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An Affliction of Alliteration

Here’s another piece of fiction I wrote for one of Chuck’s challenges.

The Five Four O’clock Flashers of the Great Garden
Or, The Elector and the Exhibitionists

When Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, and Grand Duke of Lithuania, ordered a copy of the Aphrodite Kallipygos for the Great Garden of the city of Dresden, he could not have anticipated what would transpire.

As a young man, Augustus had visited the court of the Sun King, and when he became Elector of Saxony (after his older brother died without issue), he resolved to make Dresden as full of splendor as Versailles was. Augustus was every bit the absolute ruler as Louis XIV, and he spared no expense to make his seat of government a wonder to behold. The Great Garden was the centerpiece of his works. It lay just beyond the old city walls, its landscape bedecked with statuary and sculpture. When he had seen the Aphrodite Kallipygos in Rome, he knew that a copy must be his.

“Kallipygos” is a Greek word that means “of the beautiful buttocks,” which may explain Augustus’ fascination with the statue. The sculpture depicts a beautiful woman (reputedly the goddess Aphrodite) lifting up her peplos — the slight garment favored by Greek women in the Classical period — to reveal her shapely backside. Augustus was well-acquainted with shapely backsides; despite his marriage at a young age to Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, he was known to have had at least a dozen mistresses, and though he had only one legitimate child, he was by some accounted to have fathered more than three hundred children.
This was the kind of man, then, who walked through the Great Garden in the city of Dresden, at just past four in the afternoon on Wednesday, the twenty-third day of June, in the Year of Our Lord Seventeen Hundred Twenty-Three.

Augustus was recently returned from Warsaw. Since his election to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, his rule over those lands had suffered one setback after another. Though he was greatly desirous of that realm — he had imperiled his own standing as Prince-Elector of Saxony by converting to Catholicism in order to make himself eligible for the throne — he never felt as at home in Warsaw as he did in Dresden. He had not yet visited his wife (who refused to join him in Poland) and he was that afternoon enjoying the rare opportunity for a constitutional through the Great Garden. The Elector had brought his financial ministers with him, and he was indulging in one of his most common pastimes: Haranguing them about their inability to produce more revenues to fund his beautification projects. As they walked through the garden, he continued his exhortations to find new taxes to apply that would raise the necessary money without inciting a general revolt, his words given particular emphasis by the ivory-handled cane with which he jabbed at the air. Just as he passed the fountain he had built two summers past, he noticed that his companions’ objections had suddenly ceased. As he turned to scowl at them, he discovered why.

In front of the Aphrodite Kallipygos — unveiled not three weeks earlier — stood five women. They ranged in age from the middle teens to the early geriatric. All five of them mimicked the statue’s pose: their heads turned over their right shoulders, their skirts hiked up to their waists, and their bottoms bare. For a brief moment, Augustus fell as silent as his councilors.

The moment was broken when the Elector’s cane clattered to the ground, his famously strong grip having failed him in this moment of confusion. The women’s heads swiveled toward his party, and as they saw the gathered onlookers, they scattered in every direction.

“Halt!” cried Augustus. “I command it!” But they did no such thing. His ministers were all men in their fifties, as he was, and ill-suited to give chase. The two younger guardsmen with them might have had a chance, but their pursuit was doomed by head start their quarry had over them. In a flash, they were gone.

“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Augustus. His companions shook their heads and suggested they examine the statue more closely. The perplexed company walked across the glade to where the sculpture stood, but drawing closer revealed no further clues as to the reason for the women’s behavior.

“I will get to the bottom of this,” said Augustus as the troupe returned to the palace. One of the guards snickered at this, but did so out of earshot of the Elector.

Throughout that summer, Augustus turned his city upside-down searching for the five women he saw that afternoon. Word went out for the exhibitionists to turn themselves in. It was said that they would not be punished, and that the Elector only wished an explanation of their curious gathering. When they failed to produce themselves, he offered a reward for any information that would lead to their discovery. This, too, bore no fruit. As summer turned to fall, the great man’s obsession and desperation grew. Augustus’ men were seen ransacking the homes of people alleged to be hiding the mysterious ladies. In October of that year a rumor passed through the city that Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, had been seen, late one night, in the Great Garden, wearing a peplos and gazing over his shoulder at his own bare bottom. Surely such talk was but slander spread by the Elector’s enemies and should not be taken seriously.

On the first day of February 1733, Augustus died in Warsaw at the age of 63, never having discovered why five women revealed their bottoms on that afternoon ten years earlier.

In February 1945, the Aphrodite Kallipygos of the Great Garden was destroyed in the Allied bombing of Dresden, its shapely behind consumed by the flames of war.

Reader Comments (1)

Fantastic! Love it.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

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