The 154 poems that constitute Cavafy's official "canon" have so far, by my count, garnered ten versions, and I see no reason to believe that Daniel Mendelsohn's new translations will be the last. As early as 1926, Cavafy was awarded the Silver Star of the Order of the Phoenix for services to literature, a tacit Greek condonation of his more inflammatory subject matter.
Famous poets from Auden to Heaney have written about Cavafy, introduced his translations, and acknowledged his influence on their own work. The texts of Cavafy's unfinished poems, now translated by Mendelsohn for the first time, were pieced together from fragmentary successive drafts by the Italian scholar Renata Lavagnini, with the minute care--and the same technique--normally lavished only on the papyrus scraps of a major classical author, and their retrieval was hailed as a major literary discovery. If the Greeks, as is sometimes alleged, invented irony, this has to be an almost unrivalled example of it. What, we may well ask ourselves, has been the secret of this marginal Hellenist's astonishing and unprecedented success in the Anglo-American literary world?