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This article is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Constantine Cavafy, As Seen from My Terrace on Ios Frederic Raphael

What Hellenophile is not an admirer of Constantine Cavafy? When a man is an arcane, free-standing mystery, as Wittgenstein also was in Cambridge in the 1940s and 50s, he can appear oracular quite as though he had never been anything else. If Cavafy seemed, for a long time, to stand alone and apart in the modern Greek canon, it was because his English discoverers had an interest in fostering his singular, detached myth. For a somewhat similar reason, the apostles of the later Wittgenstein - the Cambridge professor, that is, who no longer supported the formality of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus - relegated his precocious Austrian self to an obsolete, irrelevant period.1

The title of the Tractatus (1921) drew attention to Wittgenstein's relationship with Spinoza; but it suited no one in his Cambridge suite to emphasise what the two philosophers had in common: both were, in spite of themselves perhaps, '100% Hebraic', as Wittgenstein once described his own thought, quietly. The 'conservatism' commonly alleged against him in the 1960s was instinct in a meta-Talmudist for whom the ur-texts were already established. What he later called his 'investigations' were bound to be parasitic. All philosophy, they used to say, is commentary on Plato; all morals, others add, however resentfully, gloss the Torah.

Cavafy's oeuvre might be unbearably recondite, were it not for the ironic wit of his retrospection. His voyeuristic laments on temps perdus are spiced with the personality of their author. For E.M. Forster, who ...

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