What We Are

The Poseidonians forgot the Greek language
after so many centuries of mingling
with Tyrrhenians, Latins, and other foreigners.
The only thing surviving from their ancestors
was a Greek festival, with beautiful rites,
with lyres and flutes, contests and garlands.
And it was their habit towards the festival’s end
to tell each other about their ancient customs
and once again to speak Greek names
that hardly any of them still recognized.
And so their festival always had a melancholy ending
because they remembered that they too were Greeks,
they too once upon a time were citizens of Magna Graecia.
But how they’d fallen now, how they’d changed,
living and speaking like barbarians,
cut off so disastrously from the Greek way of life.

–Constantine P. Cavafy

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