Aphrodite by Pierre Louys
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. In the same manner which the Roman’s worshipped Venus, the Greeks similarly adored Aphrodite. But this particular book is not the story of the goddess Aphrodite. It is the story of a beautiful courtesan by the name of Chrysis, taking place in Alexandria, Egypt during the days of ancient Greece.
Although courtesan is just a glorified name for prostitute, the Greeks did not find shame or disrespect in that profession. In fact, quite the opposite. “Love, with all its components, was for the Greeks the most virtuous of all sentiments and the one most prolific in greatness”. Their ancient moral code proclaimed, “there is nothing under the sun more sacred than physical love, nor more beautiful than the human body.”
Written by the French author Louys in 1896, Aphrodite (or Ancient Manners) paints a fascinating picture of the social and cultural life of the courtesans around the year 270 BC. The plot involves a famous sculptor Demetrios… a man honored and loved by Queen Berenice. Unfortunately he does not return the feelings… scorning the queen and all other women of Alexandria who swoon at his feet. That is- until he meets Chrysis- the most beautiful courtesan of Alexandria. And Chrysis is the only woman in Alexandria who refuses to swoon, ultimately resulting in tragic consequences.
This parody reminds me of Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson. Both novels revolve around a desirable narcissistic woman whose lofty ambition is to achieve such greatness as to become immortal in the memories of others. Both women use their beauty to lure a man to unthinkably insane actions. The Lewis Galantiere translation of Aphrodite for the Modern Library collection is excellent. The lyrical prose is poetic, the dialogue natural, the descriptions vivid, and the plot intriguing.
Rated 3.5 Stars.
All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.