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Konstantínos Kaváfis 1863-1933:
alexandria filhelle

Konstantínos Kaváfis was originally known as the curiosity of the literature of the Greek diaspora, which sought to achieve national significance in Greece from Alexandria (see the digitized Cafavy Archive). He is even called an “Alexandrian poet”. He is a leading peripheral poet who wrote Greek poetry far from Greece, like Meleager before him (Gutzwiller 2003,69). This is why she is a model and an inspiration to us who are learning Greece off the coast of Greece.

He escaped from Egyptian reality and chose the old Hellenistic world, once united by the ancient Greek language and culture, as his spiritual getaway (Bowra / Anhava, 2005). It is important to keep in mind that Kaváfis wrote many poems against the backdrop of World War I and the disaster in Asia Minor. His reputation slowly spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world until he eventually became the best-known, most famous, and most translated author of Greek descent worldwide. His poems have been translated into a total of 70 languages, mostly English, but also Polish and Hungarian. They are  famously influenced Pentti Saarikoski, Paavo Haavikko and Eeva-Liisa Manner. Of the contemporary poets, Helena Sinervo has worked together from her collections on Kaváfis' most famous poem while waiting for the Barbarians .

All his poems are characterized by Hellenism and Greek culture (Cavafy / Mackridge 2007, xiv).  Attempts have been made to stuff him into a variety of molds.  It is up to each interpreter to choose which mold he chooses, or whether he accepts them all. He has been called a skeptic and a neo-pagan. In his poem, he critically examines some aspects of Christianity, patriotism, and homosexuality, although he was not always happy with his role as a rebel. The upscale Kaváfis wrote sparingly and thoughtfully (Kanerva 1986), and he himself accepted only 154 poems from his production: dozens of others remained unfinished or sketches. His most important poetry was written after his fortieth birthday. Kaváfis himself valued his poems written after 1911 the most. However, he wrote his most memorable poems before that. The best known is while waiting for the Barbarians from 1898. A poem written in the form of a question and answer states that senators do not legislate because the barbarians, however, enact new ones upon their arrival. The emperor and consuls struggle at their best to wait for the barbarians.

  In this presentation, I study the poems of Kaváfis as a source of inspiration for learning Greek.



Kavafis was born on April 29, 1863, in Alexandria, Egypt, where he died the same day in 1933. He wrote his own short biography: “I am of Constantinople descent, but I was born in Alexandria — in a house on Serif Street. I left at a very young age and spent much of my childhood in England (1872-1879). I later visited that country as an adult, but stayed only a short time. I have also lived in France. As a young man I lived for two years in Constantinople. I have not been to Greece for many years. Most recently, I served as a civil servant in a government agency under the Egyptian Ministry of Public Works (1907-1933). I speak English, French and a little Italian ”(in English Korhonen). We could add - a little Arabia and Turkey.

In his absence from work, Kaváfis ’life was concentrated in his apartment at 10 rue Lepsius, visited by friends and literary figures, as well as his nightly activities in cafés in Alexandria.  in shady neighborhoods. While still living with his mother, Kaváfis had bribed his servants or persuaded his brother to wrinkle his bed so that he looked like he had spent the night at home. At night, he paid for sex for beautiful young men — dishwashers, tailor students, or grocery store boys (Chiasson 2009). At that time, he had to cross the honorable district where he lived with his mother to enter the area of taverns, bars and brothels. Living alone after 1910, he had greater freedom; an old Greek district called Massalia, to which he had moved. This gradually deteriorated so that at some point the brothels took over the ground floors of the buildings. Kaváfis did not have any long-term relationship throughout his life; his closest friends, Pericles Anastassiades (since 1895) and Alexander Singopoulos (whom he met in 1915), were both considerably younger than him. However, he did not like women, but did not avoid them, he counted several women among his closest friends.

He kept his personal life and sexual preferences a secret and lived a Double Life. Often his love poems do not specify the gender of the persons, while in others we see a separate narrative in the third person. Over the years  however, he deliberately allows homosexuality to emerge in his accounts and without guilt.


