Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reaching Ithaca

from w
The focus at the Polyglots was partly on the poetry of the Greek writer, Cavafy, and his poem 'Ithaca', so I found it on the internet and also other material. I'd first heard the reference - in the Odyssey, but also in reference to the paintings of John Wolsely. The idea of a long journey in life, culmination in reaching 'home' is a fine metaphor for so many things we do. In the process is the enjoyment and adventures, and not necessarily the final outcome. Making a large painting may be exhilerating but then the final picture may not satisfy. Doing research and making discoveries for a thesis is stimulating, but then maybe you don't really care about the final printout.

Since Homer's Odyssey, Ithaca symbolizes the destination of a long journey, the supreme aim that every man tries to fulfill all his life long, the sweet homeland, the eternal calmness and satisfaction…

There he makes an allusion of the legendary journey of Ulysses to the journey of every man through life and suggests that each person is looking for his own Ithaca, his personal supreme goal. However, in the end, it is not the goal but the journey that matters, because this journey makes us wise and gives people the richest good: experience, knowledge and maturity.

This poem was written in 1911 and has been translated in many languages since then. Its lyric words and message are touching.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon- don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon- you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/ Phillip Sherrard

Ithaca or Ithaka (Greek: Ιθάκη, Ithakē) is an island located in the Ionian Sea, in Greece, with an area of 45 square miles (120 km2) and a little more than three thousand inhabitants. Modern Ithaca is generally identified with Homer's Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, whose delayed return to the island is one of the elements of the Odyssey's plot.

The Destination, the Journey

Madeline E. Holland
First Place Winner, Level Three
Letter to Constantine Cavafy, “Ithaca” poem

Dear Constantine Cavafy,
Where have you been? From what shore did you depart, knowing you would return? And how was it you knew that despite millennia lapsed in between them, or perhaps miles and miles separating their starting points or destinations, that no two journeys away from home and back again--not Odysseus’, not yours, not mine-- are ever entirely different?

Maybe it is unfair for me to ask you these questions as you have already answered so many I have set forth to you. As I boarded a plane, heading off for my own Mediterranean journey to spend a year living and studying abroad in Italy, I couldn’t stop the questions from coming to mind. What am I doing? Why am I doing this to myself? Once, a long time ago, back when “leaving” was still shrouded with that same distant abstractness as, say, “being grown up,” I had answers to those questions. But as suitcases and boarding passes emerged from that abstract fog, my motivations became progressively foggier and the memory of them was poor substitute. And so, when my answers were missing, you helped me find them again.

Why am I going? You reminded me to “pray that the ride is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.” You reminded me of what I had once known: the adventure I was ready for would not be found on the road to school and back again each day; the knowledge I was after wouldn’t be found within the pages of my textbooks.

But what if I fail? What if I don’t make friends? Don’t learn the language? My new family doesn’t like me? You told me, “The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops, the angry Poseidon — do not fear them . . .you will never encounter [them] if you do not carry them within your soul, if your soul does not set them up before you.” So you provided me with the answer I must have always known: personal failure is never dictated by mystical outside forces. I could only fail if I was too afraid to let myself succeed.

And so the plane took off and I set off on my “journey to Ithaca,” keeping in mind your assertion that the first ship sailed away from home is the also the first headed back toward it.

And what am I supposed to do now I’m here? I asked. “Stop at Phoenician markets,” you said, “and purchase fine merchandise... and sensual perfumes of all kinds.” As I stepped through the Medieval Walls of Viterbo, my new home for the next nine months, and into the midst of a large summer market, I wondered if that “pleasure” and “joy” you talked about upon entering “ports seen for the first time” had changed at all in the last thousands of years. “Visit many Egyptian cities,” you said, “to learn and learn from scholars.” And so I filled my mind with the lessons of my teachers, and took careful note as they illuminated the history of the ancient Mediterranean world, unlocked the mysteries of Latin, and traced the influence of stories as old as Odysseus’ throughout modern literature. And I took careful note from other scholars, too; the scholars my age who know the streets of Rome far better than I know the creases on my palms, and the scholars of all ages who daily string musical Italian words into symphonies of sentences.

And before I even asked, you had more answers for me. Before wanting to go home turned into nothing more than its memory, surrounding “return” with that same fog of distant future, you gave me advice. “Always keep Ithaca in your mind. To arrive there is your ultimate goal,” you said. “But do not hurry the voyage at all.” So I sip my coffees slow and drink in conversation. I do not count down days until return but rather count the ways in which to spend each one.

“Anchor at the island when you are old,” you said, “rich with all you have gained on the way, not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches. Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. Without her you would have never set out on the road.”

So Constantine Cavafy, when will I find the destination I’m looking for? Perhaps of all the scholars I have come across by now those in history books from the times of Odysseus to those I meet every day — you have taught me the most.

Odysseus’ destination, or yours, or mine, was never a port, or city, or kingdom. The destination is the journey. Thank you for helping me on mine.

Madeline Holland

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