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Written in Alexandria by an Achaean

Sunday, 25 January, 2015

Greeks go to the polls today at a time of rising tension between Athens and its main creditors. A win for the left-wing opposition party Syriza over the ruling conservatives of New Democracy is predicted. Would a Syriza-led government start a game of poker with Germany that could lead to chaos and a Greek exit from the euro? While we wait for the results, let’s turn to the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy. He knew his Greek history.

Those who fought for the Achaean League

Valiant are you who fought and fell gloriously;
fearless of those who were everywhere victorious.
Blameless, even if Diaeos and Critolaos were at fault.
When the Greeks want to boast,
“Our nation turns out such men” they will say
of you. And thus marvellous will be your praise.

Written in Alexandria by an Achaean;
in the seventh year of Ptolemy Lathyrus.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)

Note: The Achaean League (280 — 146 BC) was a confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese. It was dissolved when the corrupt generals Diaeos and Critolaos were defeated in 146 BC by the Romans. Cavafy attributes this imaginary epigram to an Achaean living in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Lathyrus, a turbulent age, somewhat like our own. Actually, Cavafy wrote the poem in 1922, after Greece had been defeated in the Greco-Turkish War. History has no end.

The Achaean league


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