Cavafy's Cultural Politics and the Poetics of Liminality

December 15, 2014 2:26 PM

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Probing the work of C. P. Cavafy has been intriguing for me, not only because he is one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century European aesthetic culture, but also for another reason: as Cavafy records in his diary of his first trip to Greece in 1901 (written in English), he was positively predisposed toward the work of Georgios Roilos, an influential late nineteenth-early twentieth-century Greek painter, among the first to introduce impressionism in Greece, a professor and mentor of, among other artists, Giorgio de Chirico. In his diary entry for June 28, 1901, Cavafy reports that he visited Roilos in his studio and enjoyed his painting "The Battle of Pharsala": "At 4:30 I took the direction of the Polytechneion. The first person I met in the Odos Patision was Tsocopoulo [sic], who accompanied me to the Polytechneion and conducted me to the painter Roilos's study to see this artist's great picture 'The Battle of Pharsala.'" That encounter of the poet with the painter is one of the stories often narrated at home when I was a child -- stories that later determined my scholarly attachment to cultural history and art.

Cavafy was born (in 1863) and spent most of his life in the periphery of the Greek-speaking world, in Alexandria, Egypt, where he died in 1933. Although a fervent patriot and lover of all things Greek, his cosmopolitan experiences (he spent some years of his childhood in England and of his late adol...

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