The great greek poet C. P. Cavafy was born and died on April 29th

From the Cavafy archive website: official page

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,


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)


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)

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