Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 183
Publication Date: This translation by Willis L. Parker, 1932
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On the heels of Bilitis, Pierre Louys published his first novel, Aphrodite in 1896. It was a bestseller, selling 350,000 copies, sealing Louys' reputation as a popular author of erotic literature. Set in Ptolemaic Alexandria, at a much later date than Bilitis, Aphrodite is as much a love story as a crime story. Louys' decadent, sensual vision of Egypt in classical times is a jeweled setting for a story of transgressive love. The sculptor Demetrios, the favorite of Queen Berenice, falls for a well-to-do courtesan, Chrysis. Much of the story is set in the world of the courtesans, a realm of beauty, luxury, sapphic indulgence, and some dark shadows as well.
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LYING upon her bosom, her elbows forward, her feet apart and her cheek resting in her hand, she pierced little symmetrical holes in the pillow of green linen with a long golden pin.
Since she had awakened, two hours after mid-day, and quite tired from having slept too much, she had remained alone upon the disordered bed, one side covered by a vast flood of hair.
This mass of hair was deep and dazzling, soft as a fur, longer than a wing, supple, numberless, full of life and warmth. It half-covered her back, spread itself under her body and glittered to her very knees in thick and rounded ringlets. The young woman was rolled up in this precious fleece whose golden brown, almost metallic, reflections had caused the women of Alexandria to name her Chrysis.
It was not the smooth hair of the Syrians of the court, nor the tinted hair of the Asiatics, nor the brown and black hair of the daughters of Egypt. It was that of an Aryan race, of the Galilæans from beyond the desert.
Chrysis. She loved that name. The young men who came to see her called her Chrysé like Aphrodite in the verses which they left, with garlands of roses, at her door in the mornings. She did not believe in Aphrodite but she was pleased that they should compare her to the goddess, and she went sometimes to the temple to give her, as to a friend, boxes of perfume and blue veils.
She was born on the banks of the lake of Gennesaret in a country of shadow and of sun, over-run with rose-laurels. Her mother went in the evenings to wait upon the road to Jerusalem for travelers and merchants, in the midst of the pastoral silence. She was a woman much respected in Galilee. The priests did not avoid her door for she was charitable and pious; the lambs of the sacrifice were always paid for by her, the benediction of the Eternal extended over her house. But when she became enceinte, her condition was a matter of gossip—for she lived alone. A man who was celebrated for the gift of prophecy said that she would bear a daughter who would one day wear at her throat "the wealth and the faith of a nation." She did not quite understand how that could be but she named the child Sarah—this is to say Princess, in Hebrew. And this silenced the scandals.
Of this Chrysis had never known, the diviner having told her mother how dangerous it is to reveal to people prophecies of which they are the objects. She knew nothing of her future; wherefore she often thought of it. She recalled but little of her childhood and did not like to speak of it. The only very clear sentiment which had remained with her was of the fright and the. vexation which were caused every day by the anxious surveillance of her mother who, the hour being come to go forth upon the road, shut her up in their room for interminable hours. She recalled also the round window through which she saw the waters of the lake, the mist-blue fields, the transparent sky, the light air of the Galilæan country. The house was surrounded by pink flax and tamarisks. Thorny caper bushes raised their green heads at hazard over the fine mist of the blue-grass. Little girls bathed in a limpid brook where red shells could be found under tufts of laurel blossoms. And there were flowers on the water, flowers in all the meadow and great lilies on the mountains.
She was twelve years old when she escaped to follow a troop of young riders who were going to Tyre as merchants of ivory and whom she had chanced to meet beside a well. They had adorned their long-tailed horses with many-colored tufts. She recalled well how they carried her away, pale with joy, on their mounts, and how they had halted later for the night—a night so bright that not a star could be seen.
Neither had she forgotten their entry into Tyre, she at the head, on the panniers of a pack horse, holding to the mane by her fists, flaunting her bare calves to the townswomen, proud now to be a woman herself. The same evening they departed for Egypt. She followed the sellers of ivory to the market of Alexandria. There they left her two months later, in a little white house with a terrace and little columns, with her bronze mirror, soft rugs, new cushions and a handsome Hindu slave-girl, skilled in dressing the hair.
As she dwelt in the extreme Eastern Quarter which the young Greeks of Bruchion scorned to visit, she met for a long time only travelers and merchants, as did her mother. She did not see again her passing callers; she could please herself with them and then leave them quickly, before loving them. However, she had inspired lasting passions. Masters of caravans had been known to sell their merchandise at a beggarly price, bankrupting themselves in order to remain near her a few days. With these men's gifts she had bought jewels, bed-cushions, rare perfumes, flowered robes and four slaves.