Classical Legacy

Remains of sculpture found and preserved in a municipal warehouse in Rome
Photograph by John Henry Parker, 1874
Kelsey Museum 2000.1.3212

Cavafy placed himself in a tradition of Greek writers from Homer to more recent Greek poets. Living in the shadow of ancient ruins, he drew on the past for inspiration but also aspired to anticipate the tastes of future readers. Two questions that consumed him: Why do some stories from the past continue to haunt the present, and how does a poet create works of art that last?
Head of Dionysus
White marble
Roman, mid 2nd century
After Greek original of the Hellenistic period

That we’ve broken their statues,
that we’ve driven them out of their temples,
doesn’t mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they’re still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure,
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.

Trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard