Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 126 p. 127
p. 128 p. 129
BACCHIS had been a courtesan for more than twenty-five years. That is to say, she was approaching her fourth decade and the character of her beauty had changed several times.
Her mother who, for a long time, had been the director of her house and the counsellor of her life, had given her principles of conduct and economy which had enabled her gradually to acquire a considerable fortune, upon which she could draw without reckoning at the age where magnificence of entertainment must compensate for lessening splendor of the person.
Thus, in place of buying adult slaves at a high price in the marketan expense which so many others considered necessary and which was ruinousshe had contented herself for ten years with a single negress, and had prepared for the future, free of cost, a numerous household which would later become an asset.
Seven very beautiful mulattresses were born of her slave, and also three boys whom she had disposed of, because male servants make jealous lovers. She had named the seven girls after the seven planets, and had chosen for them different occupations corresponding as nearly as possible to the names they bore. Heliope was the slave of the day, Selemis the slave of the night, Arete guarded the door, Aphrodisia attended to the bed, Hermione
made the purchases and Cronomagira presided in the kitchen. Finally, Diomede, the stewardess, attended to the accounts and responsibilities.
Aphrodisia was the favorite slave, the prettiest, the best loved. She often joined her mistress in entertaining visitors. Therefore she was excused from all servile work in order to keep her arms delicate and her hands soft. By an exceptional favor her hair was not covered, so that she was often taken for a free woman; and this very evening she was to be freed, at the enormous price of thirty-five minæ.
The seven slaves of Bacchis, all well grown and admirably disciplined, were such a source of pride for her that she never went out without having them in her train, at the risk of leaving her house empty. It was through this imprudence that Demetrios entered the house so easily; but she was still ignorant of her misfortune when she gave the festival to which Chrysis was invited.
This evening, Chrysis was the first to arrive.
She was dressed in a green robe, embroidered with enormous rose branches which flowered upon her bosom.
Arete opened the door for her before she had time to knock and, following the Greek custom, conducted her into a little room, took off her red shoes and gently washed her bare feet; then she perfumed her wherever it was necessary, for the guests were spared every trouble, even that of making their toilette before going in to dinner. Then she presented her a comb and pins to order her headdress, as well as unguent and dry tints for her lips and cheeks.
When Chrysis was finally ready, she asked the slave, "Who are the shades?"
Thus were called all the guests save one alone who was the invited. This one, in whose honor the repast was given, brought with him whom he pleased, and the "shades" had no care other than to bring their couch-cushion and to be well behaved.
To Chrysiss question, Arete replied:
"Naucrates has asked Philodemos with his mistress Faustina whom he brought from Italy. He has also asked Phrasilas and Timon, and thy friend Seso of Knidos."
At that very moment Seso entered. "Chrysis!"
The two women embraced and overflowed with exclamations at the happy chance which brought them together again.
"I feared I would be late," said Seso. "Poor Archytas delayed me. . . ."
"What, still he?"
"It is always the same thing. Whenever I go to dine in the town he imagines that everybody is going to paw me. Then he must be consoled beforehand, and that takes time! Ah! my dear! If he only knew me better! I scarcely wish to deceive him. He is jealous enough, as it is!"
"And his child? Has anybody seen it yet, that thou knowest?"
"I should hope not! The third monththe little wretch! But it does not annoy me yet. When it doesit will leave quickly."
"I know how you feel," said Chrysis. "Do not let it disfigure you. Children age women. Yesterday I saw Philemation, our little friend of former times who has been living for three years at
[paragraph continues] Bubastis with a grain-merchant's family. Dost thou know what she said to me, the first thing? 'Ah! If thou couldst see what it has done to me!' And she had tears in her eyes. I told her that she was still pretty, but she repeated: 'If thou couldst see! If thou couldst remember!' weeping like another Byblis. Then I saw she almost wanted me to agree with her, and I asked her to show me what she meant. My dearher skinlike leather! And thou knowest how beautiful it was. One could not bear to look at the knuckles, they were so red. Do not ruin thine, Seso. Keep young and white as you are. A woman's complexion is more precious than her jewels."
While speaking thus, the two women finished their toilettes. Then they entered, together, the banquet hall where Bacchis stood waiting, her waist clasped by apodesmes and her neck laden with golden necklaces which graduated up to her chin.
"Ah! pretty dears, what a good idea of Naucrates it was to invite you both this evening."
"We congratulate ourselves that it occurs here," replied Chrysis, without appearing to understand the allusion. And, in order to say something spiteful at once, she added: "How is Doryclos?"
That was a very rich young lover who had just left Bacchis to marry a Sicilian.
". . . I have sent him away," said Bacchis, brazenly.
"You don't say!"
"Yes. They say he is going to marry out of spite. But I expect him the morrow of his wedding. He is mad about me."
While asking, "Where is Doryclos?" Chrysis had thought: "Where is thy mirror?" but Bacchiss eyes did not look at her directly and she could read nothing in them except vague and
meaningless trouble. However, Chrysis had time to clear up this question and, in spite of her impatience, she could resign herself to await a more favorable occasion.
She was about to continue the conversation when she was prevented by the arrival of Philodemos, Faustina and Naucrates, who constrained Bacchis to fresh politenesses. They fell into ecstasies over the poet's embroidered garment and over the diaphanous robe of his Roman mistress. This young girl, little conversant with Alexandrian customs, had thought to Hellenize herself thus, not knowing that such a costume was incorrect at a feast where hired dancers, similarly half clothed, were to appear. Bacchis gave no sign of noticing this error, and she found amiable phrases to compliment Faustina upon her heavy, brilliant, blue-black hair drowned in striking perfumes. This she wore held up with a golden pin over the nape of her neck, to avoid spots of perfume upon her light silken garment.
They were about to take places at the table when the seventh guest entered; it was Timon, a young man whose absence of principle was a natural gift, but who had found, in the teachings of the philosophers of his time, some superior reasons approving his character.
"I have brought someone," he said, laughing.
"Who is it?" demanded Bacchis.
"A certain Demo, who is from Mendes."
"Demo! you don't mean it, my friend! She is a girl of the cheapest sort!"
"Oh, very well. I will not insist on it," said the young man.
"I just made her acquaintance at the corner of the Canopic way.
She asked me to give her a dinner and I brought her to thee. If thou wilt not . . ."
"This Timon is incredible," declared Bacchis.
She called a slave. "Heliope, go tell thy sister that she will find a woman at the door and that she is to drive her away with a beating. Go."
She turned, looking for someone.
"Phrasilas has not come?"