Friday, January 13

Donkey Boy

Because so many of my recent posts have been political and somewhat heavy, I thought I’d lighten things up a bit.

I’ve been slogging through Robert Liddell’s Cavafy: A Critical Biography, which I’d hoped to have finished by now. There is a growing stack of books by the side of my bed, all things I’d like to read over the next few months. Anyway, I started it way before the holidays because I had written a couple of posts about Cavafy and while I’m very familiar with his poetry and the basic outline of his life, I’d never read an actual biography of him (though I did see a film about him when I lived in Greece—I think it may have screened in Boston at some point too). Liddell’s book seemed to be the most authoritative, but damn is it boring.

It’s the second boring biography I’ve read in the past six months. While I was in Ukraine I read C.A. Tripp’s The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, which I thought I might review at some point, but I’m not sure I have anything to add to what has already been said about this fairly controversial work. Despite the controversy surrounding it, I found it rather boring at times (and poorly organized, but the author died before it was completed, so I guess I can cut him some slack). But it wasn’t nearly as boring as Liddell’s bio of Cavafy.

Also, Liddell contains mostly stuff I already knew. I did learn that one of Cavafy’s brothers was also a homosexual (I hesitate to say “gay” because I doubt either Cavafy or his brother would have described himself as such). What else… he was often late for work and he could be quite fierce about defending what he believed to be true (even when he was wrong). Gee, I can’t relate to either of those…


Apparently, Cavafy confined his erotic adventures in Alexandria to unskilled Greek laborers whom he could easily pick up and avoided the Arab population, though I’m sure that there were plenty of beautiful Arab men around. The author makes the point that Cavafy probably had at best a limited knowledge of colloquial Arabic (most of the individuals in his particular social and professional sphere in Alexandria spoke either Greek or English—Cavafy was fluent in both), so I suppose picking up Arab men would have been rather challenging; though I’m sure he could have made himself understood in the right setting. I guess he just preferred Greek boys.

At one point in the Cavafy bio, however, Liddell recounts a story of how one of Cavafy’s boyhood friends joked with him in a letter that a certain mutual (Greek) friend of theirs in Alexandria had become something of a pariah for debasing himself on occasion with “the donkey boys.” Cavafy was clearly not such a man, but only because his tastes dictated otherwise. Certainly there was no shortage of working-class Greek boys for him to sleep with and, if found out, this would be only slightly less scandalous than going with donkey boys. As a result, the shrewd Cavafy was very secretive about his sex life. Liddell has not yet shed any light on whether Cavafy was open with anyone about his homosexuality. But I’m only two-thirds of the way through the book.

I thought that if I were Cavafy and I came across a donkey boy like the one pictured above (Jean-Léon Gérôme, Sais and his Donkey, private collection), I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to ride his ass.

3 Comments:

Blogger Will said...

Literally and figuratively, eh?

2:21 PM  
Anonymous outiboy said...

....often late for work and quite fierce about defending what he believed to be true (even when he was wrong).....

lovingly, not much I can add to that. except perhaps good at riding ass, too :)

is that too racy for the blog?

3:15 PM  
Blogger The Persian said...

oh my..! Fascinating I must read this. Looking around at your impressive blog, it's so refreshing to see one of substance.

:)

2:24 PM  

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