Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
AND the Agora stood empty like a beach after the tide. Not entirely empty; a man and a woman remained, those who alone knew the secret of the great public emotion and who, one through the other, had caused it: Chrysis and Demetrios.
The young man was seated on a block of marble near the gate. The young woman was standing at the other extremity of the square. They could not recognize each other, but they divined one another mutually. Chrysis ran through the glare of the sun, drunken with pride, and, at last, with desire.
"Thou hast done it!" she cried. "Thou hast done it!"
"Yes," said the young man, simply. "Thou art obeyed."
She threw herself upon his knees and clasped him in a delicious embrace.
"I love thee! I love thee! I have never felt what I feel now. Gods! Now I know what it is to be in love! Thou seest it, my beloved, I give thee more than I promised thee day before yesterday. I who never desired anyoneI did not dream I would change so quickly. I would have loved thee; but now I give thee all that I have of good, all that I have of innocence, sincere and impassioned, all my soul, which is virgin, Demetrios, believe it!
[paragraph continues] Come with me, let us leave this town for a time, let us go to a hidden place, where there will be but thee and me. There we will have days such as the world has never known. Never has a lover done what thou hast done for me. Never has a woman loved as I love; it is not possible! It is not possible! I can hardly speak, my throat is so choked. Thou seest, I weep. I know also, now, why one weeps: it is from too much happiness . . . But thou dost not reply! thou sayest nothing! Kiss me . . ."
Demetrios stretched out his right leg, to lower his knee which was becoming a little tired. Then he made the young woman rise, arose himself, shook his garment to aerate the folds, and said softly, with a rather enigmatic little smile, "No . . . Farewell!"
And he walked away with a tranquil step.
Chrysis, dumbfounded, stood with open mouth and dangling hands. "What? . . . What . . . what sayest thou?"
"I say farewell," he articulated without raising his voice. "But . . . But then it was thou who . . ."
"Yes. I had promised thee."
"Then . . . I do not understand."
"My dear, that thou understandest or not is of no importance to me. I leave this little mystery to thy meditations. If what thou hast told me is true, they threaten to be prolonged. Here is something that comes handy to occupy them. Farewell."
"Demetrios! What do I hear? . . . Whence has this tone come to thee? Is it indeed thou who speakest? Explain to me! I conjure thee! What has happened between us? I could dash my head against the walls . . ."
"Must I repeat, a hundred times, the same thing to thee? Yes,
I have taken the mirror; yes, I have killed the priestess Touni to
have the antique comb; yes, I have taken from the neck of the goddess the great seven-fold necklace of pearls. I was to deliver the three gifts to thee in exchange for a single sacrifice on thy part. That would be to value it highly, would it not? Now I have ceased to attribute this considerable value to it and I ask nothing more of thee. Act the same in thy turn and let us part. I wonder that thou dost not yet understand in the least a situation of such striking simplicity."
"Then keep thy presents! Am I thinking of them? It is thou whom I wish, thou alone . . ."
"Yes, I know it. But once more, I no longer wish on my side; and as the consent of both lovers is required for an assignation, our union is in danger of not being realized if I persist in my views. I am trying to make thee understand, with all the verbal clearness of which I am capable. I see that it is insufficient; but as it is not in my power to make it more perfect, I beg thee to accept with a good grace the fact as it is without penetrating any obscurity it has for thee, since thou dost not admit its possibility. I earnestly desire to close this interview which can have no result and which may perhaps lead me into being disagreeable."
"They have spoken to thee of me!"
"Oh! I divine it! They have spoken to thee of me; do not say no! They have told thee evil of me! I have terrible enemies, Demetrios! Thou must not listen to them. I swear to thee by the gods, those women lie!"
"I do not know them."
"Believe me! Believe me, Well-Beloved! What interest would
[paragraph continues] I have in deceiving thee since I expect nothing of thee but thyself? Thou art the first to whom I have spoken thus . . ."
Demetrios looked her in the eyes. "It is too late," he said. "I have had thee."
"Thou ravest . . . When was that? Where? How?"
"I speak the truth. I have had thee in spite of thyself. What I expected of thy favors, thou hast given me, unknown to thyself. Thou didst lead me in dreams, last night, to the country whither thou wouldst go, and thou wert fair . . . Ah! how fair thou wert, Chrysis! I have returned from that country. No human will can force me to see it again. One never finds happiness twice in the same way. I am not mad to the point of spoiling a happy memory. I owe thee this, wouldst thou say? But as I have loved only thy shadow, thou wilt dispense me, my dear, from thanking thy reality."
Chrysis put her hands to her temples. "It is abominable! It is abominable! And he dares say it! He is content with it!"
