Phernazis the poet is at work
on the crucial part of his epic:
how Dareios, son of Hystaspis,
took over the Persian kingdom.
(It’s from him, Dareios, that our glorious king,
Mithridatis, Dionysos and Evpator, descends.)
But this calls for serious thought; Phernazis has to analyze
the feelings Dareios must have had:
arrogance, maybe, and intoxication? No—more likely
a certain insight into the vanities of greatness.
The poet thinks deeply about the question.
But his servant, rushing in, cuts him short
to announce very serious news:
the war with the Romans has begun;
most of our army has crossed the borders.
The poet is dumbfounded. What a disaster!
How can our glorious king,
Mithridatis, Dionysos and Evpator,
bother about Greek poems now?
In the middle of a war—just think, Greek poems!
Phernazis gets all worked up. What bad luck!
Just when he was sure to distinguish himself
with his Dareios, sure to silence
his envious critics once and for all.
What a setback, terrible setback to his plans.
And if it’s only a setback, that wouldn’t be too bad.
But can we really consider ourselves safe in Amisos?
The town isn’t very well fortified,
and the Romans are the most awful enemies.
Are we, Cappadocians, really a match for them?
Is it conceivable?
Are we now to pit ourselves against the legions?
Great gods, protectors of Asia, help us.
But through all his distress, all the turmoil,
the poetic idea comes and goes insistently:
arrogance and intoxication—that’s the most likely, of course:
arrogance and intoxication are what Dareios must have felt.
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard
(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)