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Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος
(Greek Linguistics)

2009-05-06

Cavafy and his chickens

Found this today in the Greek blogosphere, and name-checking it for the English blogosphere: reminiscences from 1964 of an Egyptian colleague of Cavafy at his desk job in the Irrigation Dept, Alexandria, who was his underling and succeeded him when Cavafy retired. The original newspaper publication of the reminiscences has also been digitised by the Greek Parliament.

Exec summary?


  • He'd sneak in late, pretend to be massively busy by strategic placement of papers, occasionally shut the door and gesticulate writing poetry.
  • He was responsible for departmental correspondence, doling out corrections by the thimble, and an utter pedant.
  • Which made the Egyptian colleague exclaim to him once, "Mr Cavafy, you penelopise my work!" He liked that.
  • Sucked up to his English bosses (but did get bollocked at least once by his big English boss: "I shall try to give you satisfaction…").
  • Kept his distance from people at work pretty much.
  • Only knew enough Arabic to tell his servant to buy him chickens for dinner. And he'd inspect said live chickens at work.
  • And kept feathers of the chickens to make sure the servant didn't switch them on him.
  • And he was tight. Would smoke cigarettes half at a time.
  • The commenters to the blog post are floored, not that Cavafy barely spoke Arabic mid-colonialism, but that neither did the Greeks of Alexandria in 1964. (It was only the second time the interviewer had ever set foot in an Egyptian's house.) Of course, that wouldn't have helped in their showdown with Nasser (which is why there are few Greeks in Alexandria now—and I'm sure their Arabic is a lot better).
  • Does the personal detail of Cavafy as a bit extra in the set of The Office inform our reading of his poetry? Nah. Still interesting though.
  • Was Ibrahim al Kayyar (sp?) being bitchy in dishing out on his predecessor from when he was 20 and Cavafy was 50? No. He was asked what he thought of his boss at a desk job, not to venerate at the altar of the Great Poet. And Cavafy, like any Great Poet, was still a human being. I mean come on, I find it endearing that he slacked off to write poetry. The "bring me my live chicken, Miryani!" business—maybe not so much...

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