"Thou becomest quickly precise. I told thee I had dreamed; art thou sure I was sleeping? I told thee I had been happy; does happiness, for thee, consist exclusively in this coarse physical emotion which thou provokest so well, thou hast told me, and which thou hast no power to diversify, since it is perceptibly the same with all women who give themselves? No, it is thyself whom thou belittlest in taking on this unseemly behavior. I think thou knowest not all the joys which are born of thy steps. The reason that mistresses differ, is that each has personal ways of preparing and concluding an occasion which, after all, is as monotonous as it is necessary and which, considered by itself, would not be worth all the trouble we take to find a perfect mistress.
In this preparation and in this conclusion, among all women, thou excellent. At least, I have had pleasure in imagining so, and perhaps thou wilt grant me that, after having dreamed the Aphrodite of the Temple, my imagination has not had great trouble in representing the woman thou art. Once more, I will not tell thee if it were a nocturnal dream or a waking fancy. Let it suffice thee to know that, dreamed or conceived, thine image has appeared to me in an extraordinary setting. Illusion; but, above all, I will prevent thee, Chrysis, from undeceiving rue."
"And I, in all that, what dost thou make of me, me who loveth thee still in spite of the horrors I hear from thy mouth? Was I conscious of thine odious dream? Have I shared in this happiness of which thou speakest and which thou hast stolen from me, stolen! . . . That confounds thought. I shall go mad."
Here Demetrios dropped his tone of raillery and said, in a slightly trembling voice, "Wert thou troubled about me when thou didst profit by my sudden passion to exact, in an instant of madness, three acts which might have shattered my existence and which will leave in me forever the memory of a triple shame?"
"If I have done that, it was to attach thee. I would never have had thee if I had given myself to thee."
"Good. Thou hast been satisfied. Thou hast held me, not for long, but thou hast held me nevertheless, in the slavery thou didst wish. Suffer me to free myself this day!"
"I am the only slave, Demetrios."
"Yes, thou or I, merely the one of us two who loves the other. Slavery! Slavery! That is the true name of passion. You all have but a single dream, but a single idea in the brain: to make your weakness break the strength of man and your futility govern his
intelligence! What you wish, as soon as you begin to grow, is not to love or be loved, but to bind a man to your ankles, to debase him, to bow his head and put your sandals upon it. Then you can, according to your ambition, tear from us sword, chisel or compass, break all which surpasses you, emasculate all which frightens you, take Herakles by the nose and make him spin flax! But when you cannot bow either his forehead or his character, you adore the hand which strikes you, the knee which bears you down, even the mouth which insults you! The man who has refused to kiss your bare feet caps your desires. He who has not wept when you left his house can drag you to it by the hair: our love is reborn of our tears. For a single thing consoles you for not imposing slavery, love-smitten women! It is to submit to it."
"Ah! beat me if thou wilt! But love me afterward!" And she embraced him so suddenly that he had no time to turn aside his lips. He disengaged himself from her two arms at once.
"I detest thee. Farewell," he said.
But Chrysis clung to his mantle. "Do not lie. Thou adorest me. Thy soul is all full of me; but thou art ashamed at having yielded. Listen, Well-Beloved! If only that is wanting to console thy pride, I am ready to give, to have thee, more yet than I demanded of thee. Let me make some sacrifice for thee; after our union I will not complain of life."
Demetrios gazed at her curiously; and like her, three nights before upon the jetty, he said, "What oath makest thou?"
"By the Aphrodite, also."
"Thou dost not believe in the Aphrodite. Swear by Iahveh Sabaoth."
The Galilæan paled. "One does not swear by Iahveh."
"It is a terrible oath."
"It is the one I will have."
She hesitated some time, then said in a low voice, "I make the oath by Iahveh. What demandest thou of me, Demetrios?" The young man was silent.
"Speak, Well-Beloved," said Chrysis. "Tell me quickly. I am afraid."
"Oh! it is very little."
"I do not wish to tell thee to give me, in thy turn, three gifts, were they as simple as the first were rare. That would be against custom. But I can ask thee to receive gifts, can I not?"
"Surely," said Chrysis, joyfully.
"This mirror, this comb, this necklace, which thou hast made me take for theethou didst not hope to use them, didst thou? A stolen mirror, the comb of a victim, and the necklace of the goddess; those were not jewels which one could display."
"What an idea!"
"No. Indeed I did not think so. Then it was in pure cruelty chat thou didst impel me to ravish them at the price of the three crimes by which the entire town is overwhelmed today. Well, thou wilt wear them.
"Thou wilt go into the little closed garden where the statue of Stygian Hermes stands. This place is always deserted and thou wilt not risk being disturbed there. Thou wilt remove the left heel of the god. The stone is broken, thou wilt see. There, in the interior of the pedestal, thou wilt find the mirror of Bacchis and thou wilt take it in thy hand; thou wilt find the great comb of
[paragraph continues] Nitocris and thou wilt plunge it into thy hair; thou wilt find the seven-fold pearl necklace of the goddess Aphrodite and thou wilt put it about thy neck. Thus bedecked, fair Chrysis, thou wilt go through the town. The crowd will deliver thee to the queen's soldiers; but thou wilt have what thou didst wish and I will come to see thee in thy prison before sunrise."