Thursday, May 13, 2010

Clitophon and Leucippe

The romance of Clitophon and Leucippe is set in Tyre, a city in modern Lebanon. The tale is narrated by Cleitophon, a youth who had always laughed and ridiculed people who fell in love, until that fateful day when Leucippe and her mother came to live with Clitophon and his family. It was love at first sight.

Thus congratulating each other, Satyrus and I walked to the girl’s room to hear her play the harp. I couldn’t bear even for a little while to let the girl out of my sight. She first sang Homer’s fight between the lion and the boar, and then she changed to a more tender strain, her song celebrating the praises of roses. The song’s theme was along the following lines. If Zeus had wished to name a king of the flowers, that king of the flowers would have been the rose. It is the jewel of the earth, the glory of the plants, the eye of flowers, the blush of the meadow, dazzling beauty itself. Its breath is of Love, it is the go-between of Aphrodite, its hair is its sweet smelling leaves, and its glory is its easily rustled petals which seem to laugh at the breeze. As she was singing, I thought I saw a rose upon her lips like the round shape of the rose closed into the shape of her mouth.

She had just put down the harp, when it was time for dinner again. At that time, it was the festival of Dionysus Lord of the Vintage, whom the Tyrians reckon to be one of them, since they sing about the myth of Cadmus, which is the origin of the festival, so they relate. Originally, men didn’t have wine. They didn’t have the dark, fragrant kind, nor the kind from Byblos, nor Maron’s Thracian sort, nor the white kind from Chios. Rather, all of these came about from the wines of Tyros, since the mother of wines, the grape vine, is native to their country. They say that once there was a shepherd who was kind to strangers. Dionysus came upon the shepherd. The shepherd offered him all that the land and cows’ udders provide. Their drink was just milk and water, since wine did not exist yet. Dionysus praised the shepherd for his hospitality and his friendliness and offered him a cup. Inside the cup, the drink was wine. The shepherd drank it and was ecstatic with pleasure and said to the god, “Stranger, where did you get this crimson water from? Where did you find such sweet blood? There isn’t anything on earth like it! It goes down the throat and has a quaint pleasure. It pleases the nose and is cold to touch, yet it leaps down into the stomach and there from down below fans the flame of delight.”

Dionysus said, “It is the water of the summer’s fruit, the blood of the grape.” The god led the shepherd to the grape vine and picked a few grapes, squeezed them, and pointed at the grapevine. “This is the water and this is its source”, he said. And such is how wine first was introduced, so the Tyrians say.

The Tyrians were celebrating the god’s festival on that day, so Father was in a festive mood and ordered more expensive food for dinner, but especially a precious cup to be used for libations to the god, second only to that belonging Glaucus of Chios. As the wine went around the table, I began to look at the girl more and more brazenly. Love and Dionysus are two fiery gods. They possess the soul and drive it mad into a state of shamelessness. Love burns it with his fire and Dionysus uses wine as timber since wine is Love’s food. Even she started to look at me more openly and rashly. Yet, for ten days, we did nothing more than look at each other.

Finally, I told my entire story to Satyrus and asked him for his help. He replied that he had guessed what was going on before, but that he had shrunk from questioning me and had preferred to seem to remain ignorant because a person who loves in secret, when questioned, often will grow to hate the person questioning him as though the very questioning was a personal insult. “However”, he said, “Things seem to have had a way of working themselves out on their own. Clio, the servant girl entrusted with her bedchamber, confides in me and regards me as her lover. I’ll try to wheedle her little by little and make her so favorably disposed towards us that she’ll help out. As for you, you need to do more than just look at her. You need to start talking to her! Then, you should apply your next device. Touch her hand, squeeze her finger and while you’re squeezing it, sigh. If she lets you do this and seems to approve, your next step is to call her your mistress and kiss her neck.”

“You’re a great trainer, by Athena, but I’m afraid that I’ll prove a gutless and cowardly athlete of the god Love.”

