Constantine Petrou Photiades Cavafy (as he wanted the family name to be spelled in English), son of Peter-John Ioannou Cavafy and Charicleia Georgaki Photiades, was born in Alexandria on 29 April 1863. Both his parents were natives of Constantinople, and Constantine was proud of his heritage and his illustrious ancestors. His Phanariote great-grandfather Peter Cavafy (1740-1804) was Secretary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while his Phanariote great-great-grandfather John Cavafy (1701-1762) was Governor of Jassium, as was his great-grandfather Michael Scarlato Pantzo (brother of Meletius, Patriarch of Alexandria), while his great-great-great-grandfather Theodosius Photiades (brother of Cyril, Bishop of Caesarea Philippi) was an Official of the Ottoman Government.
Cavafy was a cosmopolitan by birth, his family roots extending from Constantinople to London (via Alexandria, Trebizond, Chios, Trieste, Venice and Vienna), and was the youngest of seven brothers (two more elder siblings, a boy and the sole girl, died in infancy).
Cavafy made a clear distinction between his public persona and his personal life, which became a cause celebre as soon as his poetry became popular. He was, above all, a poet (in his last passport, issued in 1932, under «Occupation» he declared «Poet») and wished to be remembered solely as a poet, with no modifiers (with the possible exception of «Hellenic»). He lived a rather unremarkable public life, offering no cause for scandal to the Alexandrian community or the Athenian establishment, where he was under close scrutiny as the potential diasporic alternative to the native poet Kostis Palamas. The followers of Cavafy and Palamas first clashed in 1918, but all-out literary war was declared in Athens in 1924, only to end when Palamas published a brief and sober appreciation of Cavafy’s work. In 1926, during the Pangalos dictatorship, the Greek state honoured Cavafy for his contribution to Greek Letters by awarding him the Silver medal of the Order of Phoenix.
In his mature years, Cavafy’s interests were many and diverse, as evidenced by his personal papers, and by his unsigned comments published in the periodical Alexandrian Art (he had founded this magazine and was essentially running with the help of Aleko and Rika Singhopoulo). In 1932 Cavafy (who was a life-long smoker) first noticed an irritation in his throat, and in June of the same year his doctors in Alexandria diagnosed cancer of the larynx. He traveled to Athens for advanced treatment, which proved ineffectual. He was subjected to a tracheotomy depriving him of the power of speech, and resorted to communicating through a series of written “hospital notes”. He returned to Alexandria, where he died a few months later [on 29th of April, the day he was born] in the Greek Hospital which was close to his home (when he had moved to this apartment he had said, somewhat prophetically, «Where could I live better? Under me is a house of ill repute, which caters to the needs of the flesh. Over there is the church, where sins are forgiven. And beyond is the hospital, where we die»).
Here you can read two of his poems,
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
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.
Try not to degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social events and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)
THE GOD FORSAKETH ANTHONY
If unexpectedly, in middle night,
an unseen company be heard to pass,
with music and with voices exquisite, —
turn not away and uselessly lament
your fortune that is giving in, your work
that came to nothing, the projects of your life
that proved illusory from first to last.
As one prepared long since, as fits the brave,
bid now farewell to the departing city,
farewell to the Alexandria you love.
And above all, do not deceive yourself:
say not that your impression was a dream,
that, it may be, your hearing played you false:
to futile hopes like these never descend.
As one prepared long since, as fits the brave,
as most fits you who gained so great a city,
approach the open window steadily,
and with emotion, but without the plaints
and supplications of the timorous,
listen — knowing it to be your last delight —
listen to the elysian sounds, the exquisite
instruments of the mystic company;
and bid farewell to the city you are losing,
farewell to the Alexandria you love.
Translated by John Cavafy
(Poems by C. P. Cavafy. Translated, from the Greek, by J. C. Cavafy. Ikaros, 2003)
During next week visitors of Herakleion, the biggest city in Crete, can see a brand new museum. The local Archaeological museum is literaly brand new because the old building has been totaly restored and the exhibition is new- new.
The Greek minister of culture Panos Panagiotopoulos said today that the Archeaological Museum of Herakleion, that had been closed for restoration for eigth years, is about to open. The ceremony will be held later, but people will be able to see the whole museum that holds memorabilia of one great civilisation: the minoan.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is regarded as one of Europe's most important museums. The present building was constructed between 1933 and 1937 to plans by P. Karantinos, on the site of the imposing Venetian Franciscan friary destroyed by an earthquake in 1856.
The museum brings together archaeological finds from all over Crete, covering over 5500 years of the island's history. Pride of place is given to the treasures of Minoan civilisation, the entire historical course of which can thus be appreciated. Justly regarded as the home of Minoan civilisation par excellence, the museum houses the most important collection of Minoan antiquities the world over.
You can see very interesting and very beautiful objects like the jewel with the bees from Malia, the Snake Godess, the Phaestos disc or same vases called Camaraika because they come from the region Camares.
This is really a great museum and some 1 million visitors enjoy its treasures every year (except the last 8).
When you walk across the archaeological sites at the historical center of Athens you see many trees and bushes. But in general, Athens is mostly nude of green. So, just enjoy the view and the sense of the landscape as it was during the ancient times going to Monastiraki, Plaka, or to Filopappou and to the Acropolis.
You can rest many times sitting on a stone, a bench, on some steps and then keep walking until you feel tired and stop again. If you want to have a coffee or a drink, avoid the cafeterias close to the Acropolis, they are expensive (of course there are some that are expensive but, at the same time, splendid as Dionysos- ask for its location.
You should better choose some other bar, pub, coffee shop or ice- cream shop in the neighborhood but a bit away. Walk until you like some of them and then have a look at the prices and decide. And yes, you can smoke at every shop while sitting outside.
Spring is the best season to visit Athens. The weather is neither too cold nor too hot and you can enjoy walking. You will also see many flowers at parks, balconies, squares.
Unfortunately, you cannot get flowers or plants to your country due to international laws, (unless you come from Europe) but you can have with you dried herbs (basil, mint, daphne etc). You can use them when you cook, and you will like them a lot. You can also drink chamomile, local tea, and so on and you will like the way that laventer aromatizes your clothes. Just try. You will find herbs everywhere.
While walking at the historical center you will see pots with flowers in many colors. Greeks like flowers, although there are many empty balconies- as well as balconies that remind you of a garden.
Enjoy the smells and the colors. And shoot everything- with your camera. The combination of nature and ancient ruins is superb, don't forget to visit an archaeological site and admire the whole, beautiful, thing.