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Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, [1932], at

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Chapter Seven


"HA!" cried Rhodis. "Look! Someone."

The singer looked. A woman, far from them, was walking rapidly down the quay.

"I recognize her," continued the child. "It is Chrysis. She is wearing her yellow robe."

"What, is she already dressed?"

"I don't understand it. Usually she does not go out before noon, and the sun has scarcely risen. Something has happened to her. Good fortune, doubtless; she has such good luck."

They went to meet her, and said, "Greeting, Chrysis."

"Greeting. How long have you been here?"

"I don't know. It was already light when we came."

"Was anyone on the jetty?"

"No one."

"Not a man? Are you sure?"

"Oh! quite sure. Why dost thou ask that?"

Chrysis made no reply. Rhodis continued, "Didst thou wish to see someone?"

"Yes . . . perhaps . . . I think it is better that I should not see him. Yes, it is better. I was wrong to return; but I could not help it."

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"What is happening, Chrysis; wilt thou tell us?"

"Oh! no."

"Not even us? not even us, thy friends?"

"Thou wilt know it later, with the whole town."

"That is kind of thee."

"A little earlier, if you insist upon it; but it is impossible, this morning. Extraordinary things are happening, my children. I am dying to tell you; but I must hold my tongue. Were you going home? Come to my house. I am all alone."

"O Chrysé, Chrysidion, we are too tired; we were going home to sleep."

"Well! you shall sleep! This is the eve of the Festival of Aphrodite. It is a time for repose. If you wish the goddess to protect you and make you happy this coming year you must arrive at the temple with eyelids dark as violets and cheeks white as lilies. We will attend to that; come with me."

She placed her arms about their waists and bore them hurriedly away.

Rhodis, however, was still preoccupied. "And when we shall be in thy house," she continued, "thou wilt not then tell us what is coming to thee, what thou awaitest?"

"I will tell you many things, all that you please; hut that I will not tell. Do not insist, Rhodé. Thou wilt know it tomorrow. Wait until tomorrow."

"Thou art to be very happy? Or very powerful?"

"Very powerful."

Rhodis opened her eyes wide and cried:

"Thou shalt visit the queen!"

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"No," said Chrysis, laughing; "but I shall be as powerful as she. Hast thou need of me? Desirest thou anything?"

"Oh! Yes!"

And the child became thoughtful again.

"Well, what is it?" inquired Chrysis.

"It is an impossible thing. Why should I ask it?"

Myrtocleia spoke for her: "At Ephesos in our country, when two girls like Rhodis and me love each other, the priests bless them. They both go to the temple of Athena to consecrate their double girdle; then to the sanctuary of Iphinoe to offer a lock of their mingled hair and finally under the Peristyle of Dionysos a ceremony is performed. In the evening, they go to their new dwelling, seated upon a flower-decked car, surrounded by torches and flute-players. And thenceforward they have all rights. They are respected. That is Rhodis’s dream. But here it is not the custom. . . ."

"The law shall be changed," said Chrysis; "and you shall be blessed together; I will make it my business."

"Oh! truly?" cried the little one, flushing with joy.

"Yes; and I do not ask which of you will be the happier. I know Myrto, and that thou art lucky, Rhodis, to have such a friend. No matter what is said, they are rare."

They had arrived at the door, where Djala, seated on the threshold, was weaving a towel of flax. The slave arose to let them pass, and entered after them.

In an instant the two flute-players had slipped out of their simple garments. Each washed the other carefully in a green marble bowl which emptied into the basin. Then they sank upon the bed.

Chrysis looked at them without seeing. The slightest words of

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[paragraph continues] Demetrios repeated themselves endlessly, word for word, in her memory. She did not feel that Djala, in silence, untied and unrolled her long saffron veil, unbuckled the girdle, opened the necklaces, drew off the rings, the seals, the circlets, the silver serpents, drew out the golden pins; but the tickling of her falling hair awoke her vaguely.

She demanded her mirror.

Did she fear that she was not beautiful enough to retain this new lover—for he must be held—after the mad enterprises she had demanded of him? Or did she wish, through the examination of each of her beauties, to calm any unrest and justify her confidence?

She presented her mirror to all parts of her body, studying them one after another. She considered the whiteness of her skin, estimated its softness by long caresses, its warmth by embraces. She tested the firmness of her body, the tightness of her flesh. She measured her hair and considered its brilliance. She tried the strength of her gaze, the expression of her mouth, the sweetness of her breath, and from the edge of her armpit to the bend of the elbow she slowly drew a kiss along her arm.

An extraordinary emotion, made of surprise and pride, of certainty and impatience, seized her at the contact of her own lips. She turned as though she sought someone, but discovering on her bed the two Ephesians whom she had forgotten, she lay down between them, and her long golden hair enveloped the three young heads.

Next: Chapter One. The Gardens of the Goddess