Cavafy-beyond the written word

The American School of Classical Studies has just opened a new wing to its well stocked Gernnadius Library.  In celebration of the completion of the ‘Ioannis Makryiannis’ wing and to mark the occasion of Athens being named UNESCO’s World Book Capital, an exhibition of work by sculptor Alexandra Athanassiades was chosen to fill the ground level gallery.

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Entitled “Beyond Cavafy’s Written Word”, this stunning body of work can be seen from now (March 28) to May 12. Here the artist looks at how Constantine Cavafy’s poems, so full of themes of love, loss and longing, can touch deep wells of feeling in us all and bring half forgotten emotions to the surface- this is an exhibition you won’t forget in a hurry.

Inspired by a collection of poems written in Cavafy’s own hand and later published from the “Singhopoulos Notebook”, Alexandra began to work over prints of the handwritten poems, first through illustrations and then onto graffiti, sculpture and collages.

As you walk through the exhibition, some of Cavafy’s best known poems emerge; ‘Candles’ ,‘Ithaca’ and ‘The Windows’.

In these dark rooms where I live out
empty days, I circle back and forth
trying to find the windows.
It will be a great relief when a window opens.
But the windows are not there to be found—
or at least I cannot find them. And perhaps
it is better that I don’t find them.
Perhaps the light will prove another tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will expose        C.P. Cavafy

This exhibition is a journey of discovery, a voyage through our emotions and memories, offering both pleasure and a bittersweet, sad nostalgia  but it is a valuable experience and an expedition worth taking.

Perhaps, finally, Cavafy said it best in ‘Ithaca’

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy, translation: Edmund Keeley & Phillip Sherrard

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