Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Cavafy’s Julian Poems

In Poetry on November 16, 2007 at 7:53 pm

Update: Toiling away on an essay I’m calling “Denying Julian.” Manuel Savidis has featured my poem “Reading Cavafy” on the Cavafy Archive’s “Cavafy on the Web” section. Quite an honor.

I was re-reading Cavafy’s collected poems for the third time and began to notice a number of poems about Julian the Apostate. I found the following poems that belong to this series. (Titles from Rae Dalven’s translation, “The Complete Poems of Cavafy.”)

Julian Seeing Indifference
Julian in Nicomedia
Julian and the People of Antioch
Understood Not
In the Suburbs of Antioch
A Great Procession of Priests and Laymen
Julian at the Mysteries

There are five more unfinished poems on Julian, outlined in a 1981 essay by Professor Renata Lavagnini, for a total of 12. Manuel Savidis, the Curator of the Cavafy Archive (its excellent website is at Cavafy.com) provided me with his translations of the remaining five titles.

Athanasius
Pegasius, the Bishop
Julian’s rescue
Hunc deorum templis
First Matthew, First Luke (this last title is conjectural)

After first recognizing that there were a number of these Julian poems in Dalven’s translation, I wondered if there were any essays on them. I found both Lavagnini’s and Bowersock’s essay “The Julian Poems of C.P. Cavafy” in Volume 7 (1981) of Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies. Cavafy has been a big influence on me, both as a poet and as a reader. I think I’d like to write my own essay on the poems, something more from a poet’s perspective than a scholar’s.

Savidis further told me that Daniel Mendelsohn is translating them, along with other unfinished poems, and that work will be published by Knopf in 2008.

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