Freaks of literature, like freaks of nature, turn up in odd and unpredictable places. Why, after all, should Buenos Aires produce a Borges, Palmero a Lampedusa, Trieste a Svevo? The only—and perfectly unsatisfactory—answer is, Why not! Nothing in the traditions out of which any of these writers derive could have anticipated their becoming, as all did, writers of world interest. No very good explanation is available, really, just the brute fact of their arrival, writing quite unlike anyone else before them and producing enduring work of universal value. As they come upon the scene out of nowhere, neither do these writers begin or leave anything like a tradition behind them. Sui generis, in a class by oneself, is, after all, only another phrase for freakish.

C. P. Cavafy, the Greek poet who lived in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria, is another such freak of literature—perhaps the most interesting,...


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