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Cavafy, "Going back home from Greece"

Posted on Facebook on June 16, 2013.

Well, we’re nearly there, Hermippos.
Day after tomorrow, it seems—that’s what the captain said.
At least we’re sailing our seas,
the waters of Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt,
the beloved waters of our home countries.
Why so silent? Ask your heart:
didn’t you too feel happier
the farther we got from Greece?
What’s the point of fooling ourselves?
That would hardly be properly Greek.
It’s time we admitted the truth:
we are Greeks also—what else are we?—
but with Asiatic affections and feelings,
affections and feelings
sometimes alien to Hellenism.
It isn’t right, Hermippos, for us philosophers
to be like some of our petty kings
(remember how we laughed at them
when they used to come to our lectures?)
who through their showy Hellenified exteriors,
Macedonian exteriors (naturally),
let a bit of Arabia peep out now and then,
a bit of Media they can’t keep back.
And to what laughable lengths the fools went
trying to cover it up!
No, that’s not at all right for us.
For Greeks like us that kind of pettiness won’t do.
We must not be ashamed
of the Syrian and Egyptian blood in our veins;
we should really honor it, take pride in it.
Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

With all the parochial obsession with identity and authenticity in which the Muslim Brotherhood is mired in, I find this poem by Cavafy so disturbingly refreshing. The way I read it, it is about how feeling happier the further you get from Greece becomes the quintessential sign of your Greekness. Now, how’s that for revisiting our notion of home, identity, belonging and all the trappings of comfort we take refuge in?

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