Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Beautiful Voyage

I've always found myself drawn to the adventures of Odysseus, his loyal wife Penelope, the various machinations played out in the Trojan War, and of course, fair divisive Helen (see Of Menelaus and Helen).

And then there's Ithaca, the famed island home of Odysseus, which he endeavors for ten long years to get back to. He is captured and spends seven years on Calypso's island. After escaping, he is waylaid by the witch Circe, a cyclops, a whirlpool, the legendary Sirens... and the list goes on and on.

Oh, but Ithaca, beautiful Ithaca, and fair Penelope, his loyal wife, beckon him homeward. My coworker Bob emailed me the following poem which I really enjoyed. It echoes that old adage about life being about the journey and not the destination.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
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.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.
 ~ Constantine P. Cavafy (1911) 

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