Myres: Alexandria in 340 AD

Constantine Cavafy, translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

When I learned the dreadful news, that Myres was dead,
I went to his house, for all that I am loath
to go inside the homes of Christians,
above all those in mourning, or on feast-days.

I stood there in a corridor. I didn’t want
to go in any further, since I perceived
that the kinsmen of the dead man were looking at me
with evident dismay, and with displeasure.

They had him in a large room
a part of which I saw from where I stood
off to the side: all expensive carpets,
and services of silver and of gold.

I stood crying on one side of the corridor.
And I was thinking that our gatherings and outings
wouldn’t be worth much, without Myres, from now on;
and was thinking that I’d no longer see him
at our splendid and outrageous all-night revels,
enjoying himself, and laughing, and declaiming lines
with that perfect feel he had for Greek rhythm;
and was thinking that I’d lost forever more
his beauty, that I’d lost forever more
the youth whom I once worshipped to distraction.

Some old women, near me, were speaking softly
about the last day that he was alive—
the name of Christ always on his lips,
a cross that he was holding in his hands.—
Later on there came into the room
four Christian priests, and they fervently
recited prayers and orisons to Jesus,
or to Mary (I don’t know their religion very well).

We knew, of course, that Myres was a Christian.
From the very first we knew it, when
the year before last he joined our little band.
But he lived his life completely as we did.
Of all of us, the most devoted to his pleasures;
squandering lavish sums on his amusements.
Blithely untroubled by what people thought,
he’d throw himself eagerly into nighttime brawls in the street,
whenever our gang chanced upon a rival gang.
Not once did he speak about his religion.
Sure, there was the time that we told him
that we were taking him along with us to the Serapeum.
But he seemed to be unhappy with
this little joke of ours: I remember now.
Ah, and two other times now come to mind.
When we were making libations to Poseidon,
he pulled out of our circle, and turned his gaze elsewhere.
When one of us, in his enthusiasm,
said, May our company ever be under
the favor and protection of the great,
the all-beautiful Apollo—Myres murmured
(the others didn’t hear) “except for me.”

Their voices raised, the Christian priests
were praying for the soul of the young man.—
I stood observing with how much diligence,
and with what intense attention
to the protocols of their religion, they were preparing
everything for the Christian funeral rite.
And all of a sudden I was seized by a queer
impression. Vaguely, I had the feeling that
Myres was going far away from me;
had a feeling that he, a Christian, was being united
with his own, and that I was becoming
a stranger to him, very much a stranger; I sensed besides
a certain doubt coming over me: perhaps I had been fooled
by my passion, had always been a stranger to him.—
I flew out of their horrible house,
and quickly left before their Christianity
could get hold of, could alter, the memory of Myres.