The Greeks of Art and the Greeks of History

Vassilis Lambropoulos


Given its prominence in C.P. Cavafy’s poetry, it is understandable that the role of historyhas consistently attracted a lot of critical attention. More often than not, this attentionproduces commentaries which reveal the poet’s impressive familiarity with primary andsecondary sources. At the same time, his historiographic consciousness deserves evenmore scrutiny, steeped as it is in geographical awareness and philosophical reflection. Inaddition to being interested in evidence and testimony from the past, Cavafy is pre -occupied with the contrapuntal relationship of history and art, time and beauty, realityand imagination. The historicity of personal experience, collective identity, cultural artic -ulation, and political institution inspire him to probe the meaning of the past by drama -tising transitional moments of empires on the edge. In order to take a closer look at hishistoriographic consciousness, I will discuss at some length a poem he never com pleted,“Ptolemy Euergetes (or Kakergetes),” composed in February 1922 and first pub lished inthe unfinished poems which Renata Lavagnini edited as Atele poiemata 1918–1932(Athens: Ikaros 1994). Since this edition includes earlier drafts, I am going to draw onthem as well both because they do not contradict the latest one and because we do nothave a definitive text. However, I am not going to offer an interpretation but rather, withthe poem’s support, reflect on historical understanding and its emblems.

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