Waiting for the Barbarians

The classic poem by Egyptian-born Greek poet Konstantinos Kavaphes (C. P. Cavafy) from which J. M. Coetzee took the title for his great novel.  This translation by Richmond Lattimore first appeared in The Kenyon Review in 1955. 

C. P. Cavafy

Why are we all assembled and waiting in the market place?

It is the barbarians; they will be here today.
Why is there nothing being done in the senate house?
Why are the senators in session but are not passing laws?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
Why should the senators make laws any more?
The barbarians will make the laws when they get here.

Why has our emperor got up so early
and sits there at the biggest gate of the city
high on his throne, in state, and with his crown on?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive them
and their general. And he has even made ready
a parchment to present them, and thereon
he has written many names and many titles.

Why have our two consuls and our praetors
Come out today in their red embroidered togas?
Why have they put on their bracelets with all those amethysts
and rings shining with the glitter of emeralds?
Why will they carry their precious staves today
which are decorated with figures of gold and silver?

Because the barbarians are coming today
And things like that impress the barbarians.

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Disgrace

J.M. Coetzee’s award-winning novel Disgrace offered a disturbing insight into the soul of modern South Africa. The screen version does not disappoint and features an outstanding performance from John Malkovich as the disgraced professor whose personal life reflects the turmoil of a country in transition. Dismissed from his university, David Lurie (Malkovich) decides to visit his daughter at a remote farm in the eastern Cape that she shares with a trusted black worker. When they are savagely attacked by three black youths, David is finally confronted by the realities of a South Africa where the old rules no longer apply.

I have been looking forward to this for some time. Coetzee is one of my favourite writers; Diary of a Bad Year, Youth, Master of Petersburg and Waiting for the Barbarians are phenomenal works of fiction. But I have mixed feelings about Disgrace (which, incidentally, was chosen as the best English novel of the past 25 years by top writers and critics). Here is what I wrote in a Facebook review:

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