Press "Enter" to skip to content

The barbarians cometh?

So Jacob Zuma’s path has (seemingly) been cleared of the final obstacle and he is free to assume the country’s highest office without the threat of the State, which he will lead, prosecuting corruption charges against him. Of course being Zuma, this could not have happened without the attendant hyperbole, bile and hysteria that the mention of his name seems to invoke with incredible consistency in some quarters. And in light of that I thought I’d give my view on the current situation. I sought a literary medium to express my view and with that I share with you one of my favourite works, brought to my attention by one of my favourite people. It may speak to you, it may not. I can only hope the message therein helps inform your thinking somewhat.

A note: This was quoted from the ever-excellent http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/texts/cavafy.html

Waiting for the Barbarians

By Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933), translated by Edmund Keeley

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.