As I write these words it is nearly 10pm on a Friday evening. I have not left myself much time to write anything substantial. That may be a relief to you as my last couple of posts have been rather word heavy. Instead of a long post, therefore, I thought I would share with you a poem by C. P. Cavafy who lived in and loved Alexandria. In keeping with the theme of the last couple of days, the poem I have selected is dedicated to Ptolemy I Soter.
The Glory of the Ptolemies
I’m Lagides, king, absolute master
(through my power and wealth) of sensual pleasure.
There’s no Macedonian, no barbarian, equal to me
or even approaching me. The son of Selefkos
is really a joke with his cheap lechery.
But if you’re looking for other things, note this too:
my city’s the greatest preceptor, queen of the Greek world,
genius of all knowledge, of every art.
A couple of thoughts – I think Cavafy is being a little unfair to Ptolemy I who was not known for being a hedonist. The first Ptolemy to live that kind of life was Ptolemy IV Philopator. The last three lines of the poem obviously refer to Alexandria. Cavafy is perhaps being a little anachronistic in describing her in such fine terms. The city did not reach the heights of its existence until the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus.
Who is Selefkos? I don’t know for sure – could it be an alternative spelling of Seleucus? Unfortunately, I do not know enough about his son(s) to be able to say for sure.
I found The Glory of the Ptolemies on the official C. Cavafy website. There are some really lovely poems there that are very well worth reading.