Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
OVER the sea and the gardens of the Goddess, the moon erected her mountains of light. Melitta, the young girl, so delicate and slender, whom Demetrios had taken for an instant and who had offered to lead him to Chimairis the Chiromant, remained alone with the savage, crouching sibyl.
"Do not follow that man," Chimairis said to her.
"Oh! But I have not even asked him if I shall see him again . . . Let me run after him and I will return . . ."
"No, thou wilt not see him again. And that is better, girl. Those who see him once know sorrow. Those who see him twice play with death."
"Why dost thou say that? I, who have just seen him, have played only with pleasure in his arms."
"Thou hast had pleasure with him because thou knowest not what love is, my child. Forget him as a comrade and congratulate thyself that thou art not twelve years old."
"Then people are very unhappy when they are grown up?' asked the child. "All the women here speak constantly of their troubles and I, who hardly ever weep, see them weep so much."
Chimairis buried her hands in her hair and groaned. The goat
shook his golden collar, turning his head toward her, but she did not even look at him.
Melitta continued purposely, "However, I know one happy woman. It is my great friend, it is Chrysis . . . I am sure she does not weep . . ."
"She will weep," said Chimairis.
"Oh! prophetess of ill fortune! Take back what thou hast said, old mad-woman, or I will detest thee!"
But before the gesture of the little girl the black goat rose erect with forelegs drawn in and horns advanced.
Melitta fled, caring not whither.
Twenty paces farther on she burst out laughing at sight of a ridiculous couple among the bushes. And that sufficed to change the course of her thoughts.
She took the longest way to return to her house; then she decided not to return at all. The moonlight was magnificent, the night was warm, the gardens full of voices, laughter and song. Satisfied by what Demetrios had given her, she had a sudden desire to trail around the paths and bushes like a homeless priestess, in the depths of the wood, among the poor passers-by. Thus she was halted three or four times, under trees, beside stelæ, and at benches; she amused herself with this new game whose setting sufficed to change the method of playing it, until a soldier standing in the middle of the path caught and raised her in his robust arms, like the god of the garden meeting a dryad. She exclaimed over this in triumphant delight.
Again free and continuing her way along a colonnade of palm trees, she met a lad named Mikyllos who seemed to be lost in the forest. She offered to serve him as guide, but she misled him to
keep him all for herself. Mikyllos was not long in ignorance of Melitta's designs. Soon, comrades rather than lovers, they ran side by side into a more and more silent isolation and suddenly discovered the sea.
The place they had reached was far from the regions where the courtesans ordinarily fulfilled their religious profession. Why they chose other meeting places than thisthe most admirable of allthey could not have said. The wood where the crowd meets is quickly stamped, once for all, with its central vista and its network of paths and squares and star-shaped clearings. On the outskirts, whatever may be the charm and beauty of the spots, an eternal void and the forest growth dominate in peace.
Mikyllos and Melitta arrived thus, hand in hand, at the edge of the public forest, a short hedge of aloes which defined a needless bound between the gardens of Aphrodite and those of her High Priest.
Encouraged by the silence and solitude of this flowering desert, both easily crossed the irregular wall of thick, twisted plants. At their feet the Mediterranean lapped softly upon the strand with little waves light as the welling of a river. The two children plunged waist deep and laughingly pursued each other to attempt, in the water, difficult acrobatics which they quickly interrupted like games only half learned. Then, glistening and streaming, shaking their thin legs in the moonlight, they leaped upon the shadowy shore.
Footprints upon the sand drew them onward. They followed.
The night shone with an extraordinary brilliancy. They walked, ran, struggled with each other's hands, their sharp shadows silhouetting their figures behind them. How far would they go
thus? They saw only themselves in the blue immensity of the horizon.
But suddenly Melitta cried: "Ah . . . Look! . . ." "What is it?"
"A priestess . . . Oh! the shameless! She has gone to sleep in this spot."
Melitta shook her head. "No . . . Oh! no; I do not dare go near, Mikyllos . . . She is no ordinary priestess . . ." "I would have thought so."
"No, Mikyllos; no, no; she is not one of us . . . It is Touni, the wife of the High Priest . . . And look at her well . . . She is not asleep . . . Oh! I do not dare go near, her eyes are open . . . Let us go . . . I am afraid . . . I am afraid . . ."
Mikyllos took three steps on tiptoe. "Thou art right. She is not asleep, Melitta, she is dead, the poor woman."
"A pin in her heart."
He reached forth his hand to draw it out, but Melitta was seized with fright. "No. No! Do not touch her . . . She is a sacred person . . . Stay near her. Guard her, protect her . . . I am going for help . . . I am going to tell the others."
And she ran at top speed into the heavy shadows of the black trees.
Mikyllos wandered about for some time, alone and trembling before the young corpse. He touched the transpierced breast with his fingers. Then, terrified by death or fearing above all to be taken for an accomplice in the murder, he departed suddenly, resolved to tell no one.
The cold body of Touni remained as before, abandoned in the moonlight.
Long after, the forest around her filled with a murmur, frightful because it was almost imperceptible.
From all sides, between the tree-trunks, between the bushes, a thousand women, huddled together like frightened sheep, advanced slowly, their immense mass quivering with a single shudder.
With a movement regular as that of sea-waves upon the strand, the first rank constantly gave way to another and it seemed as though no one wished to be first to discover and see the dead woman.
A great cry, uttered at once by a thousand throats far into the distance, saluted the poor body perceived at the foot of a tree.
A thousand arms were raised in the air, another thousand, and tear-choked voices were heard: "Goddess! not on us! Goddess! not on us! Goddess! if thou vengest thyself, spare our lives!"
A desperate voice rallied: "To the Temple!"
And all repeated: "To the Temple! To the Temple!"
Then a new stir swept through the multitude. Without daring another look at the dead woman who lay stretched upon her back, her arms thrown out, her eyes turned backward, the crowd of women, the white and the black, those from the East and those from the West, the sumptuous robes and the vague nudities, disappearing among the trees, gained the clearings, the paths, the roads, filled the open places, mounted the vast rosy stair which blushed in the rising dawn, and, with their frail, closed fists, beat upon the high bronze doors, wailing like children: "Open to us! Open to us!"