Sunday, September 18, 2005

The things that dazzle the barbarians.

Reading about the premiere of Philip Glass's opera Waiting for the Barbarians in Erfurt, Germany on September 10 (which has already been added to the Wikipedia reference! speedy!), I was reminded that I had read Cavafy in Greek before I arrived in Greece.

Glass's opera is based on JM Coetzee's book of the same title, a title borrowed from Constantine Cavafy's poem "Waiting for the Barbarians".

So I took some time this morning to read it again; in both English and Greek.

Waiting for the Barbarians

By Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933), translated by Edmund Keeley

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

~~~

Περιμένοντας τους βαρβάρους - Κ.Καβάφης

- Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

- Γιατί μέσα στην Σύγκλητο μια τέτοια απραξία;
Τι κάθοντ' οι Συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι Συγκλητικοί;
Οι βάρβαροι σαν έλθουν θα νομοθετήσουν.

- Γιατί ο αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωϊ σηκώθη,
και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη
στον θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Κι ο αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί
τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε
για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί
τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς και ονόματα.

- Γιατί οι δυο μας ύπατοι κ' οι πραίτωρες εβγήκαν
σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες·
γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,
και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά, γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια·
γιατί να πιάσουν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια
μ' ασήμια και μαλάματα έκτακτα σκαλιγμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα·
και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπόνουν τους βαρβάρους.

- Γιατί κ' οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα
να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα·
κι αυτοί βαρυούντ' ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

- Γιατί ν' αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία
κ' η σύγχυσις. (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που εγίναν).
Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ' η πλατέες,
κι όλοι γυρνούν στα σπίτια τους πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ' οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν.
Και μερικοί έφθασαν απ' τα σύνορα,
και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.
Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

~

Earlier when I wrote that I'd read Cavafy in Greek, it was a little lie. The poems were actually read to me by a Greek musician who'd given me Cavafy's collected poems in two volumes as a birthday gift. We sat in a cafe in Sydney and he read me his favourite poems and he translated, with his his reasonably proficient English, the bits I didn't understand.

I now remember that even earlier than that, another Greek musician, gave me a Greek copy of Plato's Symposium. While I've read it in English, I've yet to read it in Greek.

2 Comments:

Blogger Tom Saunders said...

It's a powerful and thought-provoking poem.

I don't know why but, perhaps insultingly, it made me think of The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

1:44 pm  
Blogger kathryn said...

Ha! Yeah, it is a bit like that. Just so long as there is an old boss and a new boss and that one boss is always here and that we are always waiting for the new one. It solves the problem, as Cavafy suggests, of how to pass the time. (I'm thinking everything is just about passing the time, these days, and that everything else is just fluff).

11:14 am  

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