The writings of those early years indicate that Cavafy was struggling to find
an artistically satisfying way in which to unite the thematic strands that would
come to characterize his work, of which the consuming interest in Hellenic
history was merely one.
That interest, it is crucial to emphasize, rather strikingly disdained the
conventional view of what constituted "the glory that was Greece"—which is to
say, the Archaic and Classical eras—in favor of the long post-classical phase,
from the Hellenistic monarchies through late antiquity to the fall of Byzantium.
There was, too, the poet's very strong identity as a product of the Greek
diaspora, an Orthodox Christian and the scion of that once-distinguished
Phanariote family who saw, in the thousand-year arc of Byzantine history, not a
decadent fall from idealized classical heights—the standard Western European
attitude, crystallized by Gibbon—but a continuous and coherent thread of Greek
identity that seamlessly bound the antique past to the present.
And finally, there was homosexual sensuality. However tormented and secretive
he may have been about his desire for other men, Cavafy came, after a certain
point in his career, to write about that desire with an unapologetic directness
so unsensational, so matter-of-fact, that we can forget that barely ten years
had passed since Oscar Wilde's death when the first of these openly homoerotic
poems was published. As the poet himself later acknowledged, he had to reach his
late forties before he found a way to unify his passion for the past, his
passion for "Hellenic" civilization, and his passion for other men in poems that
met his rigorous standards for publication.