More Cavafy

Yet another fine article on Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy--spurred by the new translation by Daniel Mendelsohn, who has also translated  a new collection of "Unfinished Poems"--in the National, by Robyn Creswell. 
“Plenty of poets are poets only,” Cavafy once said, “but I am a historical poet” (or else “a poet-historian”: piïtís istorikós). Indeed, few poets were on such intimate terms with the past as Cavafy, who approached history with a combination of scholarly detachment and spooky intensity. The past he most identified with – the verb is not too strong – was the classical kind. Not that noontime of Pericles and the Acropolis, Caesar and the Senate, but the long and, for most of us, unfamiliar evening of Hellenism: the successor states of Alexander’s conquests, the thousand-year reign of Constantinople. This post-Classical era, with its sprawling, mongrelised empires and overripe atmospheres is an afterthought in most historical accounts. But for Cavafy, a Greek poet who had read the French decadents and lived all his adult life in a declining Egyptian entrepôt, it spoke to his deepest concerns.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.