Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, , at sacred-texts.com
AFTER the turning of the second street, they put down the body a second time to do on their sandals. Rhodiss feet, too delicate to walk bare, were raw and bleeding.
The night was very brilliant. All the town was silent. The iron-colored shadows were outlined sharply in the middle of the street according to the profile of the houses.
The little virgins took up their burden.
"Where are we going?" asked the child. "Where shall we lay her in the earth?"
"In the cemetery of Hermanubis. It is always deserted. She will be in peace there."
"Poor Chrysis! Would I have thought that on the day of her end I would carry her body, without torches and without a funeral car, secretly, like a stolen thing?"
Then both began to speak volubly as though they were afraid of the silence, side by side with the corpse. The last day of Chrysiss life overwhelmed them with astonishment. Whence had she the mirror, the comb and the necklace? She herself could not have taken the pearls of the goddess; the temple was so well guarded that a courtesan could not have entered there. Then someone had acted for her? But who? She was not known to have a
lover among the stolistes charged with the care of the divine statue. And then, if someone had acted in her place, why had she not denounced him? And, of all things, why these three crimes? To what had they served her, except to deliver her to punishment? A woman does not commit such follies without object, unless she be in love. Was Chrysis, then, in love? And with whom?
"We shall never know," concluded the flute-player. "She has taken her secret with her and even if she has an accomplice it is not he who will tell us of it."
Here Rhodis, who had already staggered for some moments, sighed, "I can do no more, Myrto; I can carry her no longer. I should fall on my knees. I am broken with weariness and sorrow."
Myrtocleia put her arm about her neck.
"Try again, my dear. We must carry her. It is for her life in the underworld. If she has no sepulcher and no obolos in her hand, she will wander forever on the brink of the river of hell and when, in our turn, Rhodis, we descend to the dead, she will reproach us for our impiety and we will not know how to answer her."
But the child, in her weakness, burst into tears in her embrace.
"Quick, quick," continued Myrtocleia. "Here comes someone from the end of the street. Place thyself with me before the body. Hide it behind our tunics. If they see it, all will be lost . . ."
She interrupted herself.
"It is Timon, I recognize him. Timon with four women . . . Ah! Gods! what will happen! He who laughs at everything will make fun of us . . . But no; stay here, Rhodis, I am going to speak to him."
And, seized by a sudden idea, she ran into the street before the little group.
"Timon," she said, and her voice was full of pleading. "Timon, stop. I beg thee to hear me. I have grave words in my mouth. I must speak them to thee alone."
"My poor little girl," said the young man, "how thou art moved! Hast thou lost thy shoulder knot, or has thy doll broken her nose in-falling? That would be a quite irreparable event."
The young girl threw him a sorrowful look; but already the four women, Philotis, Seso of Knidos, Callistion and Tryphera, fidgeted about her.
"Come, little idiot!" said Tryphera, "if thou hast drained thy nurse dry, we cannot help thee. It is almost day, thou shouldst be in bed; since when do children wander in the moonlight?"
"Her nurse!" said Philotis. "It is Timon she wants.
"Spank her. She deserves a spanking!"
And Callistion, an arm around Myrto's waist, lifted her from the ground, raising her little blue tunic.
But Seso interposed.
"You are mad," she cried. "Myrto does not run after men. If she calls Timon, she has other reasons. Leave her in peace and let them get it over with!"
"Well," said Timon, "what wilt thou of me? Come over here. Speak in my ear. Is it really serious?"
"Chrysiss body is there, in the street," said the still trembling young girl. "We are carrying it to the cemetery, my little friend and I, but it is heavy and we ask if thou art willing to aid us . . It will not take long . . . Immediately after, thou canst rejoin thy women . . ."
Timon looked at her sincerely.
"Poor girls! And I laughed! You are better than we . . . Certainly I will help you. Go rejoin thy friend and wait for meI will come."
Turning toward the four women: "Go to my house," he said, "by the Street of the Potters. I will be there in a little while. Do not follow me."
Rhodis was still seated by the head of the corpse. When she saw Timon coming, she besought: "Do not tell this! We have stolen her to save her shade. Keep our secret, we will love thee well, Timon."
"Be reassured," said the young man.
He took the body under the shoulders and Myrto took it under the knees. They walked in silence and Rhodis followed, with short and tottering steps.
Timon did not speak. For the second time in two days, human wrath had taken from him one of his friends; and he asked himself what extravagance thus swept spirits aside from the enchanted road which leads to unclouded happiness.
"Ataraxia!" he thought, "indifference, repose, O voluptuous serenity! Who among men will appreciate you? Man agitates himself, struggles, hopes, when but one thing is precious: to know how to draw from the passing moments all the joys they can give and to leave one's bed as seldom as possible."
They arrived at the gate of the ruined necropolis.
"Where shall we put her?" asked Myrto.
"Near the god."
"Where is the statue? I have never entered here. I was afraid of the tombs and of the steles. I do not know the Hermanubis."
"It must be in the center of the little garden. Let us seek it. I came here once when I was a child, while pursuing a lost gazelle. Let us start through the avenue of the white sycamores. We cannot fail to discover it."
They came to it, in fact.
The violet tints of the first dawn mingled with the moonlight on the marbles. Vague and distant harmony floated among the cypress branches. The rhythmic rustle of the palms, so like to drops of falling rain, shed an illusion of coolness.
Timon opened with effort a pink stone buried in the earth. The sepulcher was hollowed out beneath the hands of the funerary god who made the gesture of the embalmer. It must have contained a cadaver, formerly, but nothing more was found in the cavity save a heap of brownish dust.
The young man descended waist-deep and held out his arms: "Give her to me," he said to Myrto. "I will lay her well within and we will close the tomb . . ."
But Rhodis threw herself upon the body.
"No! do not bury her so quickly! I want to see her again! A last time! A last time! Chrysis! my poor Chrysis! Ah! horror . . . What has she become! . . ."
Myrtocleia had put aside the covering rolled about the dead and the face had appeared, so rapidly altered that the two young girls recoiled. The cheeks had taken on a square shape, the eyelids and the lips were swollen like six white cushions. Already nothing remained of the more than human beauty. They closed the thick shroud. But Myrto slipped her hand under the stuff to place the obolos destined for Charon in Chrysiss fingers.
Then both, shaken by interminable sobs, placed the relaxed, inert body in Timon's arms.
And when Chrysis was placed in the depths of the sandy tomb, Timon reopened the winding sheet. He secured the silver obolos in the relaxed fingers, he supported the head with a flat stone; over the body, from the forehead to the knees, he spread the long mass of shadowy golden hair.
Then he came forth from the pit, and the musicians, kneeling before the gaping opening, cut off each other's young hair, bound it in a single sheaf and buried it with the dead.
ΤΟΙΟΝΔΕ ΠΕΡΑΣ ΕΣΧΕ ΤΟ ΣΥΝΤΑΓΜΑ
ΤΩΝ ΠΕΡΙ ΧΡΥΣΙΔΑ ΚΑΙ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΝