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Aphrodite’s Tears

David Hume, III

An ancient legend describes how Aphrodite’s first glimpse of a rose with its fragrant scent caused her to weep tears of joy that fell into the sea from which she was born, and her tears became pearls. In 1554, divers off Panama’s Pacific coast discovered an oyster bed containing three of the world’s largest lachrymiform pearls. Spanish King Philip II named them Aphrodite’s Tears.

Phillip II of Spain was a renowned master of haute couture; a dandy who kept abreast of the Old World’s newest fashion trends. Silk brocade fabric with raised patterns of gold and silver threads, silk stockings, and silk underclothes were the “must have” items—the more dazzling the colors the better. The French hood, a woman’s headdress encrusted with pearls, was popularized by Phillip II’s French-born queen, Elizabeth of Valois.

Word reached the king that pearls harvested from oyster beds located in an archipelago of tiny, uninhabited islands located 30 miles off Panama’s Pacific coast were the most sought after in the world. Better yet, they were within Spain’s territorial waters, ready  for the taking. These facts provided Phillip II with the ideal gift for his queen, Elizabeth of Valois.  Phillip II was presented with three rare pearls harvested from the Pacific archipelago; two selected for their radiance were mounted as earrings, and the third—a rare pear-shaped pearl—was selected for its size, perfection, and luminosity. The two pearls used for the earring settings were named Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky. However, it was the next piece that would astound gemologists the world over. The large blue-white pearl was named Aphrodite, the Greek name of the planet Venus, the morning star. It is the brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and the Moon. Aphrodite was a pearl of unusual size weighing 55.95 carats, the largest pearl ever found: a symmetrically perfect pear-shaped pearl. The silver broach setting for the pearl contained a raised sculpted rose near its center, the flower associated with Aphrodite, surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses, signifying, the four Apostles: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.

These pearls became the most famous and valuable of Spain’s crown jewels, but during the beginning of the brutal regime of Spain’s fascist dictator, the pearls mysteriously vanished. Thus began the troubled trail of the wandering gem, Aphrodite’s Light, which was elevated to the rank of a Spanish Crown Jewel in 1557 and recorded in every royal inventory for almost 400 years until it mysteriously disappeared sometime during the reign of Francisco Franco Spain’s fascist strongman, in 1954.


Sunset in the Florida Keys creates a sky-show, a spectrum of yellow, orange, and red, fading to conch-shell pink, as the sun begins its cocktail-hour plunge into the Gulf of Mexico. Exotic birds make a final flight to their roosting areas just before the sky’s dark blue curtain descends, closing out the final act of the horizon’s lilac afterglow.

This is a time for philosophical reflection at the waterside bars dotting the Overseas Highway along its southwestern trajectory. Life’s wanderers, the legions of lost souls and fallen angels, continue toward their El Dorado, the last waypoint on the search for sensual self-indulgence. Their quest ends at the southernmost point of the United States, Key West, Florida. There, the setting sun signifies the beginning of the nightly bacchanal, a time of transition from strait-laced puritanical pretense to unbridled hedonistic pursuits.

One of these travelers had no desire to participate in the demonstrations of gut churning drunkenness. She arrived to take in the early morning glow of the planet called the “dawn bringer” or “light bringer,” Aphrodite. She was a demigoddess tasked by Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and wilderness, to locate and retrieve the two earrings and broach known by their collective name as Aphrodite’s Tears. But her hunt for Aphrodite’s Tears was littered with a trail of dead bodies, macabre murders, and raw fear.

In the morning, the sun rose over the Key West area, now deserted by its human inhabitants, but populated with roving, hungry gulls and boat-tailed grackles foraging among the overflowing waste bins and empty plastic drink cups rocking gently in the early morning breeze. As the day dawned, this particular traveler made her way to the luxury rental of the man who possessed the coveted gems. He would soon be relieved of the precious pearls and his and his life. But what would be the fate of the traveler and Aphrodite’s Tears?

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About the Contributor
David Hume, III
David Hume, III, Contributing Writer
David Hume is a contributing writer for Cape Fear Voices

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    Chuck BJun 5, 2024 at 4:53 pm

    I’m anxious to hear what happens next…