The God Abandons Antony

After suffering defeat at the hands of Octavian at the Battle of Actium (31 BCE), Antony and Cleopatra retreated to their power base of Alexandria, Egypt, where the two lovers had first met almost twenty-five years earlier. The Ancient Greek biographer Plutarch tells the story of how, one night, while besieged in Alexandria by Octavian’s forces , Antony was woken by the sounds of instruments and voices as if from a boisterous  procession making its way through the city in the direction of the city gates. The former general of Julius Caesar took this as a sign that the god Bacchus, whom he regarded as his personal protector, was now deserting him. The next day, Octavian’s soldiers entered the city and Antony committed suicide, along with Cleopatra.
The Greek poet Constantine Peter Cavafy (1863-1933), who was born in Alexandria and spent most of his life in that city, was inspired by Plutarch’s tale to write “The God Abandons Antony,” a poem celebrating human dignity in the face of loss and defeat.

The God Abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive –don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen –your final delectation– to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

-Constantine Cavafy (1911)

(Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

Many years later, Cavafy’s poem would inspire the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s song “Alexandra Leaving,” in which the city of Alexandria becomes Alexandra, a former lover whom the God of Love has now swept off elsewhere on the wings of “the simplicities of pleasure”:  https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/alexandraleaving.html

 

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One Response to The God Abandons Antony

  1. neiaglynn says:

    Many thanks for adding to my knowledge of history!

    From: julian peters comics Reply-To: julian peters comics Date: Monday, 30 October 2017 at 15:00 To: Neia Glynn Subject: [New post] The God Abandons Antony

    WordPress.com julian peters comics posted: “After suffering defeat at the hands of Octavian at the Battle of Actium (31 BCE), Antony and Cleopatra retreated to their power base of Alexandria, Egypt, where the two lovers had first met almost twenty-five years earlier. The Ancient Greek biographer Pl”

    Liked by 1 person

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