their left hands, curved forward like sickles of slender wood.
One of them advanced and said: "Tryphera, O beloved Kypris, offers thee this blue veil, woven by herself, that thou mayest continue thy favor toward her."
Another: "Mousarion lays at thy feet, O Goddess of the Fair Crown, these wreaths of gilliflower and this bouquet of bowing narcissi. She has worn them and has invoked thy name in the intoxication of their perfume. O Victorious receive these spoils of love."
Still another: "As an offering to thee, Golden Cytheræa, Timo
consecrates this spiral bracelet. Mayest thou entwine vengeance around the throat of her thou knowest, as this silver serpent twined about her naked arm."
Myrtocleia and Rhodis came forward, holding each other by the hand. "Here are two doves from Smyrna with wings white as caresses, with feet red as kisses. O Double Goddess of Amathea, accept them from our joined hands if it be true that the gentle Adonis alone sufficeth thee not and that an embrace still gentler delays, at times, thy slumber."
A very young courtesan followed. "Aphrodite, Peribasia, receive me with this, my tunic. I am Pannychis of Pharos; since last night I have dedicated myself to thee."
Another: "Dorothæa conjures thee, O charitable Epistrophia, to take from her spirit the desire cast there by Eros or at length to inflame for her the eyes of him who refuseth himself. She offers thee this branch of myrtle because it is the tree which thou prefer-rest."
Another: "Upon thine altar, O Paphia, Callistion lays sixty drachmæ of silver, the remainder of four minæ which she received from Cleomenes. Give her a lover more generous still, if the offering seem good to thee."
There remained before the idol only a blushing child who had placed herself last. She held in her hand only a little wreath of crocus and the priest scorned her for an offering so slight.
She said: "I am not rich enough to give thee silver pieces, O Brilliant Olympian. Moreover, what could I give thee which thou dost not already possess? Here are yellow and green flowers, woven in a wreath for thy feet. And now . . ."
She threw open her tunic in a gesture of surrender to the deity. ". . . behold me wholly thine, Beloved Goddess. I wish to enter thy gardens to die a priestess of the temple. I swear to desire only you, I swear to love only you, and I renounce the world and sink myself in thee."
The priest then covered her with perfumes and enveloped her with the veil woven by Tryphera. They left the nave together, through a door leading to the gardens.
The procession seemed finished and the other courtesans were about to withdraw when a last woman, late coming, appeared on the threshold.
This one had nothing in her hand and it seemed that she also had come to offer only her beauty. Her hair seemed like two floods of gold, two deep, shadow-laden waves which swallowed up the ears and wound seven-fold upon the nape of her neck. The nose was delicate, with thin nostrils which sometimes pulsed above the full and tinted mouth with rounded mobile corners. The pliant line of the body undulated with each step, animated by the swaying of the hips, and the rounded waist curved.
Her eyes were extraordinary, blue, but deep and brilliant at the same time, changing as moonstones, half closed under the drowsy lids. They looked, those eyes, as the sirens sing . . .
The priest turned toward her, awaiting her speech.
She said, "Chrysis, O Chryseia, supplicates thee. Receive the slight gifts she lays at thy feet. Listen, hear, love and relieve her who lives after thine example and for the glory of thy name."
She stretched forth hands golden with rings and bowed, her legs together.
The vague song recommenced. The murmur of the harps
mounted toward the statue with the rapid smoke of the incense which the priest burned in a simmering basin.
She straightened slowly and presented a bronze mirror which had been fastened at her girdle. "To thee," she said, "Astarte of the Night who minglest hands and lips and whose symbol is like the print of does feet upon the pale earth of Syria, Chrysis consecrates her mirror. It has seen features and faces molded and transmuted by thy works, O thou eager-handed mighty one who movest lips to seek flesh."
The priest placed the mirror at the feet of the statue. Chrysis drew from her golden hair a long comb of red copper, the planetary metal of the goddess.
"To thee," she said, "Anadyomene, who wert born of the bleeding dawn and the foamy smile of the waters: to thee, Bare Beauty streaming with pearls, who didst knot thy dampened hair with ribbons of green seaweed, Chrysis consecrates her comb. It has dressed the hair which thou hast disheveled, O thou who controllest and moldest the beloved body."
She gave her comb to the old man and bent her head to the right to remove her necklace of emeralds.
"To thee," she said, "O beloved who cooled the blush of the shamefaced maidens, who counsellest laughter: to thee, in whose name we offer our love, Chrysis consecrates her necklace. It was given in fee by a man whose name she knows not, and each emerald is a kiss where thou hast lived an instant."
She bowed a last time, profoundly, put the necklace into the hands of the priest, and took a step to go.
The priest detained her. "What dost thou ask of the goddess for these precious offerings?"
She smiled, shaking her head, and said, "I ask nothing." Then she passed along the procession, stole a rose from a basket and put it to her mouth as she went out.
One by one, all the women followed. The door closed again upon the empty temple.
Demetrios remained alone, hidden in the bronze pedestal. He had not lost a gesture or a word of all this scene and when all was finished he remained a long time motionless, tormented afresh by irresolved passion.
He had believed himself well cured of his recent folly and had thought that nothing, henceforth, could throw him a second time into the ardent shadow of this unknown woman.
But he had reckoned without her.
Women! O women! If you wish to be loved, show yourselves, return, be at hand! The emotion he had felt upon the entrance of the courtesan was so complete and so violent that it could no longer be fought against by an effort of will. Demetrios was bound like a barbarian slave to a triumphal chariot. To escape was an illusion. Without knowing it, and naturally, she had laid her hand upon him.
He had seen her coming at a great distance, for she wore the same yellow robe as on her walk along the jetty. She moved with slow and supple steps, softly undulating her hips. She had come direct to him as though she had divined him behind the stone.
From the first instant he knew that he would fall again at her feet. When she drew the mirror of polished bronze from her
girdle, she looked into it for some time before giving it to the priest, and the brilliance of her eyes became stupefying. When, to take out her copper comb, she placed her hand upon her hair, raising a bended arm, according to the gesture of the Charities, all the beautiful line of her body was suggested under the garment, and the sun on the arm glinted on a vague and gleaming dew of perspiration. At last, when to lift and undo her necklace of heavy emeralds, she disarranged the folded silk which veiled her bosom, Demetrios felt himself seized with a frenzy of affectionate hunger. But Chrysis began to speak.
She spoke, and each of her words tore him with anguish. She seemed to take pleasure in insisting and expanding on the universal delight in the vessel of beauty that she was, white as the statue itself and full of gold which streamed forth in her hair. She announced her door open for the idleness of passers-by, the contemplation of her beauty abandoned to the unworthy, and her readiness to make merry with unappreciative children. She gloried in her life and the markings it brought to her featuresher lips, her hair, her deep divinity.
The excessive ease which surrounded her approach inclined Demetrios toward her, determined as he was to use it for himself alone to close the door behind him. So true is it that a woman is most maddeningly attractive when one has occasion to be jealous of her.
Therefore, having given to the goddess her green necklace in exchange for the one she herself hoped for, Chrysis returned toward the towncarrying a human will upon her lips like the little stolen rose whose stem she nibbled.
Demetrios waited until he was left alone in the precinct; then he issued from his retreat.
He looked uneasily at the statue, expecting a struggle in himself. But, as he was incapable of renewing a very violent emotion after so brief an interval, he became again astonishingly calm and without premature remorse.
Carelessly, he ascended softly to the statue, lifted from the bowed neck the necklace of the true pearls of the Anadyomene, and slipped it into his garments.