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9 CES Open Forum Series

Too Famous to Name: C.P. Cavafy's Lefkios

Apr 1, 2012 Eleni Mahaira-Odoni


It has been assumed that C.P. Cavafy's elegiac poem "In the Month of Athyr" (1917), an epitaph addressed to Lefkios, refers to an imaginary character at an imaginary date. This paper proposes that, in the poet's circumspect style, the use of that name probably camouflages at least two illustrious historical characters, one pagan and one proto-Christian; hence the intentional ambivalence of the epigraph's date. Both personages shared lives torn between sensuality and the changing moral codes of their time -- preoccupations much felt by a poet constantly struggling to conceal his homosexuality while also protecting the dignity of his painstakingly constructed, strait-laced public image. By revisiting several poems, this essay highlights C.P. Cavafy's dissimulating techniques and the literary masks he employed in order to veil two iconic personalities most akin to his own self-censuring lifestyle and the exigencies of his artistic concerns. Finally, this article attempts to establish a clear symbolic and existential link between these paradigmatic martyrs and Julian the Apostate, the figure the poet celebrated in twelve poems which distill his bitter self-awareness, all the while sheltered by the timeless city of Alexandria, his safe haven.