Greek scholarship

In this article, I take advantage of the ambiguity of the word "Greek scholarship" (ελληνομάθεια), on the one hand, language learning, and on the other hand, knowledge of Greek history, language, and literature. When we talk about Kaváfis' knowledge of Greece, it thus means the time of Alexander the Great and the spread of the Greek language and culture in all the countries of the East (without the help of the Internet). The cosmopolitan Kaváfis often and intentionally refers to Greekness, by which he means the past or his own time both in Greece and beyond, especially in Constantinople and Alexandria. For us in Finland, these cities can be compared to Vyborg, which for many generations was a multicultural and multilingual city. Maybe something of the same cultural background search landless  Kaváf can be compared to the Karelian Olavi Paavolainen, who, like Kaváfis, felt landless because his homeland Karelia had been lost. . Each had its own stage of escapism. I am interested in Kaváfis as a cosmopolitan person because of my own London past, not to mention that I feel sympathy for him because of this British Greek accent that he is said to have had.

Kaváfis divides his poetic work into philosophical, historical and hedonistic. There are many overlaps between the three.  A more detailed analysis of his thematic catalog can be found in the Kaváfis archives (see Ekdawi and Hirst 1996). With regard to his historical poems in particular, it must be borne in mind that he wrote them in the atmosphere of a city with a Hellenistic past that became a melting pot and crossroads of peoples and cultures (see The City Poem). His heroes are well-known historical figures such as King Claudius, Herod Atticos, the Kings of Alexandria or Manuel Komnenos, or the products of his imagination (e.g. Ambassadors from Alexandria). The poet tells of characters who face short-term success or overwhelming destiny that wipes out man’s own will ( Nero’s Deadline ). Kaváfis describes the joys of eroticism and love in an unconventionally liberated but at the same time elegant way (e.g. Back, She Swears, Far Away, I Brought to Art, Very Rarely, I Watched).

Contemporary Greek literature has always drawn its inspiration from Greece’s multi-layered past, as has Kaváfis. He was familiar with ancient sources, both classical texts and carvings, papyri, ancient art objects, and coins (Cavafy / Mackridge 2007, xiv). He speaks of ancient history and history in general ( Dareios) , often extensively and competently, but the way in which he deals with the ancient and more broadly historical subject is special. First, how much it tones poetry with historical themes and persons is impressive. He sought inspiration from well-known historical events ( Thermopylai, Trojans) , such as the deeds of the Hellenistic kings, but he also knew how to create characters himself and place them in specific places and times.

More than half of the published poems focus on episodes of epic poetry, historical figures of Greco-Roman antiquity, and descriptions of everyday life, especially during the Hellenistic era and late antiquity. Second, the Greek history of Kaváfis is not the classical history taught by his contemporaries at the University of Athens, but the history of Hellenism in the Hellenistic regions, Egypt, the Middle East, and deep in Asia.

During his life, Kaváfis was an unknown poet who lived relatively alone and published only a few of his works. A short collection of his poems was printed privately in the early 20th century and printed with a new verse added a few years later. Instead, Kaváfis decided to share his poems with his friends.

The development of the poet


The process of creation was long: it took about twenty years, at the latest from 1882, when he wrote his first remaining poem, around 1903. Taking advantage of his extensive reading of European literature (especially in English and French) along the way, Kaváfis experimented with poetic trends in Romanticism, Parnassus and symbolism. (Cavafy Archive). Poems written in the 1880s and 1890s have post-romantic influences - from Shelley, Keats, Lady Anne Barnard, Hugo, and representatives of Greek romance - and this at a time when romance in Greece was declared "dead," according to poet Kóstis Palámas. In the early 1890s, Kaváfis turned in two new directions (Cavafy's World). On the one hand, he took a model of the use of the "Parnassians" in "Ancient Times" (one of his early thematic titles) as a source of poetic inspiration. However, the appeal of symbolism was considerably stronger. In a poem written in 1892 by Sopusointu Baudelaire, he affirms his affection for the French poet's concepts of "harmony" and synesthesia, while in a poem written in the same year, he reiterates an ideal rejected by Baudelaire. His commitment to symbolism and other related movements (aesthetics, esotericism, decadence) in the 1890s is clearly evident in numerous other poems ( In the Wine Taverns, Days 1909, ’10, and ’11 ) and in one of his short stories in Daylight (Cavafy / Mackridge 2007, xiii).


