History Lesson: Constantine Cavafy

We certainly hope you haven’t forgotten that October’s gay history month. If you have, well, look alive because we’ve got another gay blast from the past. Hoorah!

Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents Constantine Cavafy used his poetry to explore issues of individual identity, nationality, and cultural progression, particularly with regard to homosexuality. While he spent much of his life in Arabic speaking lands, Cavafy turned away from his enviornmental influences to laud his Greek origins.

Drawing heavily on mythological nostalgia and with a definite fatalistic attitude, some of his work reads like a premature eulogy for gays and others who don’t fit into the social mold of the era. Others celebrate male beauty and the shadowy world of gays at the time. Of course, considering that Cavafy lives from 1863-1933, this comes as no surprise.

We’ve posted one poem, Trojans, which both memorializes and condemns gays. Despite it’s dreary outcome, it’s a beautiful piece of work, but we can’t help but wonder what Cavafy would write if he knew of all the advancements made for the homo way over the past few decades.

Our efforts are those of the unfortunate;
our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
Somewhat we succeed; somewhat
we regain confidence; and we start
to have courage and high hopes.

But something always happens and stops us.
Achilles in the trench before us
emerges and with loud cries terrifies us.–

Our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We believe that with resolution and daring
we will alter the blows of destiny,
and we stand outside to do battle.

But when the great crisis comes,
our daring and our resolution vanish;
our soul is agitated, paralyzed;
and we run around the walls
seeking to save ourselves in flight.

Nevertheless, our fall is certain. Above,
on the walls, the mourning has already begun.
The memories and the sentiments of our days weep.
Bitterly Priam and Hecuba weep for us.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1905)