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Aphrodite, by Pierre Louys, [1932], at

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p. 222 p. 223

Chapter One


THOU art loved of the gods," said the old gaoler. "If I, a poor slave, had done the hundredth part of thy crimes, I would have seen myself tied on a wooden horse, hung by the feet, torn by blows, flayed by pincers. They would have poured vinegar in my nostrils, they would have laden me with bricks until I stifled, and, if I were dead of pain, my body would already feed the jackals of the burned plains. But for thee who hast stolen everything, killed everything, profaned everything, they reserve the gentle hemlock and they lend thee a good room in the meantime. Zeus blast me if I know why! Thou must know someone at the palace."

"Give me some figs," said Chrysis. "My mouth is dry."

The old slave brought her, in a green basket, a dozen figs at the point of perfect ripeness.

Chrysis remained alone.

She sat down and rose again, she made a circuit of her room, she struck the walls with the palm of her hand without thinking of what she was doing. She unrolled her hair to refresh it, then knotted it up almost immediately.

They had made her put on a long vestment of white wool. The stuff was warm. Chrysis was quite bathed in perspiration.

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[paragraph continues] She stretched her arms, yawned and leaned her elbows on the ledge of the high window.

Outside, the dazzling moon shone in a sky of limpid purity, a sky so pale and so light that not a star was to be seen.

It was in such a night that, seven years before, Chrysis had left the land of Gennesaret.

She remembered . . . They were merchants of ivory. They had decked out their long-tailed horses with many-colored tufts. They had met her at the edge of a round well . . .

And before that, the bluish lake, the transparent sky, the light air of the country of Galilee . . .

The house was surrounded by pink flax and tamarisks. Thorny caper bushes pricked the fingers about to seize the moths . . . One could imagine one saw the color of the wind in the undulations of the delicate grasses . . .

The little girls bathed in a limpid brook where one found red shells under the bushes of flowering laurel, and there were flowers on the water, flowers in all the meadow and great lilies on the mountains. And the line of the mountains was that of a young breast . . .

Chrysis closed her eyes with a faint smile which was suddenly extinguished. The idea of death had just seized her. And she felt that, until the end, she could never cease her thoughts.

"Ah!" she said to herself, "what have I done! Why did I meet that man? Why did he listen to me? Why did I let myself be caught, in my turn? Why must it be that, even now, I regret nothing?—Not to love or not to live: that is the choice God offered me. And what have I done to be punished?"

And there returned to her memory fragments of sacred verses

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she had heard quoted in her childhood. For seven years she had not thought of them. But they returned, one after another, with an implacable precision to apply themselves to her life and to predict her torment.

She murmured: "It is written:

"I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth,
 The love of thine espousals,
 When thou wentest after me in the wilderness,
 In a land that was not sown.
 For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bonds.
 And thou saidst, I will not transgress;
 When upon every high hill and under every green tree,
 Thou wanderest, playing the harlot

"It is written:

"And she shall follow after her lovers,
 And she shall seek them.
 For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil,
 And multiplied her silver and gold.
 Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof,
 And my wine in the season thereof,
 And will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness

"It is written:

"How canst thou say, I am not polluted?
 See thy way in the valley,
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 Know what thou hast done.
 Thou art a swift dromedary, traversing her ways;
 A wild ass, used to the wilderness.
 In her month they shall find her

"It is written:

"She had played the harlot in the land of Egypt,
 For she doted upon their paramours,
 Whose flesh is as the flesh of asses,
 And whose issue is like the issue of horses.
 Thus thou calledst to remembrance the lewdness of thy youth,
 In bruising thy teats by the Egyptians for the paps of thy youth

"Oh!" she cried. "It is I! It is I! And it is written again:

"Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers;
 Yet return again unto me, saith the Lord

"But my chastisement is written also:

"Behold I will raise up thy lovers against thee,
 And they shall deal furiously with thee:
 They shall take away thy nose and thine ears;
 And thy remnant shall fall by the sword

"And again:

"And Huzzab shall be led away captive,
 She shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her
 As with the voice of doves,
 Tabering upon their breasts

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"But one knows what the scripture says," she added, to console herself. "Is it not written elsewhere:

"I will not punish thy daughters8

"And elsewhere does not the scripture counsel:

"Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity which he bath given thee under the sun; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." 9

She shuddered and repeated in a low voice:

"For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

"Truly, the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun10

"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets. Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was." 11

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With a new tremor she repeated more slowly:

"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was."

And as she clutched her head in her hands, to repress her thought, she felt suddenly, without having foreseen it, the mortuary form of her skull through the living skin: the hollow temples, the enormous orbits, the shortened nose under the cartilage and the projecting jaws.

Horror! Then it was that she was to become! With a terrifying lucidity she had the vision of her corpse and she drew her hands over her body to go to the depths of this idea which, although so simple, had but just come to her—that she bore her skeleton in her, that it was not a result of death, a metamorphosis, a culmination, but a thing which one carries about always, an inseparable specter of the human form—and that the scaffolding of life is already the symbol of the tomb.

A furious desire to live, to see all again, to recommence everything, seized her suddenly. It was a revolt in the face of death; the impossibility of admitting that she would not see the evening of this day now being born; the impossibility of understanding how this beauty, this body, this active thought, this luxurious life of her flesh were, in full ardor, to cease their being and fall into decay.

The door opened quietly.

Demetrios entered.


225:1 Jeremiah, 2: 2, 20.

225:2 Hosea, 2: 7, 8, 9.

226:3 Jeremiah, 2: 23, 24.

226:4 Ezekiel, 23: 22, 25.

226:5 Ezekiel, 23: 20, 21.

226:6 Nahum, 3: 7.

226:7 Jeremiah, 3: 1.

227:8 Hosea, 4: 14.

227:9 Ecclesiastes, 9: 7-10.

227:10 Ecclesiastes, 11: 7.

227:11 Ecclesiastes, 11: 9; 12 5-7.

Next: Chapter Two. The Dust Returns to the Earth