Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Julian and Cavafy

One recurring figure who appears in C.P. Cavafy's poetry, whether from his own perspective or mostly from his detractors, is Julian "the Apostate," who attempted to stem the tide of the growth of Christianity by reviving "paganism" and, in fact, in this case, the "ism" is appropriate, since he attempted a systematization of it in many ways that mirrored the instituational structures of early Christianity in the fourth century. The following poem comments on this attempt:

Julian, Seeing Indifference

"Seeing, then, that there is a great indifference
among us toward the gods"--he says with that solemn affect.
Indifference. But what then did he expect?
Let him organize religion as much as he pleased,
let him write the high priest of Galatia as much as he pleased,
or to others like him, exhorting, giving directions.
His friends weren't Christians: that much is certain.
But even so they weren't able to
play the way that he did (brought up as a Christian)
with the system of a new religion,
ridiculous in theory and in practice.
In the end they were Greeks. Nothing in excess, Augustus.

(trans. Mendelsohn)

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