Milo Manara is just one of the latest illustrators to imagine the antique world of Pierre Louÿs’ Aphrodite, in a sumptuous set of detailed paintings.

Set in Alexandria during the first century BC, Aphrodite tells the story of the courtesan Chrysis and the sculptor Démétrios, the lover of Queen Berenice. Démétrios becomes obsessed with Chrysis, but to win her he must bring her three gifts, and the obtaining of each of these three gifts involves a crime. Démétrios has another obsession, his statue of Aphrodite, a statue more perfect than any living woman.

The tale, similar to the story of Pygmalion, deals with themes of art versus reality, the nature of desire, and what happens when that desire is met. The narrative, one of Louÿs’ best-known, is a vivid and highly sensuous representation of the world of exclusive Alexandrian courtesans, immense wealth, sensual indulgence, and continuous intrigues, a world of women for whom love is both a profession and an obsession. Their love affairs with men are passionate, their love affairs with other women even more passionate.

Manara’s Aphrodite was published in English and in French by Humanoïdes; both versions are currently out of print. An Italian version was published in 2003 by Grifo Edizioni.