In ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ (1898), the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy portrays a fictional city grown decadent in times of plenty within a Roman Empire, in which the emperor, senators, rhetors and citizens almost eagerly look forward to the arrival of the barbarians. Then the barbarians do not come, and the disappointment is felt deeply. Cavafy’s description of this imaginary city ends with the following haunting lines:
And now, what’s to become of us without barbarians.
Those people were a solution of some kind.
(Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)
The arrival of the barbarians would have offered a way out of the spiritual emptiness, lethargy, boredom and laziness that the city had fallen prey to. Poetically, Cavafy has illustrated the argument put forward by Edward Gibbon in his superb historical epic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1788): that Roman civilization primarily withered as a result of decay from within, waiting for the barbarians that eventually came. The Nexus Conference 2015 addresses this theme within our society: how powerful is our current ideal of civilization?Brochure
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