Front Page Titles (by Subject) CANTO IV. - Complete Works, vol. 4 Familiar Letters; Miscellaneous Pieces; The Temple of Gnidus; A Defence of the Spirit of Laws
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CANTO IV. - 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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WHILE Themira was employed with her companions in the worship of the goddess, I entered a solitary wood, and there I found the tender Aristeus. We had seen each other on the day when we went to consult the oracle; and our meeting was sufficient to engage us to enter into conversation: for Venus places in the heart, on our seeing an inhabitant of Gnidus, the secret charm felt by two friends, when, after a long absence, they press in their arms the dear object of their inquietudes.
Transported with each other, we found that we had resigned our hearts: if appeared as if a tender friendship had descended from heaven in order to unite us. We related a thousand passages of our lives, and this is, nearly, what I said to him.
I was born at Sybaris, where Antilochus, my father, was the priest of Venus. In that city they make no difference between luxuries and necessities; all the arts are banished that are capable of disturbing a tranquil sleep: prizes are given at the public expence to those who discover new sources of voluptuousness: and the citizens remember only the buffoons that have afforded them diversion, while they lose all remembrance of the magistrates who have governed them with wisdom.
The people there take advantage of the fertility of the soil, which produces an eternal plenty; and the favours bestowed by the Gods on Sybaris serve only to encourage softness and luxury.
To such a degree are the men sunk in offeminacy, that their dress is so like that of the women, they take such care of their complexions, they curl their hair with such art, and employ so much time in adorning themselves at the glass, that there seems to be only one sex in all the city.
The women abandon themselves, instead of surrendering, and the desires and hopes of the day are finished at its conclusion. They know not what it is to love, and to taste the pleasure of being beloved, and are solely employed about what is falsely called enjoyment.
What with us are termed favours are there nothing less than their proper realities; and all those circumstances which so happily accompany them; all those nothings that are of such great value; all those trifles that are of such worth; every thing that prepares the way for the happy moment; so many conquests instead of one; so many enjoyments before the last; are all unknown at Sybaris.
Yet, had they the least modesty, a small appearance of that virtue would please: but they have it not; their eyes are accustomed to see, and their ears to hear every thing.
So far is the multiplicity of pleasures from giving the Sybarites more delicacy, that they cannot distinguish one sentiment from another.
They pass life in a joy merely exterior; quitting one pleasure that displeases them, for another that is still more displeasing; while every change affords a new subject of disgust.
Their souls, incapable of relishing pleasure, seem to have no delicacy but for pain. Thus, a citizen was fatigued a whole night by the leaf of a role folded in his bed.
Ease and softness have so weakened their bodies, that they cannot remove the least burden, and can soarce support themselves on their feet. They faint away in the most easy carriages; and when at a feast their stomachs continually fail them.
They pass their lives reclined on sophas, on which they are obliged to repose the whole day, without any relief from their fatigue; they are bruised if they attempt to languish out life in any other manner.
Incapable of bearing the weight of arms; timorous before their fellow citizens, and dastardly in the presence of strangers, they are slaves ready to submit to the first master.
I was no sooner capable of thinking, than I was filled with contempt for the unhappy Sybarites. I love virtue, and have always feared the immortal Gods. I will no longer, said I, breathe this infectious air; all these slaves of softness and indolence are made to live in their native country, and I to leave it.
I then went for the last time to the temple; and approaching the altars, where my father had so often sacrificed; Great Goddess! said I with a loud voice, I abandon thy temple, but not thy worship; in what part of the earth soever I am, I will offer incense to thee; but it shall be purer than that offered at Sybaris.
I departed, and arrived in Crete, an island filled with monuments of the extravagance of love. There were seen the brazen cow, the work of Dædalus, to deceive, or to gratify the lust of Pasiphæ; the labyrinths, whose intricacies love only could elude; the tomb of Phædra, which astonished the Sun, as it had done his mother; and the temple of Ariadne; who, deserted in the desarts, and abandoned by an ungrateful wretch, did not repent of her having followed him.
I there saw the palace of Idomeneus, whose return from the siege of Troy was not more happy than that of the other Greek captains: for those who escaped the dangers of a resentful element, found in their own houses those that were still more fatal. Venus, exasperated against them, gave them to the embraces of their perfidious wives, and they died by the hand they held most dear.
I quitted that isle, so odious to a goddess who was one day to give felicity to my life.
I re-embarked; and a tempest cast me on shore at Lesbos, an island but little beloved by Venus, who has taken modesty from the countenances of the women, weakness from their bodies, and timidity from their souls. Great Venus! suffer the women of Lesbos to burn with a lawful flame; and may human nature no longer suffer such disgrace.
At Mytelene, the capital of Lesbos, resided the tender Sappho, who, immortal as the Muses, burnt with a fire which she could not extinguish. Odious to herself, and disgusted with her charms, she hated, and yet courted her own sex. How, said she, can a flame so vain become so cruel! Cupid, how much more formidable art thou when in sport, than when enraged!
At length I quitted Lesbos, and my fate led me to an island still more profane; and that was Lemnos. Venus has there no temple: never do the Lemnians address their vows to her. We reject, say they, a worship that softens the heart. The goddess has often punished them; but they bear the punishment, without making an expiation for their crime, and are always more impious in proportion as they are afflicted.
I again put to sea in search of a country beloved by the gods; and the winds conducted me to Delos. I staid some time in that sacred isle. But, whether the gods sometimes previously inform us of what is to happen; or whether the soul retains from the emanations of the divinity, with which it is enlightened, some knowledge of futurity; I perceived that my destiny, and that my happiness itself, called me to another country.
One night when I was in that state of tranquility, in which the soul, being more itself, seems delivered from that chain wherewith it is bound; there appeared before me a female form, and I was at first at a loss to know whether she was a mortal or a goddess. A secret charm was spread over her whole person: she was not so beautiful as Venus, but was as ravishing as that Goddess: all her features were not regular; but, together, they were full of charms: her hair fell negligently on her shoulders; but that negligence had a happy effect: her shape and stature were charming: she had that air which nature alone bestows, and which she hides from the painters. She saw my astonishment: she smiled. Ye gods! what a smile! I am, said she, one of the Graces: Venus, who sent me, would render thee happy; but thou must go, and adore her in the Temple of Gnidus. She vanished: I stretched out my arms to hold her; my sleep fled with her: and there only remained a sweet regret at my no longer seeing her, mixed with the pleasure of having beheld her.
I then quitted the isle of Delos, and arrived at Gnidus. I may say, that I instantly breathed love. I felt—I cannot express what I felt. I was not yet in love, but sought to love. My heart was inflamed, as if I had been in the presence of some celestial beauty. I advanced, and saw at a distance several young girls playing in a meadow. I was immediately drawn towards them. Senseless as I am, said I, I feel without love, all the disturbances of the lover: my heart slies already towards objects unknown, and those objects fill it with inquietude, I approached; I saw the charming Themira. We were doubtless made for each other. I looked at none but her, and believe that I should have died with grief, had she not turned her eyes, and cast some looks at me. Great Venus, cried I, since thou art to render me happy, may it be with this shepherdess: I renounce all other beauties; she alone can fulfil thy promises, and all the vows I shall for ever make.