Front Page Titles (by Subject) CANTO I. - Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws
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CANTO I. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 4.
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VENUS chuses to reside at Gnidus, rather than at Paphos and Amathus, and never descends from Olympus without visiting the Gnidians. So much has she accustomed these happy people to her sight, that they no longer feel that sacred horror inspired by the presence of the Gods. Sometimes she covers herself with a cloud, and is known by the divine odour that flows from her hair perfumed with ambrosia.
The city is in the midst of a country on which the Gods have lavished their favours with a liberal hand. The inhabitants enjoy an eternal spring; the earth, happily fertile, prevents all their wishes; their flocks feed without number; the birds incessantly sing, so that you would think the woods were vocal: rivulets murmur in the plains; a gentle heat renders every thing blooming; and the air the people breathe inspires only pleasure.
Near the city is the palace of Venus, the foundations of which were laid by Vulcan; who laboured for his faithless spouse while he strove to make her forget the cruel affront he had given her before the Gods.
It would be impossible for me to give an idea of the beauties of this palace; for none but the Graces can describe what they have performed. Gold, azure, rubies, diamonds, shine on all sides; but here I paint only riches, and not beauty.
The gardens are inchanting; they are under the care of Flora and Pomona, and are cultivated by the nymphs. Fruits spring up under the hand that plucks them; and blossoms succeed the fruit. When Venus walks in them surrounded by her Gnidians, you would think that in their wanton sports they would destroy these delightful gardens; but by a secret virtue every thing is instantly repaired.
Venus loves to see the sprightly dances of the girls of Gnidus. Her nymphs mingle with them; the Goddess herself bears a part in their sports; she strips herself of her majesty, sits in the midst of them, and sees joy and innocence reign in their hearts.
At a distance is discovered a spacious meadow enamelled with flowers. The shepherd comes to gather them, with his shepherdess; but that which she finds is always the most beautiful, and it is believed that this happens by the express design of Flora.
The Cephisus waters this meadow, and runs through it with a thousand turnings. The River God stops the fugitive shepherdesses, and will oblige them to give him the tender kiss they had promised him.
When the nymphs approach his banks, he stops, and the waves which fly find those that are incapable of flying. But when one of them bathes, he is still more amorous; his waters wind about her limbs; he sometimes rises, the better to give her his embraces; he lifts her up; he flies; he takes her with him. Her timid companions begin to weep: but he supports her upon his waves, and charmed with the precious burden, leads her over his liquid plain: at length loth to part with her, he conducts her slowly to the bank, and restores comfort to her companions.
On the side of the meadow is a myrtle grove, where the paths make a variety of turnings. The lovers there come to recount their pains; and Love, who amuses them, always conducts them through the most secret paths.
Not far from thence is an antient and sacred wood, thro’ which the light can with difficulty enter. Oaks, that seem immortal, bear up their heads to the heavens, which conceal them from our view. We there feel a religious fear; you would say that this was the abode of the Gods, ere man had sprung from the earth.
On coming to an opening where the day breaks in, the people ascend a little hill, on which is the temple of Venus, than which the universe has nothing more sacred.
In this temple Venus first saw her Adonis, and the poison thrilled through the heart of the Goddess. What! said she, do I then love a mortal? Alas! I find I adore him. Let them no more address their vows to me; Adonis is the only deity at Gnidus.
It was in this place that she assembled the Loves, when piqued with a rash distrust, she consulted them. She was in doubt whether she should expose herself naked to the view of the Trojan shepherd. She concealed her girdle under her hair; her nymphs sprinkled her with perfumes; she mounted her chariot drawn by swans, and arrived in Phrygia. The shepherd hesitated between Juno and Pallas; he saw her, and his looks were fixed and dying: the golden apple fell at the feet of the Goddess; he attempted to speak, and his disorder decided the dispute.
It was to this temple that the young Psyche came with her mother, when Cupid, who flew about the golden ceiling, was himself surprised by one of her glances, and felt the pain he made others suffer. Thus do I wound, said he; I can neither support my bow nor my arrows. He then sunk down on the breast of Psyche, and cried, Oh! I now begin to feel that I am the God of pleasure.
When the people enter this temple, they perceive their hearts possessed by a secret charm: the soul is filled with that ravishing delight, which the Gods themselves never feel, but when they are in their celestial abodes.
Whatever is most smiling in nature, is joined to every thing that art can invent as most noble, and most worthy of the Gods.
A hand, which was doubtless immortal, has every where adorned the place with paintings that seem to breathe. We there see the birth of Venus; the rapture of the Gods who saw her; her embarassment at appearing naked, and that modesty which is the first of the Graces.
We there see the amours of Mars and that Goddess. The painter has represented the God of War in his chariot, in which he appears fierce, and even terrible: Fame flies before him; Fear and Death march, followed by his horses covered with foam; he enters the throng, and a thick dust begins to hide him from our view. In another place we see him laid languishingly on a bed of roses, smiling on Venus; and you would not know him, were it not for some traces of the divinity which still remain. The Pleasures are employed in making wreaths and garlands, with which they bind the two lovers; their eyes melt in softness; they sigh, and, only attentive to each other, are regardless of the little Cupids that play about them.
There is a separate apartment, where the painter has represented the marriage of Vulcan and Venus: all the celestial court are there assembled: the God appears less gloomy, but as pensive as usual. The Goddess looks with an air of coldness on the common joy; she negligently gives him a hand which she seems unwilling to resign: she casts another way looks expressive of pain, and turns towards the Graces.
