In Sparta

Translated by Edmund Keeley
He didn’t know, King Kleomenis, he didn’t dare—
he just didn’t know how to tell his mother
a thing like that: Ptolemy’s demand,
to guarantee their treaty, that she too go to Egypt
and be held there as a hostage—
a very humiliating, indecorous thing.
And he would be about to speak yet always hesitate,
would start to tell her yet always stop.

But the magnificent woman understood him
(she’d already heard some rumors about it)
and she encouraged him to get it out.
And she laughed, saying of course she’d go,
happy even that in her old age
she could be useful to Sparta still.

As for the humiliation—that didn’t touch her at all.
Of course an upstart like the Lagid
couldn’t possibly comprehend the Spartan spirit;
so his demand couldn’t in fact humiliate
a Royal Lady like herself:
mother of a Spartan king.

C. P. Cavafy, "The City" from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.
Source: C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975)
More Poems by C. P. Cavafy