Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Eros of Ebony

Read "Eros of Ebony" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this sonnet at The Eldritch Dark includes a couple of typos in the last line of the third stanza; the corrected text is:

Selling all my ancient idols,
I worship the new god: before his altar
I bring the mythic fruits of distant lands
and cast the loot of ocean-sepulchres....

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) created both English and Spanish versions of this poem; the latter was entitled "El Eros de ├ębano".

"Eros of Ebony" would seem to be inspired by the tale of Pygmalion from book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses.  In that famous tale, the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with an ivory statute wrought from his own hands, and his supplications to the goddess Aphrodite reward him when that very sculpture comes to life, eventually becoming his bride and mother to his daughter Paphos.

In this poem, CAS instead presents a sculpture of ebony, but as in the story of Pygmalion, CAS' sculptor becomes enthralled with his creation, leading him to "worship the new god".  But there is no beneficent intervention from Aphrodite in "Eros of Ebony": the worshipful artist can only face the grim reality that "The god is blind . . . and my oblations / have vainly hued his ebon heels with blood."

CAS was no great fan of organized religion, and one cannot help reading a commentary on the very act of worship into "Eros of Ebony".  The carefully wrought idol is a thing to be admired, and yet "His mouth and brows, capricious, / mingle their honey with a great bitterness."  Buyer beware!

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