During his lifetime, Kaváfis enjoyed flirting with his readers and deliberately created an aura of mystery and expectations for his work (Ekdawi / Hirst 1996; Papanikalaou 2005). This deliberate tactic of hiding and coming out proved to be very effective when his once few but fanatical admirers​​ became a global community.

In fact, UNESCO declared 2013 the Year of Kaváfis, with the publication of English translations (excluding other languages) and anthologies (contemporary Greek poetry, homoerotic poetry, etc.). Touring exhibitions in archives, scholarships and symposia around Kaváfis’s work have increased significantly, especially since the 1950s. Kaváfis is  a valid subject not only in modern Greek research or poetry, but also in translation, colonial and postcolonial studies, gender and GLBTQ studies, and among other fields and sciences.

A leap into fame

A key figure in consolidating Kaváfis ’reputation outside Greece was the famous British writer EM Forster. According to Bien, he must be honored for spreading Kaváfis ’reputation to the English-speaking world, which opens the door to wider appreciation throughout Europe and elsewhere (Bien 1990,197). To this, Dimiroúli would add WH Auden, Lawrence Durrell, Stephen Spender, Joseph Brodsky, and James Merrill, who would rip Kaváfis out of obscurity into fame, who also benefited from their collaboration with Kaváfis (Dimiroúli 2021). Others emphasize the importance of Kaváfis' translations, mainly in English, but in a total of 70 different languages, including Polish and Hungarian. Some emphasize the charm and exoticism of Kaváfis ’homoerotic themes (Bien 1964 and 1990, Gégas, 2016, Bolétsi 2016). Eventually, Kaváfis became a goldmine for publishers, a true giant in the literary world, a key player in cultural networks and a much-quoted author. Nobel laureates George Seféris (1963) and Odysseus Elysis (1979) have publicly acknowledged the greatness of Kaváfis. Seféris wrote in his notes on modern Greek literature that “Kaváfis jumped over the ages to take his own place in the Greek anthology” (Seféris 2013, 127). In the words of Leiwon, “Kaváfis’ reputation gradually grew clumsily, especially in England, Italy and France. His influence on later European poetry is massive. In England, Italy, and France, his poems were translated during his lifetime and their impact cannot be overestimated ”(1923, 25).


The language of Cavafis

The choice of language and words is a particular problem for all Kaváfis translators. In Koskelainen's words, his style is “rustic and matter-of-fact. In his youth, he might have been a little glowing with language images, but later he considered his early poems to be distracting. He is known to have thoroughly honed his poems until their expression was strong and certain ”(Koskelainen 2005). An important feature of the Kaváfis language is his ability to confuse two very different registers in modern Greek: the vernacular (demotikí) and the literary language (katharévousa), an artificial dialect presented by government officials in the 19th century, and considered a suitable register of high literature in Kaváfis times. Mendelsohn has tried to create a modified version of the Kaváfis hybrid language by utilizing English-language resources; especially by using high-sounding Latin terms to evoke the ceremonial luster of katharévousa and granular Anglo-Saxon words for idiomatic demotic. Mendelsohn himself admits that this approach is only an approximate parallelism (Bailey 2013).


