In part to verify a date,
and in part just to pass the time,
last night I picked up a volume
of Ptolemaic inscriptions and began reading.
Those endless poems of praise and flattery
all sound the same. All the men are brilliant,
great and good, mighty benefactors;
most wise in all their undertakings.
The same for the women of the dynasty, all the Berenices
and Cleopatras, wonderful, each and every one.
When I managed to find the date in question,
I'd have put the book aside had a brief mention
of King Caesarion, an insignificant note really,
not suddenly caught my eye...
Ah, there you stood, with that vague
charm of yours. And since history has devoted
just a few lines to you, I had more freedom
to fashion you in my mind's eye...
I made you handsome, capable of deep feeling.
My art gave your face an appealing,
dreamlike beauty. In fact, I imagined you
so vividly last night, that when my lamp
went out—I let it go out on purpose—
I actually thought you had come into my room;
you were there, standing before me,
just as you would have looked in defeated Alexandria,
pale and tired, ideal in your sorrow,
still hoping for mercy from those vicious men
who kept on whispering 'too many Caesars.'
C. P. Cavafy - 1863-1933
From C. P. Cavafy: Selected Poems translated by Avi Sharon. Published by Penguin Classics. Copyright © 2008 by Avi Sharon. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Constantine Cavafy was born Konstantínos Pétrou Kaváfis in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1863 and was considered by many to be the most original and influential Greek poet of the 20th century.
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