The Contest 

One city of antiquity escaped burning. The reason is as follows. Three goddesses, very much in love, lust and hate with each other, wanted to know which one among them was the fairest. And thus they set out for a beautiful but humble city in a far country by the sea, a land of permanent blue skies, high black mountains and pale clouds. They found a mason, resting under a twisted pine. The three goddesses demanded to know who was the most beautiful. As a reward, the mason would wed the goddess for one night and receive the magic gift she had brought. One had a golden apple, the other a cluster of golden grapes, the third a handful of golden flowers. The sculptor gazed at their naked forms for a long time. They were breathtaking to behold, but he finally shook his head. Many years of cutting and shaping stone had taught him that beauty was not just a matter of seeing. He would have to feel them with his hands. Blushing, the goddesses glanced at each other, bit their lips and then nodded. And so he felt their wondrous bodies with his hands, and they could not help but enjoy his caresses. This also led nowhere. He could not decide. Then they nursed him with their ambrosia; he drank until he was almost dead from bliss. Once again, however, the test proved nothing. This is an impossible task for me, the mason sighed. There is a reason why you are divine and I am a mere mortal. There is one last test, he said, but it requires time. Perhaps if you became mortal like me, I would know for sure, for I can only speak of mortal things. Saddened, the three goddesses replied that they could not risk such a test. And though he did not get to wed any one of them for a night, out of gratitude and benevolence they left him with their magic gifts and departed. Not long after, the one who had held the golden flowers returned, for she had fallen deeply in love. She found him kneeling by a grave, where he had placed the golden gifts on the earth. I love you, said the goddess, for you knew our minds better than we did and you showed us mercy. You knew that none of us could forgive or survive being rejected if you chose only one, and none of us would endure without the others’ love. Your lack of wisdom was its own kind of wisdom, a real blessing. The mason did not answer. The goddess knelt down beside him and asked why he was full of sorrow. I don’t know what to do with your gifts, he sighed. I don’t know what they mean. The goddess gazed at the golden apple, golden grapes and golden flowers shining in the dust. Whose grave is this? she asked. It is my wife’s, said the mason. She died very young. And then the goddess felt fuller, more abundant and more hollow than she had ever felt before, for she now saw beauty for the first time—and she was invisible. 

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