In the 1980s, Aapo Junkola translated two volumes of Kaváfis directly from Greece. With amendments by Jussi Korhonen (Junkola 1984 and 1987). During his lifetime, Tuomas Anhava translated about seventy poems by Kavafis into Finnish, mainly on the basis of English translations and French translations. He also began to study modern Greek, but did not consider himself to have acquired sufficient skills. The collection Barbarians will bring these Finnish translations together today, and in addition his nephew Martti Anhava has translated CM Bowra's extensive essay on the life and poetry of Kaváfis and has prepared an extensive introduction to the life and poetry of Kaváfis (Anhava 2005). Critics give positive feedback (eg Koskelainen, Kotonen, Peura, Tontti, 2005).

Kaváfis - tennis player?

Several critics have protested the various compartments used to define Kaváfis.  Kaváfis was a government official, a great dancer, a smoker, an entrenched and captivating gambler, an avid tennis player and even short-sighted (Syrimis 2006). He has been characterized as a historical, political, religious, pagan, dramatic and, of course, erotic poet (Thilykou 2017). According to Papanikalaou, Greek critics in particular have refused to acknowledge Kaváfis ’homosexuality (Papanikalaou 2005) because it would diminish his national significance. He has been closely associated with Baudelaire and Rimabaud (Tang 2018) but more and more often with Forster, Durrell, and Auden (Dimirouli 2021). Kaváfis wrote poems in the early years inspired by the epics of Homer, 1892–1911. A total of at least nine poems by Kaváfis and one essay shape homeeric myths. Of these, Ithaca, Kaváfis ’last homeeric poem, is a modern classic. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis considered it one of her favorites and asked to read it at her funeral. The New York Times then republished the poem, which inspired the sale of poems collected by Kaváfis, which led to new editions and new English translations. Thus Kaváfis has been said to be a homeeric poet (Cavafy's World).

Personal acquaintance

Finally, I would like to encourage readers to become acquainted with Kaváfis' poems in person in their original language, for example in parallel. After all, in Forster’s words, he was the “straw-hat Greek gentleman who stood completely motionless at a small angle to the universe” and, in Siro’s view, “the Greek Eino Leino” (Siro 2015). Attached are four poems that Heli Jokinen and I have translated for trial reading. Even after 50 years, Anhava still did not dare to translate directly from Greece, and as Martti Leiwo (vs. WH Auden) points out, it is impossible to translate Kaváf completely. Today, Greek lessons are available all over Finland (except in Pori) and, above all, via the Internet for the cheapest eight euros per hour. Enjoy the poems!

Stephen Evans, PhD


e Ithaca, Konstantínos Kaváfis


When you go to Ithaca

hope the road is long,

full of adventure, full of information.

Lorygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon - do not be afraid of them:

you will never find such things on your journey

as long as you keep your thoughts high,

as long as the movement touches

your spirit and body.

Lorygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon - you will not encounter them

unless you bring them into your soul,

unless your soul puts them before you.


I hope the road is long.

Let there be many summer mornings,

with what joy, with what joy,

you plunge into the ports you see for the first time;

Can you stop at the Phoenician marketplaces

buy great things

pearls and corals, amber and ebony,

all kinds of sensual perfumes -

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and visit many cities in Egypt

to learn and to learn from learners.


Always keep Ithaca in mind.

Getting there is your goal.

But don’t rush the trip at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you're old when you arrive on the island,

enriched with all that you have received from the journey, without expecting riches from Ithaca.

Ithaca gave you a wonderful trip.

Without it, you wouldn't have left.

It has nothing else to give you.


And if you find it poor, Ithaca hasn’t cheated on you.

Wise, as you have become, so full of experience,

I guess you already understand what Ithaca means.





The days of the future are ahead of us

like a row of small candles -

golden, warm and lively small candles.


Gone are the days behind us,

sad row of extinguished candles;

The nearest ones still smoke,

cold candles, melted and bent.


I don’t want to watch them; their shape makes me sad,

and it is sad to remember their first light.

I look forward to my lit candles.


I don't want to turn back so I can't see and tremble,

how fast the dark line lengthens,

how quickly extinguished candles multiply.

As much as you can


And if you can’t shape your life the way you want,

at least try as much as you can

don't ruin it

excessive contact with the world,

with excessive fuss and speech.


