Ancient Mysteries Mythology Ancient Manners

Ancient Manners

Ancient Manners
Catalog # SKU4067
Publisher TGS Publishing
Author Name Pierre Louÿs
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000
Quantity 1 (this product is downloadable)


Ancient Manners

Electronic Book


Pierre Louÿs

The principal character of the novel which the reader is about to have under his eyes is a woman, a courtesan of antiquity; but let him take heart of grace: she will not be converted in the end. She will be loved neither by a saint, nor by a prophet, nor by a god. In the literature of to-day this is a novelty.

TGS has added footnotes to define most archaic words and some foreign words so this literature may stand yet tall for another generation



A courtesan, she will be a courtesan with the frankness, the ardour, and also the conscious pride of every human being who has a vocation and has freely chosen the place he occupies in society; she will aspire to rise to the highest point; the idea that her life demands excuse or mystery will not even cross her mind. This point requires elucidation.

Hitherto, the modern writers who have appealed to a public less prejudiced than that of young girls and upper-form boys have resorted to a laborious stratagem the hypocrisy of which is displeasing to me. "I have painted pleasure as it really is," they say, "in order to exalt virtue." In commencing a novel which has Alexandria for its scene, I refuse absolutely to perpetuate this anachronism. Love, with all that it implies, was, for the Greeks, the most virtuous of sentiments and the most prolific in greatness. They never attached to it the ideas of lewdness and immodesty which the Jewish tradition has handed down to us with the Christian doctrine. Herodotos (I. 10) tells us in the most natural manner possible, "Amongst certain barbarous peoples it is considered disgraceful to appear in public naked." When the Greeks or the Latins wished to insult a man who frequented women of pleasure, they called him moechus, which simply means adulterer. A man and a woman who, without being bound by any tie, formed a union with one another, whether it were in public or not, and whatever their youth might be, were regarded as injuring no one and were left in peace. It is obvious that the life of the ancients cannot be judged according to the ideas of morality which we owe to Geneva.

For my part, I have written this book with the same simplicity as an Athenian narrating the same adventures. I hope that it will be read in the same spirit.

In order to continue to judge of the ancient Greeks according to ideas at present in vogue, it is necessary that not a single exact translation of their great writers should fall in the hands of a fifth-form schoolboy. If M. Mounet--Sully were to play his part of Oedipus without making any omissions, the police would suspend the performance. Had not M. Leconte de Lisle expurgated Theocritos, from prudent motives, his book would have been seized the very day it was put on sale.

Aristophanes is regarded as exceptional! But we possess important fragments of fourteen hundred and forty comedies, due to one hundred and thirty-two Greek poets, some of whom, such as Alexis, Philetairos, Strattis, Euboulos, Cratinos, have left us admirable lines, and nobody has yet dared to translate this immodest and charming collection.

With the object of defending Greek morals, it is the custom to quote the teaching of certain philosophers who reproved sexual pleasures. But there exists a confusion in this matter. These rare moralists blamed the excesses of all the senses without distinction, without setting up any difference between the debauch of the bed and that of the table. A man who orders a solitary dinner which costs him six louis, at a modern Paris restaurant, would have been judged by them to be as guilty, and no less guilty, than a man who should make a rendez-vous of too intimate a nature in the public street and should be condemned therefore to a year's imprisonment by the existing laws. Moreover, these austere philosophers were generally regarded by ancient society as dangerous madmen; they were scoffed at in every theatre; they received thrashings in the street; the tyrants chose them for their court jesters, and the citizens of free States sent them into exile, when they did not deem them worthy of capital punishment.

It is, then, by a conscious and voluntary fraud, that modern educators, from the Renaissance to the present day, have represented the ancient code of morality as the inspiring source of their narrow virtues. If this code was great, if it deserves to be chosen for a model and to be obeyed, it is precisely because none other has more successfully distinguished the just from the unjust according to a criterion of beauty; proclaimed the right of all men to find their individual happiness within the bounds to which it is limited by the corresponding right of others, and declared that there is nothing under heaven more sacred than physical love, nothing more beautiful than the human body.

Such were the ethics of the nation that built the Acropolis; and if I add that they are still those of all great minds, I shall merely attest the value of a common-place. It is abundantly proved that the higher intelligences of artists, writers, warriors, or statesmen have never regarded the majestic toleration of ancient morals as illegitimate.

Aristotle began life by wasting his patrimony in the society of riotous women; Sappho has given her name to a special vice; Cæsar was the moechus calvus ; nor can we imagine Racine shunning the stage-women nor Napoleon practicing abstinence. Mirabeau's novels, Chénier's Greek verses, Diderot's correspondence, and Montesquieu's minor works are as daring as the writings of Catullus himself. And the most austere, saintly, and laborious of all French authors, Button, would you know his maxim of advice in the case of sentimental intrigues? "Love! why art thou the happiness of all beings and man's misfortune? Because only the physical part of this passion is good, and the rest is worth nothing." Whence is this? And how comes it that in spite of the ruin of the ancient system of thought, the grand sensuality of the Greeks has remained like a ray of light upon the foreheads of the highest? It is because sensuality is the mysterious but necessary and creative condition of intellectual development. Those who have not felt the exigencies of the flesh to the uttermost, whether for love or hatred, are incapable of understanding the full range of the exigencies of the mind. Just as the beauty of the soul illumines the whole face, in like manner virility of the body is an indispensable condition of a fruitful brain. The worst insult that Delacroix could address to men, the insult that he hurled without distinction against the decriers of Rubens and the detractors of Ingres, was the terrible word: eunuchs.

But furthermore, it would seem that the genius of peoples, like that of individuals, is above all sensual. All the cities that have reigned over the world, Babylon, Alexandria, Athens, Rome, Venice, Paris, have by a general law been as licentious as they were powerful, as if their dissoluteness was necessary to their splendour. The cities where the legislator has attempted to implant a narrow, unproductive, and artificial virtue have seen themselves condemned to utter death from the very first day. It was so with Lacedæmon, which, in the centre of the most prodigious intellectual development that the human spirit has ever witnessed, between Corinth and Alexandria, between Syracuse and Miletus, has bequeathed us neither a poet, nor a painter, nor a philosopher, nor an historian, nor a savant, barely the popular renown of a sort of Bobillot who got killed in a mountain defile with three hundred men without even succeeding in gaining the victory. And it is for this reason that after two thousand years we are able to gauge the nothingness of Spartan virtue, and declare, following Renan's exhortation, that we "curse the soil that bred this mistress of sombre errors, and insult it because it exists no longer."

Shall we see the return of the days of Ephesus and Cyrene? Alas! the modern world is succumbing to an invasion of ugliness. Civilization is marching to the north, is entering into mist, cold, mud. What night! A people clothed in black fills the mean streets. What is it thinking of?

We know not, but our twenty-five years shiver at being banished to a land of old men.

But let those who will ever regret not to have known that rapturous youth of the earth which we call ancient life, be allowed to live again, by a fecund illusion, in the days when human nudity the most perfect form that we can know and even conceive of, since we believe it to be in God's image, could unveil itself under the features of a sacred courtesan, before the twenty thousand pilgrims who covered the strands of Ileuses; when the most sensual love, the divine love of which we are born, was without sin: let them be allowed to forget eighteen barbarous, hypocritical, and hideous centuries.

Leave the quagmire for the pure spring, piously return to original beauty, rebuild the great temple to the sound of enchanted flutes, and consecrate with enthusiasm their hearts, ever charmed by the immortal Aphrodite, to the sanctuaries of the true faith.

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