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Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, [1932], at

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Chapter Five


CHRYSIS'S first movement was to shrug. She would not be so naïve as to keep her oath!

The second was to go and see.

A growing curiosity impelled her toward the mysterious place where Demetrios had hidden the three criminal spoils. She wished to take them, touch them with her hand, make them shine in the sun, possess them an instant. It seemed to her that victory would not be quite complete until she had grasped the objects of her ambitions.

As for Demetrios, she would find a way to recapture him by some ulterior maneuver. How could it be that he had detached himself from her forever? The passion which she supposed in him was not of those which flicker out without return in the heart of man. The women who have been much loved form an elective household in the memory and a meeting with a former mistress, even hated, even forgotten, awakens an insurmountable unquiet whence a new love  may spring. Chrysis knew this. However ardent she herself might be, however anxious to conquer this first man she had ever loved, she was not mad enough to buy him at the price of her life when she saw so many other ways of seducing him more simply.

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And yet . . . what a sublime end he had proposed for her!

Under the eyes of an innumerable crowd, to bear the antique mirror in which Sappho had gazed, the comb which had gathered up the royal hair of Nitocris, the necklace of sea pearls which had rolled in the shell of the goddess Anadyomene . . . Then from the evening until morning to have Demetrios with her, to know at last how the deepest love can make a woman feel . . . and, toward the middle of the day, to die without effort . . . What an incomparable destiny!

She closed her eyes . . .


But no; she would not let herself be tempted.

She ascended the street which led in a straight line across Rhacotis to the Great Serapeion. This road, pierced by the Greeks, seemed somehow incongruous in this quarter of angular alleys. The two populations mingled grotesquely there, in a promiscuity still a little tinged with hate. Among the Egyptians dressed in blue skirts, the unbleached tunics of the Hellenes made splashes of white. Chrysis ascended rapidly, without listening to the conversations where the people entertained each other with the crimes committed for her.

Before the steps of the monument, she turned to the right, entered a dark street, then another where the terraces of the houses nearly touched, traversed a small star-shaped place where, near a spot of sunlight, two very brown little girls were playing in a fountain, and finally she stopped.

The garden of Hermes-Anubis was a little necropolis, abandoned long since, a sort of forgotten territory where relatives no longer came bringing libations to the dead, and which passers-by

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turned aside to avoid. In the midst of the crumbling tombs, Chrysis advanced in the greatest silence, frightened by each stone which crackled beneath her feet. The wind, always laden with fine sand, shook the hair upon her temples and swelled out her veil of scarlet silk toward the white leaves of the sycamores.

She discovered the statue between three funereal monuments which hid it from all sides and enclosed it in a triangle. The place was well chosen to bury a mortal secret.

Chrysis slipped as best she could into the narrow, stony passage. Seeing the statue, she paled slightly.

The jackal-headed god was standing, the right leg advanced, the head-dress falling and pierced with two holes whence issued the arms. The head was bent from the height of the rigid body, following the movement of the hands which made the gesture of the embalmer. The left foot was detached.

With a slow and fearful look, Chrysis assured herself that she was quite alone. A sound behind her made her shudder; but it was only a little green lizard which disappeared into a fissure of the marble.

Then, at last, she dared lay hand upon the broken foot of the statue. She raised it obliquely and not without some trouble, for it drew with it a part of the hollowed socle which lay upon the pedestal. And underneath the stone she beheld, suddenly, the gleam of the enormous pearls.

She drew out the whole necklace. How heavy it was! she would not have thought that pearls almost without settings would lie with such a weight in the hand. The globes were all marvelously round and of an almost lunar oriency. The seven strands succeeded each other, increasing like ripples upon star-lit water.

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She laid it about her neck.

With one hand she arranged it, closing her eyes the better to feel the cold of the pearls on her skin. She spaced the seven rows regularly below her throat and let the last fall into the recess of her bosom.

Next she took the ivory comb, considered it for some time, caressed the little white figure which was sculptured in the thin crown, and plunged the jewel into her hair several times before fixing it as she wished.

Then she drew the silver mirror from the socle, looked into it and saw there her triumph, her eyes illuminated with pride, her shoulders adorned with the spoils of the gods . . .

And, enveloping herself even to the hair in her great scarlet cyclas, she went out from the necropolis without putting off the terrible jewels.

Next: Chapter Six. The Walls of Crimson