Front Page Titles (by Subject) CANTO III. - Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws
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CANTO III. - 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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AT Gnidus there are sacred games which are renewed every year, and there women come from all parts to dispute the prize of beauty; when shepherdesses are confounded with the daughters of kings, for there beauty alone is the mark of empire. Venus herself presides over them; she decides without hesitation, and knows well the happy mortal whom she has most favoured.
Helen several times gained the prize: she triumphed when she was stolen by Theseus; she triumphed when she was carried away by the son of Priam; in fine, she triumphed when the gods restored her to Menelaus, after his hopes had been kept alive for ten years: that prince therefore, in the opinion of Venus herself, found as much happiness in being her husband, as Theseus and Paris in being her lovers.
There came thirty girls of Corinth, whose hair fell in large ringlets on their shoulders. There came ten from Salamis who had not yet seen thirteen times the annual course of the sun. There came fifteen from the isle of Lesbos, who said to each other, I am quite charmed, I never saw any thing so beautiful as you; if Venus saw you with the same eyes as I do, she would crown you amidst all the beauties of the universe.
There came fifty women of Miletus, who excelled in the whiteness of their complexion, and the regularity of their features; every thing shewed, or gave room to imagine, that their persons were lovely, and that the gods, who had formed them, would have made nothing so beautiful as they, had they sought to obtain valuable perfections rather than external graces.
An hundred women came from the island of Cyprus. We have passed our youth, said they, in the temple of Venus; to her we have consecrated our virginity, and our modesty itself. We do not blush at our charms; our manners, sometimes bold, and always free, ought to give us the advantage over a modesty that is continually creating fresh alarms.
I saw the daughters of proud Sparta: their robes were open at the sides from the girdle, in the most indecent manner: and yet they behaved like prudes, and maintained, that they would never violate the laws of modesty, except for the love of their country.
O sea, famous for so many shipwrecks, thou preservest the treasures committed to thy care. Thou becamest calm, when the ship Argo, laden with the golden fleece, sailed on thy liquid plain; and when fifty beauties departed from Colchis, and trusted themselves on thy waves, thou didst bow under them.
I also saw Oriana, like a goddess: all the beauties of Lydia surrounded their queen. She had sent before her an hundred girls, who had presented to Venus an offering of two hundred talents. Candaules came himself, and was more distinguished by his love, than by the royal purple. He passed his days and nights in devouring with his looks the charms of Oriana; his eyes wandered over her beautiful form, and were never weary. I am happy, said he; but alas! this is known only to Venus and myself; my felicity would be much heightened, did it but inspire envy! Lovely queen, quit these vain ornaments; drop that troublesome vail, and shew thyself to the universe; leave the prize of beauty, and demand altars raised to thine honour.
Afterwards came twenty Babylonians, dressed in purple robes embroidered with gold: they imagined, that the richness of their apparel inhanced their value. Some carried, as a proof of their beauty, the riches it had enabled them to acquire.
Then came an hundred Egyptian women whose eyes and whose hair were black: their husbands were with them, and said, The laws render us subject to you in honour of Isis; but your beauty has a more powerful empire over us, than that of the laws: we obey you with the same pleasure as we obey the gods, and are the most happy slaves in the universe. Duty secures our fidelity to you; but only love can render you faithful to us. Be less sensible of the glory you acquire at Gnidus, than of the homage you may find in your own house from a tranquil husband; who, while you are employed in affairs abroad, ought to wait in the family for the heart you bring him.
There came women from that powerful city which sends vessels to the ends of the universe: their heads were loaden with superfluous ornaments, and all the parts of the earth seemed to have contributed to form their dress.
Ten beauties came from the place where the day begins to dawn; they were the daughters of Aurora, and in order to see her, rose daily before that goddess. They complained of the sun, that he made their mother disappear; and they complained of their mother, that she did not shew herself to them, as she did to other mortals.
I saw under a tent a queen of India surrounded by her virgins, who already gave hopes of their having the charms of their mothers: she was served by eunuchs, whose eyes were fixed on the earth; for since their breathing the air of Gnidus, they had felt the gloom of melancholy redoubled.
The women of Cadiz, which is at the extremity of the earth, likewise disputed for the prize. There is no country upon earth where beauty does not receive homage; but nothing less than the highest homage can satisfy the ambition of the fair.
The girls of Gnidus at length appeared: beautiful without ornament, they had graces instead of pearls and rubies. Nothing was seen on their heads but the presents of Flora; which were there more worthy of the embraces of Zephyrus. Their robes had no other merit besides that of exhibiting the fineness of their shape, and of being spun with their own fingers.
Among all these beauties one could not see the young Camilla; who had said, I will not dispute the prize of beauty, it is sufficient that my dear Aristeus thinks me fair.
Diana rendered these games celebrated by her presence. She did not come to dispute the prize; for the Goddesses do not compare themselves to mortals. I saw her alone, and she seemed as beautiful as Venus: I saw her with Venus, and she was only Diana.
There never was so great a concourse: nations were separated from nations; the eye wandered from country to country, from the setting of the sun to the rising of Aurora. It seemed as if Gnidus comprehended the whole universe.
The Gods have divided beauty among the nations, as nature has divided it among the goddesses. There we see the proud beauty of Pallas; here the grandeur and majesty of Juno; farther still, the simplicity of Diana, the delicacy of Thetis, the charms of the Graces, and sometimes the smile of Venus.
It seemed as if each nation had a particular manner of expressing modesty, and yet that every woman was resolved to attract every eye. Some discovered the neck, and concealed the shoulders; others shewed their shoulders, and concealed their necks; those who concealed the foot paid you with other charms; and here they blushed at what was there called decency.
The Gods are so charmed with Themira, that they never look at her without smiling at their work. Of all the Goddesses, there is none but Venus who sees her with pleasure, and whom the Gods do not rally with having a little jealousy.
As we observe a rose in the midst of the flowers that spring in the grass, Themira was distinguished among so many beauties. They had not time to become her rivals; they were vanquished before they feared her. She no sooner appeared, than the eyes of Venus were fixed on her; and calling the Graces, Go, said she, and crown her, for of all the beauties I see, she alone resembles you.