In another picture we see Juno performing the marriage-ceremony. Venus takes the cup to swear an eternal fidelity to Vulcan: the Gods smile, and Vulcan hears her with pleasure.
On the other side we see the impatient God drawing along his divine Spouse, who makes such resistance, that one would imagine her to be the daughter of Ceres, whom Pluto is going to ravish, if the eye that had seen Venus could ever be deceived.
At some distance, we see her carried away towards the nuptial bed. The Gods follow in crowds; the Goddess disputes, and endeavours to escape from the arms of those who hold her. Her robe flies from her knees; the linen flutters: but Vulcan repairs this beautiful disorder, and is more attentive to conceal than ardent to seize.
In short, we see her just laid on the bed prepared by Hymen; Vulcan draws the curtains, and thinks of keeping her there for ever. The importunate throng retire; and he rejoices at seeing them go. The Goddesses play together: but the Gods appear dejected; and Mars’s melancholy has something gloomy, like the pangs of jealousy.
Charmed with the magnificence of her temple, the Goddess herself has established the worship performed there: she has regulated its ceremonies, instituted festivals, and is at the same time the delty and the priestess.
The worship paid her almost over the whole earth, is rather a profanation than a religion. She has temples, in which all the maids in other cities prostitute themselves to her honour, and acquire a portion from the profits of prostitution. She has others where every married woman goes once in her life to give up herself to him who has singled her out, and where she throws into the sanctuary the money she has received. There are others again, where the courtezans of all countries, more honoured than the matrons, go to make their offerings. There is, in short, another, where the men render themselves eunuchs, and dress themselves like women, in order to serve in the sanctuary, consecrating themselves to the Goddess, and those of her sex.
But she resolved, that the people of Gnidus should have a purer worship, and render her honours more worthy her acceptance. Her sacrifices there are sighs, and her offerings a tender heart. Every lover addresses his vows to his mistress, and Venus receives them for her.
Wherever beauty is found, they pay it the same adoration as to Venus; for beauty, like her, is divine.
With hearts inflamed with love they enter the Temple, and embrace at the altars of Fidelity and Constancy.
Those who are treated with cruelty come there to vent their sighs: they feel their torments diminish, and find their hearts filled with flattering hope.
Jealousy is a passion that may be felt, though it ought to be concealed. A man there adores in secret the caprices of his mistress, as they adore the decrees of the Gods, which become more just when we presume to utter our complaints.
Among the divine favours are reckoned the fire, the transports of love, and even all its fury: for the less a person is master of his own heart, the more is he devoted to the Goddess.
Those who have not lost their hearts are the profane, who are not admitted into her Temple. They at a distance address their vows to the Goddess, and beg to be delivered from that liberty which is nothing more than the incapacity of forming desires.
The Goddess inspires the girls with modesty; and that virtue has such charms as to set an additional value on all the treasures they conceal.
But never in these fortunate places do they blush at a sincere passion, an ingenuous sentiment, a tender acknowledgment.
The heart becomes fixed from the moment it has surrendered: but it is a profanation to surrender without love.
Cupid is at entive to the felicity of the Gnidians; he chuses the arrows with which he wounds them. When he sees an afflicted lover, whose passion meets with an unkind return, he takes an arrow dipped in the water of forgetfulness. When he sees two lovers who begin to feel the tender passion, he incessantly lets fly against them fresh arrows: and on seeing one whose love has declined, he makes it suddenly revive or expire; for he shortens the duration of a languishing passion, and will not suffer them to feel disgust before they cease to love. Thus enraptured by the sweets of a greater felicity, they forget the less.
Cupid took from his quiver the cruel arrows with which he wounded Phedra and Ariadne; they were mixed with love and hatred, and served to shew his power, as thunder makes known the empire of Jupiter.
In proportion as the God gives the pleasure of loving, Venus adds the happiness of pleasing.
The girls every day enter the sanctuary to offer their prayers to Venus. They there express the genuine sentiments of their hearts. Queen of Amathus, said one of them, my flame for Thyrsis is extinguished; I do not intreat to have my love revived, but only that Ixiphiles may love me.
Another softly says, Powerful Goddess! give me the power to conceal for some time my love to my shepherd, in order to inhance the value of the confession I intend to make to him.
Goddess of Cythera! says another, I seek solitude; the sports of my companions no longer please me: perhaps I love. But if I am indeed in love, let it be with none but Daphnis.
At their festivals the young men and maids go to repeat hymns in honour of Venus: and often do they celebrate her praisein singing their own amours.
A young Gnidian taking his mistress by the hand, sung thus: Cupid, when first Psyche appeared to thy view, thou doubtless woundedst her with the same arrow as that with which thou hast wounded my heart. Thy happiness was not different from mine; for thou feltest my flames, and I feel thy pleasures.
For my part, I have seen what I describe. I have been at Gnidus: I have seen Themira, and I have loved: I saw her again, and I loved her still more. With her I will spend my life at Gnidus, and I shall be the most happy of all mortals.
We will visit the Temple; and never shall a more faithful lover enter its walls. We will go to the palace of Venus, and I will imagine it to be the palace of my Themira. I will walk to the meadow, and gather flowers, which I will place in her bosom. Perhaps I may conduct her to the grove where so many paths meet, and when she shall have strayed—But Cupid, by whom I am inspired, forbids my revealing his mysteries.