Phernazis the poet is at work
on the crucial part of his epic:
how Dareios, son of Hystaspis,
took over the Persian kingdom.
(It's from him, Dareios, that our glorious king,
Mithridatis, Dionysos and Evpator, descends).
But this calls for serious thought; Phernazis has to analyse
the feelings Dareios must have had:
arrogance, maybe, and intoxication? No -more likely
a certain insight into the vanities of greatness.
The poet thinks deeply about the question.

But his servant, rushing in,
cuts him short to announce very important news:
the war with the Romans has begun;
most of our army has crossed the borders.

The poet is dumbfounded. What a disaster!
How can our glorious king,
Mithridatis, Dionysos and Evpator,
bother about Greek poems now?
In the middle of a war -just think, Greek poems!

Phernazis gets all worked up. What a bad break!
Just when he was sure to distinguish himself
with his Dareios, sure to make
his envious critics shut up once and for all.
What a setback, terrible setback to his plans.

And if it's only a setback, that wouldn't be too bad.
But can we really consider ourselves safe in Amisos?
The town isn't very well fortified,
and the Romans are the most awful enemies.
Are we, Cappadocians, really a match for them?
Is it conceivable?
Are we to compete with the legions?
Great gods, protectors of Asia, help us.

But through all his nervousness, all the turmoil,
the poetic idea comes and goes insistently:
arrogance and intoxication -that's the most likely, of course:
arrogance and intoxication are what Dareios must have felt.

Constantine P. Cavafy

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