“Love tolerates no cowardice. Just look at how warlike his appearance is. He has a bow, a quiver, arrows, and fire, all of them manly and full of daring. How can you cower and be afraid when you have a god like him within you? Don’t try to fight the god. Still, I’ll help you out and give you an opening. I’ll distract Clio when I see the best opportunity for you to be alone with the girl and talk to her.”

This said, he left the room. I found myself alone and spurned by Satyrus’s words, I began to train myself to be brave towards the girl. “How long, you coward, are you going to keep silent? Why are you afraid when you’re the soldier of so brave a god? Are you waiting for the girl to make the first move?” But then I thought. “You fool, come to your senses. You should love the girl that duty bids you to. There’s still the other beautiful girl. Love her, look at her. She’s the one you are betrothed to marry.” I thought that I had gotten a hold of myself, but then deep down Love answered as though speaking from my heart. “Ha, are you really going to fight back against me? I can fly, I can shoot, I can burn. How can you escape me? Even if you can avoid my arrow, you can’t avoid my fire. Even if you can quench my fire with self control, I shall yet overtake you with my wings.”

While I was still going back and forth in my head, I unexpectedly walked right into the girl’s presence and I went pale at the sudden sight of her and then I blushed. She was alone and not even Clio was there. Shocked, I was at a loss for words, but I did my best with, “Greetings, mistress.”

She smiled sweetly showing through her smile that she understood why I said, “Greetings, mistress”, and said, “Me, your mistress? You shouldn’t call me that.”

“But, one of the gods has sold me into slavery to you, as he did Hercules to Omphale.”

“Is it Hermes you mean, who Zeus sent to carry out the sale?” she said and burst out laughing.

“Hermes, indeed!” I answered, “How you can you talk such nonsense when you know full well what I mean?”

One response lead to another and my good luck helped me.

Now it happened on the following day that during the afternoon that the girl was playing her harp and Clio was keeping her company, and I was walking around the room. Suddenly, a bee flew in from somewhere and stung Clio on the hand. Clio yelped and the girl set down her harp and came over to look at the wound. She did her best trying to comfort her getting her to calm down by chanting two magic words she had learned from an Egyptian sorceress to cure wounds from bees and wasps. Clio felt much better. It just so happened at that moment that a bee or a wasp was buzzing and flying around my head, so I seized the opportunity and put my hand on my face pretending that I had been stung and was in pain. The girl came over to me and pulled my hand away and asked me where I had been stung.

“On the lip”, I said, “Why don’t you repeat the spell, my dearest?”

She came closer to me and put her mouth close to mine so as to work the spell and as she was muttering something she touched the tip of my lips and I gently kissed her avoiding making too much noise until by the opening and shutting of hers as she murmured the charm, she turned the charm into a series of kisses. Then at last I actually threw my arms around her and kissed her without any further pretence. “What are you doing”, she said, “Are you chanting a charm too?”

“No, I’m kissing the sorceress who has cured me of my pain.” As she understood what I meant and smiled, I plucked up the courage and said, “Ah, my dear, I just got stung again far worse. This time the wound has gone straight to my heart and needs your spell again. You must have a bee on your lips as you are full of honey and your kisses sting. I beg you to repeat your charm once more and to not hurry over it and make the wound worse again. So speaking, I threw my arms around her and I kissed her more freely than before. She let me do it though she pretended to resist. At that moment, we saw her maid servant approaching from a distance and sprang apart. I did so unwillingly and resentfully. What her feelings were I don’t know.

This made me feel uplifted and full of hope. I felt the kiss still upon my lips and like a precious treasure I guarded the kiss jealously, which is a lover’s first sweet. Indeed, it is born from the most beautiful part of the body-the mouth, which is the instrument of speech and speech a reflection of the soul. When two people’s lips touch, they send a stream of pleasure down beneath the chest and draw the soul up to the lips. Never before this, I know, had I ever felt such a pleasure in my innermost heart. It was then for the first time I learned that there is no pleasure on earth like a lover’s kiss.

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