Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
TOWARD the middle of the night, Chrysis was awakened by three knocks at the door. She had slept the whole day between the two Ephesians; they might have been taken for three sisters together. Rhodis was cuddled against the Galilæan; Myrtocleia slept face down, her eyes upon her arm and her back uncovered.
Chrysis disengaged herself carefully, took three steps upon the bed, descended, and partly opened her door.
A sound of voices came from the entrance.
"Who is it, Djala? who is it?" she asked.
"It is Naucrates who wishes to speak with thee. I am telling him that thou art not free."
"Oh, how stupid! Certainly I am free. Enter, Naucrates, I am in my room."
And she returned to the bed.
Naucrates stood for 'some time on the threshold as though he feared being indiscreet. The two musicians opened sleep-laden eyes but could not tea: themselves from their dreams.
"Seat thyself," said Chrysis. "I have no coquetries to make between us. I know thou hast not come for me. What wishest thou of me?"
Naucrates was a well-known philosopher who for more than twenty years had been the lover of Bacchis and had never deceived her, more through indolence than by fidelity. His gray hair was trimmed short, his beard pointed after the manner of Demosthenes and his moustache cut even with his lips. He wore a large white garment of seamless wool.
"I have come with an invitation for thee," he said. "Bacchis gives, tomorrow, a dinner to be followed by a festival. We will be seven, if thou comest. Do not fail us."
"A festival? What is the occasion?"
"She will free her handsomest slave, Aphrodisia. There will be dancers and auletrides. I believe thy two friends are engaged, and for that reason they should not be here. The others are rehearsing even now at Bacchiss."
"Oh! that is true," cried Rhodis, "we had forgotten it. Arise, Myrto, we are very late."
But Chrysis protested. "No! Not yet! How wicked thou art to take my women-friends away from me! If I had suspected that, I would not have received thee. Oh! see, they are already prepared!"
"Our robes are not complicated," said the child. "And we are of beautiful enough to spend a long time dressing."
"Will I see you at the temple, at least?"
"Yes, tomorrow morning; we will bring doves. I am taking a drachma from thy purse, Chrysé; we have nothing with which to buy them. Until tomorrow."
They ran out. Naucrates looked for some time at the door closed after them; then he folded his arms and, turning toward
[paragraph continues] Chrysis, said in a low voice, "Good. Thou conductest thyself well."
"Dost thou think this can endure for long? If it continues thus, we will be forced to go to Bathyllos . . ."
"Ah! no!" cried Chrysis, "I will never admit that! I know very well people make that comparison. But it is foolish and I am astonished that thou, who professest to think, should not understand how absurd it is."
"And what difference dost thou find?"
"There is no question of difference. There is no relation between the one and the other; that is clear."
"I do not say thou art wrong. I wish to know thy reasons."
"Oh! they can be given briefly; listen carefully. Woman is, in point of love, a finished instrument. From head to foot, she is made uniquely, marvelously, for love. She alone knows how to love. She alone knows how to be loved. Consequently, love between women is perfect; between man and woman it is not as pure; between men it is mere friendship. That is all," said Chrysis.
"Thou art hard on Plato, my girl."
"The great men are not, any more than gods, great in all circumstances. Pallas understands nothing of commerce, Sophocles knew not how to paint, Plato knew not how to love. Philosophers, poets, oratorsthose who appeal to his nameare no better, and however admirable they may be in their own art, in love they are simpletons. Believe me, Naucrates, I feel I am right."
The philosopher made a gesture. "Thou art a little irreverent,"
he said, "but I by no means feel thou art wrong. My indignation
was not real. There is something charming in the friendship of two young women, provided they are both quite willing to remain wholly feminine, to retain their long hair, wear womanly clothing, and refrain from artificial imitation of men, as though, illogically, they envied the gross sex which they despise so prettily. Yes, their alliance is remarkable because their bodies are not mated and their emotion is by so much the more refined. They do not embrace as do men with women; they feel more delicately the. supreme emotion. Their joy is not violent. They know nothing of brutal actions and because of this they are superior to Bathyllos. Human love is distinguished from the stupid heat of animals only by two divine functions: the caress and the kiss. Now these are the only things known to the women of whom we are speaking. They have even brought them to perfection."
"One can do no better," said Chrysis, puzzled. "But then why dost thou reproach me?"
"I reproach thee for being an hundred thousand. Already a large number of women do not enjoy themselves except in the company of other women. Soon you will receive us no more, even as a last resort. I am scolding thee from jealousy."
Here Naucrates found that the conversation had lasted long enough and he arose, simply. "I can tell Bacchis she may count on thee?" he asked.
"I will come," replied Chrysis.
The philosopher kissed her and went out slowly.
Then she clasped her hands and spoke aloud, although she was alone.
"Bacchis . . . Bacchis . . . He comes from her and does not
know? . . . Is the mirror still there, then? . . . Demetrios has forgotten me . . . If he has hesitated the first day, I am lost; he will do nothing . . . But it is possible that all is done! Bacchis has other mirrors which she uses oftener. Perhaps she does not know yet . . . Gods! Gods! No way of hearing, and perhaps . . . Ah! Djala! Djala!"
The slave entered.
"Give me my dice," said Chrysis. "I wish to cast."
And she threw four little dice into the air.
"Oh! . . . Oh! . . . Djala, look; the cast of Aphrodite!"
Thus was called a rather rare throw by which the cubes all presented a different face. There were exactly thirty-five chances to one against this arrangement. It was the best cast of the game.
Djala observed coldly, "What didst thou ask?"
"That is true," said Chrysis, disappointed, "I forgot to make a wish. I thought, indeed, of something, but I said nothing. Does that count the same?"
"I think not; thou must begin again."
A second time Chrysis threw the dice. "The cast of Midas, now. What dost thou think of it?"
"It is hard to say. Good and bad. It is a throw which is explained by the following one. Begin again with a single die."
A third time Chrysis interrogated the play; but as soon as the die had fallen she stammered: "The . . . the point of Kios!"
And she burst into sobs.
Djala said nothing, herself uneasy. Chrysis wept upon the couch, her hair spread out around her head. At length she turned with a movement of anger. "Why didst thou make me begin again? I am sure the first throw counted."
"If thou didst make a wish, yes. If thou didst not, no. Thou alone knowest," said Djala.
"Beside, the dice prove nothing. It is a Greek game. I do not believe in it. I will try something else."
She dried her tears and crossed the room. She took a box of white chips on a tablet, counted out twenty-two, then, with the point of a pearl clasp, she graved upon them, one after the other, the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They were the arcana of the Kabala which she had learned in Galilee. "Here is something I trust. Here is something which never deceives," she said. "Raise the fold of thy robe; that will be my bag."
She threw the twenty-two counters into the slave's tunic, repeating mentally, "Shall I wear the necklace of Aphrodite? Shall I wear the necklace of Aphrodite? Shall I wear the necklace of Aphrodite?"
And she drew out the tenth arcanum which clearly betokened: "Yes."