Critics and translators have often noted the richness of Cavafy’s diction, as well as his frequent shifts between demotic and katharevousa Greek; as David Ricks puts it, “Cavafy’s modernity resides so essentially in his refusal to reduce the incongruent or even competing idioms of Greek, in all its longevity, to a single idiom.” In my paper I will be thinking about this question of idiom through the often-neglected lens of Cavafy’s use of (sometimes lengthy) citations from classical and postclassical Greek texts. I will be arguing that the implications of these citations—which range from Aeschylus to Plutarch to Anna Komnene—go beyond his peculiar and masterful melding of registers, since Cavafy brings his carefully and idiosyncratically constructed Greek idiom face to face with older incarnations of the Greek language in the very poems in which he poses the question of Hellenism and of historical relation. He signals the significance of such citations, moreover, by creating close thematic pairings between poems with direct citations and poems without them. While closely examining the linguistic texture of these paired poems and their importance for our understanding of Cavafy’s historical poetics and linguistic politics, I will also be placing Cavafy’s citation practice in a broader comparative modernist context, thinking about his work in relation not only to T.S. Eliot (as George Seferis famously proposed) but also to Ezra Pound and H.D.
Katerina Stergiopoulou is an assistant professor of Classics and Hellenic Studies at Princeton University; she was previously Assistant Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. Katerina is currently completing a monograph titled Towards a Modernist Hellenism: Ezra Pound, H.D., and the Translation of Greece. Her work on modernist poetry (Giorgos Seferis and Ezra Pound), classical receptions, and translation theory and practice has appeared in jml, Comparative Literature, October, and the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.