MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Ovid was a Roman poet. An early success, he despised his own work. He sought out Aphrodite, Rome’s tutelary goddess, in the hope of striking a bargain. He ended up exiled to the shore of the Black Sea.
Ovid walks at twilight through dry rolling hills. A woman is before him, trailing her hands through the tall grasses which smoke wherever her languid touch falls, blackening and writhing and turning to ash. Fire roars and pops behind them, ruddy serpents of flame seething over the hills, but she’s singing a tuneless song and seems not to notice.
He’s about to speak when she says, “Not literature for you, but the literary life, because you’re lazy, and love company, and what you’d most like is to be famous without writing a word. Your work will be forgotten when you die, or a little before, though the memory of your persona will last a little longer.”
“I know,” he says. “That’s why I found you.”
“It would take exile,” she says, still not looking back. “You’d have to give up everything. You would be transformed.” He feels her waver for a moment, but then she says, “You wouldn’t be willing.”
“But I am,” he says. “I’d give anything, everything…”
But she’s lost interest, is already far ahead and getting farther, and his chance is gone, but he rallies against the inexorable momentum of events, chases after her and seizes her arm.
She turns on him like a serpent and he staggers back as the hand that touched her burns like dry wood, the fire pulsing up his arm, the black bones showing through his incandescing flesh …
The sculptor Pygmalion carved a woman named Galatea out of marble and fell in love with her. Aphrodite brought the statue to life.
The island’s high wild hills were strewn with worn marble boulders, one of which glowed for him with more than ordinary light. Running his hands over the worn, lichen-stained surface, he could feel her within, her form latent, waiting to reveal itself. The smooth marble was like skin, or what skin ought to be.
His slaves rolled the boulder into his workshop as he laid out his chisels, then left him, as he needed to be alone for his great work. He uncovered her eye first, and wished he hadn’t, as it was difficult to work with her watching. He didn’t know what her face would be as he cut away the marble but when he saw it knew it couldn’t have been another. Day and night passed unnoticed; if he closed his eyes he could feel a pulse in the marble’s veins, a hint of warm breath on his hand as he caressed her cheek. With only her feet still entombed, he felt a building excitement, as though he were on the verge of some great thing, a final revelation in stone.
He fell asleep on an afternoon of thunderstorms and intolerable pressure in the air and dreamed that Aphrodite appeared to him among foam and flame and torn flowers and as she turned away she said, Desire is always imminent. He woke then, and his sculpture was gone, just flakes of the stone on the floor and wet footprints leading out into the garden, and though he cursed and wept, scarred the floor with scattered tools, in his heart he was relieved, for he now saw she was flawed, had been from the beginning, and in the high wild hills there were other prisms of marble scattered among the ridges and valleys and in one was what he wanted.
Copyright © 2018 by Zachary Mason