the Great founded the great cosmopolitan city by the sea known as
Alexandria in 331 BCE. Cleopatra reigned as its Queen and
both Caesar and Napoleon conquered the Egyptian metropolis.
Its famed Lighthouse was considered one of the Seven Wonders of
the Ancient World and its great Library, the first to collect
texts from beyond a nation's borders, was destroyed - and this
story of destruction itself is lost in the myths of time. It
is a poetic, atmospheric cosmopolis - Lawrence Durrell famously
paid homage to it in the marvelous Alexandria
to historically large Greek, Jewish, Italian, French, and Egyptian
populations, Alexandria also gave birth to Constantine Cavafy, one
of the great poets of the twentieth century. Cavafy was a
perfect emblem of his native city - a proponent of tolerance and
humanism whose elegant Greek poetry was tinged with melancholy and
a love of beauty.
famous poem The Barbarians, is a parable for our times,
suggesting as it does that one look within for an answer.
But it is perhaps Ithaka that most beautifully reflects the
sensual qualities of his native Alexandria, a city of ancient
streets facing onto the Mediterranean blue.
Ulysses's voyage in The Odyssey as a starting point, Cavafy
extols the idea of life as a voyage of discovery and infinite
delight. An epicurean to the core, he counsels the reader to
take his time and to enjoy life's sensual pleasures:
you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind
sage counsel to enjoy the moment and to value the journey in life
seems like the perfect antidote to an increasingly complex
if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean
Cavafy Collected Poems , tr. by Edmund Keeley and Philip