Waiting for the Barbarians The Canon
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What are we waiting for, gathered here in the agora?
 
       The barbarians are supposed to show up today.
 
 
Why is there such indolence in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting around, making no laws?
 
       Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today.
       Why should the senators trouble themselves with laws?
       When the barbarians arrive, theyll do the legislating.
 
 
Why has our emperor risen so early this morning,
and why is he now enthroned at the citys great gate,
sitting there in state and wearing his crown?
 
       Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today.
       And the emperor is waiting there to receive
       their leader. Hes even had a parchment scroll
       prepared as a tribute: its loaded with
       all sorts of titles and high honors.
 
 
Why have our two consuls and praetors turned up
today, resplendent in their red brocaded togas;
why are they wearing bracelets encrusted with amethysts,
and rings studded with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
why are they sporting those priceless canes,
the ones of finely-worked gold and silver?
 
     Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today;
     And such things really dazzle the barbarians.
 
 
Why dont our illustrious speakers come out to speak
as they always do, to speak whats on their minds?
 
     Because the barbarians are supposed to show up today,
     and they really cant stand lofty oration and demagogy.
 
 
Why is everyone so suddenly ill at ease
and confused (just look how solemn their faces are)?
Why are the streets and the squares all at once empty,
as everyone heads for home, lost in their thoughts?
 
     Because its night now, and the barbarians havent shown up.
     And there are others, just back from the borderlands,
     who claim that the barbarians no longer exist.
 
 
What in the world will we do without barbarians?
Those people would have been a solution, of sorts.

Translated by Stratis Haviaras

(C.P. Cavafy, The Canon. Translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras, Hermes Publishing, 2004)

- Original Greek Poem

- Translation by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

- Translation by John Cavafy