Try not to ruin it by dragging it after you,

going around and exposing it

social events and socializing,

daily stupidity,

so that it eventually feels like a foreign burden.



One monotonous day follows one after another

on another monotonous, similar day. Samoja

things happen, they happen again -

the same moments find us and leave us.


One month passes and leads to another month,

Upcoming events can be easily guessed;

they are yesterday and boring.

And tomorrow will eventually no longer Remind me of tomorrow.


Greece you are talking about, Mikael Ganas


The Greece you are talking about is not just a wound. (= reference to Seferis. “wherever I travel, Greece hurts me”)

In your free time, coffee with whipped cream,

radios and TV on the terrace,

bronze color, bronze bodies,

beer bottle with bronze cap- Greece on my lips.

In the courtyards the sticky rays of the sun

blinding eyes like insects.

Behind the yards are flats,

playgrounds, prisons, hospitals

God's people and the devil's knocker

and tram drivers drink alone

thick Arakhov wine.

Here the boys slept,

rifle to the side, (reference to the time after the junta)

with children barefoot asleep.

The women in headscarves wandered and left,

water pipe mats and rugs.

Now gravel and military boots

in this mountain wall distillery.

And the tram drivers drink alone

thick Arakhov wine.

Stephen Evans and Heli Jokinen

Ἰθάκη, Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης


Σὰ βγεῖς στὸν πηγαιμὸ γιὰ τὴν Ἰθάκη,

νὰ εὔχεσαι νἆναι μακρὺς ὁ δρόμος,

γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις.             Τοὺς Λαιστρυγόνας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας,

τὸν θυμωμένο Ποσειδῶνα μὴ φοβᾶσαι,

τέτοια στὸν δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δὲν θὰ βρεῖς,

έν μέν᾿ ἡ σκέψις σου ὑψηλή,

ἂν ἐκλεκτὴ συγκίνησις τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ σῶμα σου ἀγγίζει.

Τοὺς Λαιστρυγόνας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας,

τὸν ἄγριο Ποσειδώνα δὲν θὰ συναντήσεις,

ἂν δὲν τοὺς κουβανεῖς μὲς στὴν ψυχή σου,

ἂν ἡ ψυχή σου δὲν τοὺς στήνει ἐμπρός σου.


Νὰ εὔχεσαι νά ῾ναι μακρὺς ὁ δρόμος.

Πολλὰ τὰ καλοκαιρινὰ πρωϊὰ νὰ εἶναι

ποὺ μὲ τί εὐχαρίστηση, μὲ τί χαρὰ

θὰ μπαίνεις σὲ λιμένας πρωτοειδωμένους ·

καὶ τὲς καλὲς πραγμάτειες ν᾿ ἀποκτήσεις,

σεντέφια καὶ κοράλλια, κεχριμπάρια κ᾿ ἔβενους,

καὶ ἡδονικὰ μυρωδικὰ κάθε λογῆς,

μσο μπορεῖς πιὸ ἄφθονα ἡδονικὰ μυρωδικά.

Σὲ πόλεις Αἰγυπτιακὲς πολλὲς νὰ πᾷς,

νὰ μάθεις καὶ νὰ μάθεις ἀπ᾿ τοὺς σπουδασμένους.


Ντα στὸ νοῦ σου νἄχῃς τὴν Ἰθάκη.

Τὸ φθάσιμον ἐκεῖ εἶν᾿ ὁ προορισμός σου.

Ἀλλὰ μὴ βιάζῃς τὸ ταξείδι διόλου.

Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλὰ νὰ διαρκέσει.

Ὶαὶ γέρος πιὰ ν᾿ ἀράξῃς στὸ νησί,

πλούσιος μὲ ὅσα κέρδισες στὸν δρόμο,

ὴ προσδοκώντας πλούτη νὰ σὲ δώσῃ ἡ Ἰθάκη.                                Ἡ Ἰθάκη σ᾿ ἔδωσε τ᾿ ὡραῖο ταξίδι.

