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Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, [1932], at

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Chapter Six


SO the thing was done. Chrysis had the proof.

If Demetrios had resolved to commit the first crime, the two others must have followed without delay. A man of his rank would consider murder and even sacrilege to be less dishonoring than theft.

He had obeyed; therefore he was captive. This free, impassive, cold man, he too submitted to slavery, and his mistress, his dominator, was she, Chrysis, Sarah of the land of Gennesaret.

Ah! to think of it, repeat it, cry it aloud, to be alone! Chrysis precipitated herself from the clamor-filled house and ran quickly, straight before her, met full in the face by the morning breeze, cooled at last.

She followed to the Agora the street which led to the sea and at whose end the spars of eight hundred vessels huddled like gigantic reeds. Then she turned to the right, before the immense avenue of the Drome where the dwelling of Demetrios stood. A tremor of pride enveloped her and she passed before the windows of her future lover; but she was too clever to seek him before he sought her. She traversed the long road to the Canopic Gate and threw herself upon the ground between two aloes.

He had done it. He had done all for her, doubtless more than

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any lover had ever done for any woman. She could not weary of repeating it and affirming her triumph. Demetrios, the Well-Beloved, the impossible and hopeless dream of so many feminine hearts, had exposed himself, for her, to every peril, every shame, every voluntary remorse. He had even denied the ideal of his thoughts, he had despoiled his work of the miraculous necklace, and this day, already dawning, would see the lover of the goddess at the feet of his new idol.

"Take me! take me!" she cried. She adored him now. She called him, she desired him. The three crimes, in her spirit, transformed themselves into heroic actions, for which, in return, she would never have enough tenderness, enough passion, to give. With what an incomparable flame, then, would burn this unique love of two beings equally young, equally fair, equally loved by each other and united forever after surmounting so many obstacles?

Together they would depart, they would leave the queen's city, they would set sail for mysterious lands, for Amathus, for Epidaurus or even for the unknown Rome which was the second city of the world after immense Alexandria, and which was undertaking the conquest of the earth. What would they not do, wherever they might be! What joy would be foreign to them, what human felicity would not envy theirs and pale before their enchanted passage!

Chrysis arose, dazzled. She stretched out her arms, raised her shoulders, breathed deeply. A sensation of languor and of increasing joy swelled in her heart. She resumed her homeward journey.

Opening the door of her room, she was surprised to see that nothing, since the day before, had changed beneath her roof. The little objects of her toilette, the table, the shelves, appeared to her

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insufficient to surround her new life. She broke some which reminded her too directly of old, useless lovers and for which she conceived a sudden hatred. If she spared others, it was not that she cared more for them but because she feared to denude her room in case Demetrios had formed the project of passing the night there.

She undressed slowly. The vestige of the orgy fell from her tunic, crumbs of cake, hairs, rose leaves.

With her hand, she freed her waist from the girdle and plunged her fingers into her hair to loosen its mass. But before lying down on the bed, the desire seized her to repose an instant upon the rugs of the terrace where the coolness of the air was so delicious.

She ascended.

The sun, risen only a few instants before, reposed upon the horizon like a huge, swollen orange.

A great palm tree with a curved trunk dropped its mass of dewy green leaves over the parapet. Chrysis crushed them to her tingling skin and shivered, her arms folded before her.

Her eyes wandered over the town, which whitened little by little. The violet mists of the dawn arose from the silent streets and fainted in the lucid air.

Suddenly an idea sprang forth in her mind, increased, dominated, made her delirious: Demetrios, he who had already done so much, why should he not kill the queen, he who could be king? And then . . .

And then, this enduring ocean of houses, of palaces, temples, porticoes, colonnades, which floated before her eyes from the Western Necropolis to the Gardens of the Goddess: Bruchion, the Hellenic town, dazzling and regular; Rhacotis, the Egyptian town,

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before which the light-flooded Paneion arose like an acropolitan mountain; the Great Temple of Serapis with a façade horned by two long rosy obelisks; the Great Temple of Aphrodite, surrounded by the murmurs of three hundred thousand palm trees and of numberless waters; the Temple of Persephone and the Temple of Arsinoe, the two sanctuaries of Poseidon, the three towers of Isis Pharis, the seven columns of Isis Lochias, and the Theater and the Hippodrome and the Stadion where Psittacos had run against Nicosthene, and the tomb of Stratonice and the tomb of the god Alexander—Alexandria! Alexandria—the sea, the men, the colossal marble Pharos whose mirrors saved men from the sea! Alexandria—the city of Berenice and of the eleven Ptolemaic kings, Physcos, Philometor, Epiphanios, Philadelphos! Alexandria—fulfillment of all dreams, the crown of all glories conquered during three thousand years in Memphis, Thebes, Athens, Corinth, by the chisel, by the reed, by the compass and by the sword!

Farther yet, the Delta, riven by the seven tongues of the Nile, Sais, Bubastis, Heliopolis; then, rising toward the south, the ribbon of fertile earth, the Heptanome where twelve hundred temples to all the gods lay in a vista along the banks of the river; and, farther, the Thebaid, Diospolis, the Elephantine Isle, the impassable cataracts, the Isle of Argo . . . Merœ . . . the Unknown; and even, could one believe the traditions of the Egyptians, the land of fabulous lakes whence escapes the antique Nile, lakes so vast that one loses the horizon while traversing their purple floods and so high in the mountains that the stars, distant no more, reflect in them like golden fruits—all that, all, would

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be the kingdom, the domain, the property of Chrysis the courtesan!

She raised her arms, suffocating, as though she thought herself able to touch the sky. And as she moved thus she saw, slowly passing at her left, a huge bird with black wings, flying toward the high seas.

Next: Chapter Seven. Cleopatra