Awaiting The Barbarians

— Why are we come together in the market place?
 
            Barbarians are expected here to-day.
 
— Why in the Senate-house this inactivity —
why sit the Senators and do not legislate?
 
            Because barbarians are to come to-day
            What laws should they make now — the Senators?
            Presently the barbarians will make laws.
 
— Why has our Emperor risen close upon the sun —
why is he waiting there, by the main city-gates,
seated upon the throne, — august, wearing the crown?
 
            Because barbarians are to come to-day
            And so the Emperor in person waits
            to greet their leader. He has even prepared
            a title-deed, on skin of Pergamus,
            in favour of this leader. It confers
            high rank on the barbarian, many names.
 
— Why do our consuls and the praetors go about
in scarlet togas fretted with embroidery;
why are they wearing bracelets rife with amethysts,
and rings magnificent with glowing emeralds;
why are they holding those invaluable staffs
inlaid so cunningly with silver and with gold?
 
            Because barbarians are to come to-day;
            and the barbarians marvel at such things.
 
— Why come not, as they use, our able orators
to hold forth in their rhetoric, to have their say?
 
            Because barbarians are to come to-day;
            and the barbarians have no taste for words.
 
— Why this confusion all at once, and nervousness:
(how serious of a sudden the faces have become):
why are the streets and meeting-places emptying,
and all the people lost in thought as they turn home?
 
            Because the daylight fails, and the night comes,
            but the barbarians come not. And there be
            who from the frontier have arrived and said
            there are no barbarians any longer.

And now what shall become of us without barbarians?
These people were in sooth some sort of settlement.

by C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933); posted on the occasion of the all-night negotiations between the EU and Greece over a bailout deal.

4 Responses to “Awaiting The Barbarians”

  1. Matthew Motyka Says:

    Cavafy’s remarkably prescient here, but shouldn’t the last line in the last but one stanza read “there are no barbarians”?

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    The barbarians did not, however, heavily subsidise the Greeks in the years previous.

  3. Paul Horton Says:

    Could I ask with respect please….. Do you believe that we are hinged between the phenomenons of Absolute Goodness & Absolute Evil, thereby having an ongoing choice we call life or existence???

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