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Philhellene

Constantine Cavafy, translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

Take care the engraving’s artistically done.
Expression grave and majestic.
The diadem better rather narrow;
I don’t care for those wide ones, the Parthian kind.
The inscription, as usual, in Greek:
nothing excessive, nothing grandiose—
the proconsul mustn’t get the wrong idea,
he sniffs out everything and reports it back to Rome—
but of course it should still do me credit.
Something really choice on the other side:
some lovely discus-thrower lad.
Above all, I urge you, see to it
(Sithaspes, by the god, don’t let them forget)
that after the “King” and the “Savior”
the engraving should say, in elegant letters, “Philhellene.”
Now don’t start in on me with your quips,
your “where are the Greeks?” and “what’s Greek
here, behind the Zágros, beyond Phráata?”
Many, many others, more oriental than ourselves,
write it, and so we’ll write it too.
And after all, don’t forget that now and then
sophists come to us from Syria,
and versifiers, and other devotees of puffery.
Hence unhellenized we are not, I rather think.

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