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  Cavafy at the Mysteries
Art Posted by Mordecai on May 29, 2001 @ 07:43 PM
from the greek-to-me dept.

Before Time Could Change Them:
The Complete Poems of Constantine P. Cavafy

translated, with an introduction and notes,
by Theoharis Constantine Theoharis
Harcourt: New York 2001, 354 pp.
ISBN: 0151005192

Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1863 and lived there for most of his seventy years (except for five years in England from nine to 13, and three years in Istanbul when he was 20 to 23). He worked his whole career in the bureaucracy of the English colonial administration in Egypt. His first book was one he published himself when he was 41; it was reissued five years later with another 7 poems included. That was all he published in his lifetime, and this book of his complete surviving poetry has only around 150 poems. Nevertheless, he is considered one of the most important Greek and European poets of the twentieth century. His ability, almost unique among modern poets, to turn historical poems into a relevant means of expression and his frank homosexuality, also a relatively rare thing in his day that is still relevant to us in the twenty-first century, are only two of the things that make him so special. These completely new translations by Theoharis capture both the ironic humor and the thoughtfulness so characteristic of Cavafy, as the following example will show:

Julian at the Mysteries

But when he found himself in darkness,
in the earth's frightening depths,
accompanied by infidel Greeks,
and saw bodiless shapes emerging
in bursts of glory and flaming lights before him,
the young man was scared for a moment,
and an instinct from his reverent years
returned, and he crossed himself.
Instantly the shapes disappeared;
the glories vanished -- the lights went out.
The Greeks cast covert looks one to another.
And the young man said; "Did you see the miracle?
My beloved companions, I'm frightened.
I'm frightened, my friends, I want to leave.
Didn't you see how the demons vanished at once
when they saw I was making
the holy sign of the cross?"
The Greeks' laughter rang out contemptuous, grand;
"It's shameful, it shames you to speak those words
to us, sophists and philosophers.
You can say things like that to
the Bishop of Nicomedia, and to his priests, if you like.
Before you appeared the preeminent gods
of our glorious Greece.
And if they left, don't think at all
that they were afraid of a gesture.
Only that when they saw you making
that utterly servile, boorish sign
their noble nature was disgusted
and they left, and did so despising you."
That's how they answered him, and from his
holy and blessed fear
the simpleton recovered,
believing the words of the Greeks, godless.

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  • The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

    Re: Cavafy at the Mysteries
    by perdurabo on Wednesday May 30, @02:47PM
    93 all readers...

    That was wonderful! Can I convince you to post us another sample? :)


    - David (Fr AKaDua of Knights Templar Oasis, OTO, Boston, MA)

    • Re: Cavafy at the Mysteries
      by Mordecai on Thursday June 14, @09:15PM
      Actually I was hoping that one sample would be enough to get some people to check out the book. Theoharis' translations are very good, and I'm sure he and his publishers will let the Beast Bay get away with putting up one, but I don't know if any more would be considered "fair use", and I don't want to cause Michael any more headaches than I already do.

    Re: Cavafy at the Mysteries
    by Hristo on Thursday June 28, @06:00AM
    check this out

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