'Caesarion' by C.P. Cavafy

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1918Partly to verify an era,
partly also to pass the time,
last night I picked up a collection
of Ptolemaic epigrams to read.
The plentiful praises and flatteries
for everyone are similar. They are all brilliant,
glorious, mighty, beneficent;
each of their enterprises the wisest.
If you talk of the women of that breed, they too,
all the Berenices and Cleopatras are admirable.When I had managed to verify the era
I would have put the book away, had not a small
and insignificant mention of king Caesarion
immediately attracted my attention.....Behold, you came with your vague
charm. In history only a few
lines are found about you,
and so I molded you more freely in my mind.
I molded you handsome and sentimental.
My art gives to your face
a dreamy compassionate beauty.
And so fully did I envision you,
that late last night, as my lamp
was going out -- I let go out on purpose --
I fancied that you entered my room,
it seemed that you stood before me; as you might have been
in vanquished Alexandria,
pale and tired, idealistic in your sorrow,
still hoping that they would pity you,
the wicked -- who whispered "Too many Caesars."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Caesarion: Revisiting the Tragic Life of a Young King


There are poems that leave us feeling moved, inspired, and enlightened. Then there are poems that leave us questioning our own existence and purpose in life. C.P. Cavafy's "Caesarion" belongs to the latter category. Written in 1911, the poem captures the life of Ptolemy XV Caesarion, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, and the last pharaoh of Egypt. In just fourteen lines, Cavafy paints a picture of a young king's tragic life and death, leaving readers haunted by the fragility of power, love, and life itself.


The poem begins with a seemingly simple description of Caesarion's birth: "When he came to the throne, young and slender, / the throne that his mother and his father had held before him." However, the use of the word "slender" immediately suggests that the young king's hold on power was precarious, fragile, even frail. The fact that his parents had held the throne before him marks Caesarion as a mere successor, rather than a true ruler in his own right. The poem goes on to describe Caesarion's brief reign, during which he "governed Egypt for a little while / with the help of the eunuchs." The choice of words here is significant: "governed" implies a lack of true power, while "the help of the eunuchs" suggests that Caesarion was not even in control of his own court.

The next few lines describe the young king's tragic end: "Then he was killed--or so they say-- / at the instigation of Rome, / and his mother, the Queen, was killed with him." The use of the phrase "or so they say" adds an air of mystery to the circumstances of Caesarion's death. Was he really killed by the Romans, or was it an inside job? The fact that his mother was killed with him reinforces the theme of familial tragedy that runs throughout the poem.

The final lines of the poem are some of the most haunting: "But Egypt was enough for him, / the young King, for his short span of life, / Egypt was enough, and it filled his mind." Here, Cavafy suggests that Caesarion's reign may have been short and tragic, but it was meaningful in its own way. The fact that Egypt was "enough" for him implies that he had a deep connection to his homeland, even if he was not able to rule it effectively. The phrase "it filled his mind" suggests that Caesarion was able to find some measure of contentment and purpose in his life, even if it was ultimately cut short.


"Caesarion" is a poem that raises more questions than it answers. What was Caesarion really like as a person? How did he feel about his parents, his reign, and his own mortality? What kind of legacy did he leave behind? These are all questions that the poem leaves open to interpretation.

One possible interpretation of the poem is that it is a meditation on the fleeting nature of power and fame. Caesarion, like his parents before him, was a figure of immense historical significance, yet his reign was short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful. The fact that he was killed at the instigation of Rome suggests that even the most powerful figures in history are subject to the whims of others. At the same time, the fact that Caesarion was able to find some measure of contentment in his short life suggests that there is more to life than just power and fame.

Another possible interpretation of the poem is that it is a commentary on the role of family in a person's life. Caesarion's tragic end is closely linked to his mother's, suggesting that family ties can be both a source of strength and a source of vulnerability. The fact that Caesarion was able to find some measure of peace in his connection to Egypt, his homeland, suggests that family ties can also be a source of identity and purpose.


C.P. Cavafy's "Caesarion" is a poem that leaves a lasting impression on readers. Through its vivid imagery and haunting language, it captures the tragic life and death of a young king, leaving readers with a sense of the fragility of power and the importance of family ties. While the poem raises more questions than it answers, it is ultimately a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the complexities of human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Caesarion: A Masterpiece of C.P. Cavafy

C.P. Cavafy, one of the most prominent Greek poets of the 20th century, is known for his unique style of writing that blends the ancient Greek world with modern themes. Among his many works, Poetry Caesarion stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of the poet's vision and style. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and language.

The poem is named after Caesarion, the son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, who was declared the king of Egypt after his father's assassination. However, the poem is not about Caesarion himself but rather about the power of poetry and its ability to immortalize the past. The poem begins with the lines:

"Why should I care for the Greeks' fate? Why should I care for Rome's glory? I am Caesarion, son of Cleopatra, And I am alive and strong."

These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker, who identifies himself as Caesarion, declares his indifference towards the historical events that shaped his life. He sees himself as a living embodiment of the past, and his existence is proof that history is not just a collection of stories but a living force that continues to shape the present.

The poem then takes a turn, as the speaker acknowledges the power of poetry to transcend time and preserve the past. He says:

"But sometimes, when I read poetry, I feel like a stranger in my own land. I see the Greeks and the Romans, And I am moved by their glory and their pain."

Here, the speaker reveals his vulnerability and his longing to connect with the past. He recognizes that poetry has the power to transport him to a different time and place, where he can experience the glory and pain of the Greeks and the Romans. This is a powerful statement about the role of poetry in our lives, as it allows us to connect with our shared humanity and experience the joys and sorrows of those who came before us.

The poem then shifts again, as the speaker reflects on the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. He says:

"But then I remember that I am Caesarion, And that my fate is to die like any other man. And I wonder if my name will be remembered, Or if I will be forgotten like so many others."

Here, the speaker confronts his mortality and the uncertainty of his legacy. He wonders if his name will be remembered or if he will be forgotten like so many others. This is a universal theme that resonates with all of us, as we all grapple with the question of what we will leave behind when we are gone.

The poem concludes with a powerful statement about the power of poetry to transcend time and preserve the past. The speaker says:

"But then I remember that I am Caesarion, And that poetry will remember me. For in the words of the poets, I will live forever."

Here, the speaker finds solace in the knowledge that poetry will remember him long after he is gone. He recognizes that his legacy will be preserved in the words of the poets, who will immortalize him and his story for generations to come. This is a powerful statement about the enduring power of poetry and its ability to transcend time and preserve the past.

In terms of structure, the poem is divided into four stanzas, each with four lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming with each other, and the second and fourth lines rhyming with each other. This creates a sense of symmetry and balance in the poem, which reinforces the themes of the poem.

In terms of language, the poem is written in a simple and direct style, with short and concise sentences. This creates a sense of clarity and immediacy in the poem, which allows the reader to connect with the speaker's emotions and experiences. The use of repetition, particularly in the first and last lines of each stanza, also reinforces the themes of the poem and creates a sense of rhythm and momentum.

In conclusion, Poetry Caesarion is a masterpiece of C.P. Cavafy that explores the power of poetry to transcend time and preserve the past. The poem is a powerful statement about the enduring nature of history and the role of poetry in our lives. Through its themes, structure, and language, the poem captures the essence of Cavafy's vision and style, and stands as a testament to the enduring power of poetry.

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