The City of Ideas: Cavafy as a Philosopher of History


  • Peter Murphy


Constantine Cavafy was a British national with a Greek passport living in colonial Egypt.He was born in Constantinople, raised in London and Liverpool, and lived most of hisadult life in Alexandria moving amongst Greek, Italian, British and French diasporacommunities there. That abrupt summation of his life captures the essentials of his poeticsas well. Cavafy doesn’t fit into the story of modern national Greek letters at all. He didn’tsee any particular value in the national literary culture that helped chisel a small nation-state out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. For most of his life, Cavafy avoided going toAthens.1He wrote an article arguing for the return of the Parthenon marbles from Britainto Greece. But there is no indication that he was ever interested in Modern Greeknationalism.