Χωρὶς αὐτὴν δὲν θἄβγαινες στὸν δρόμο.

Ἄλλα δὲν ἔχει νὰ σὲ δώσει πιά.


Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community,

ἡ Ἰθάκη δὲν σὲ γέλασε.

  Ἔτσι σοφὸς ποὺ ἔγινες,

the aid,

ἤδη θὰ τὸ κατάλαβες ᾑ Ἰθάκες τί σημαίνουν


(Από τα Ποιήματα 1897-1933, Ίκαρος 1984)






Του μέλλοντος η μέρες στέκοντ 'εμπροστά μας

σα μια σειρά κεράκια αναμένα -

χρυσά, ζεστά, και ζωηρά κεράκια.


Η περασμένες μέρες πίσω μένουν,

μια θλιβερή γραμμή κεριών σβυσμένων ·

τα πιο κοντά βγάζουν καπνόν ακόμη,

κρύα κεριά, λυωμένα, και κυρτά.


Δεν θέλω να τα βλέπω ·

ε λυπεί η μορφή των,

και με λυπεί το πρώτο φως των

να θυμούμαι.

Εμπρός κυττάζω τ 'αναμένα μου κεριά.


Δεν θέλω να γυρίσω να μη διω

και φρίξω

τι γρήγορα που η σκοτεινή γραμμή μακραίνει,

τι γρήγορα που τα σβυστά κεριά




Όσο μπορείς


For the purposes of this Regulation

όπως την θέλεις,

τούτο προσπάθησε τουλάχιστον

όσο μπορείς: μην την εξευτελίζεις

Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Community,

μες στες πολλές κινήσεις κι ομιλίες.


Μην την εξευτελίζεις

πιάνοντάς την,

γυρίζοντας συχνά κ 'εκθέτοντάς την,

στων σχέσεων και των συναναστροφών

την καθημερινήν ανοησία,

ς που να γίνει σα μιά ξένη φορτική.



Την μιά μονότονην ημέραν άλλη

μονότονη, απαράλλακτη ακολουθεί.

Α γίνουν

τα ίδια πράγματα, θα ξαναγίνουν πάλι -

οι όμοιες στιγμές μας βρίσκουνε και μας αφίνουν.


Νας περνά και φέρνει άλλον μήνα.

Αυτά που έρχονται κανείς εύκολα τα εικάζει ·

είναι τα χθεσινά τα βαρετά εκείνα.

Αι καταντά το αύριο πια σαν αύριο να μη μοιάζει.


Η Ελλάδα που λες, Μιχάλης Γκανάς


Η Ελλάδα που λες, δεν είναι μόνο πληγή.



Στη μπόσικη ώρα καφές με καϊμάκι,

ραδιόφωνα και Τι-Βι στις βεράντες,

προύντζινο χρώμα, μπρούντζινο σώμα,

μπρούντζινο πώμα η Ελλάδα στα χείλη μου.

Στις μάντρες η ψαρόκολλα του ήλιου

πιάνει σαν έντομα τα μάτια.

Πίσω απ 'τις μάντρες τα ξεκοιλιασμένα σπίτια,

γήπεδα, φυλακές, νοσοκομεία

νθρωποι του Θεού και ρόπτρα του διαβόλου

κι οι τραμβαγέρηδες να πίνουν μόνοι

κρασάκι της Αράχοβας στυφό.

Ώδώ κοιμήθηκαν παλικαράδες,

με το ντουφέκι στο `να τους πλευρό,


με τα ξυπόλητα παιδιά στον ύπνο τους.

Τσεμπέρια καλοτάξιδα περνούσαν κι έφευγαν,

κελίμια και βελέντζες της νεροτρουβιάς.

Τώρα γαρμπίλι κι άρβυλα

σε τούτο το εκκοκκιστήριο των βράχων

κι οι τραμβαγέρηδες να πίνουν μόνοι

κρασάκι της Αράχοβας στυφό.


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