The other day I was reading a poem of one of my favorite Greek poets. I do it from time to time before I get sleep. At the end of the day and after having some difficult moments in your job, I think reading a poem or listening some nice and calm music, especially if it can be shared with a person you love is something that I believe can be quite refressing.

Today I would like to share with you the "Ithaka" of Constantine P. Cavafy. Although the poem was originally in Greek, thanks to the translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, the poem is the same good enough even in English [1]. Furthermore, thanks to the creativity of  zen pencils, the poem has been illustrated in an amazing way (fig. 1 - 15).

The poem, inspired by the Odyssey of Homer [2], talks about a traveler, you, that starts his/her journey towards Ithaka. In contrast to the Greek hero Odysseus, the poet wishes the journey to be long. What it matters is not the destination but the experiences and the knowledge that you aquire through your trip. Even if you find obstacles, which are being represented by mythological monsters/gods like the Laistrygonians, the Cyclops and the Angry Poseidon, it doesn't matter. As long as you keep your spirit clean and strong enough, any difficulties will be overtaken. Only if you're afraid, the challenges will be able to stop your journey (fig. 1-7).

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.

The poet continues by repeating his wish for a long journey. He advices that you shouldn't harry to reach your destination. The trip is equivalent to your life, and as a consequence it has to be long. The Phoenicia [3], today an area that is part of Lebanon,  Cyprus,  Turkey,  Israel,  Syria,  Tunisia and Malta, was one of the most important trading markets of the ancient Greek period. The poet suggests to go there in order to meet foreighners. Through a conversation your mind will be broaden and your knowledge will be expanded. But you shouldn't stay only on that. A healthy spirit needs also a healthy body. For this reason you should also buy as many sensual perfumes as you can, i.e. to know the love. Cavafys mentions also Egypt, a very important ancient civilization, that was rich of knowledge. It's not only the journey that matters but the literate people as well, that will give your new things (fig. 8-10).

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.

However, no matter how many things you experience or you learn, you should always have Ithaka in your mind. If you don't have her (in Greek Ithaka has a feminine gender), there is a risk to compromise with something less. You shouldn't hurry, since experiences can only be gained through a long journey. And only when you get old and the end of your life reaches, then you can go to Ithaka (fig. 11-12).

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 was only your motivation, the source of your power for something special. And as you have reached the end, and she has nothing more to give you... (fig. 13)

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

you shouldn't blaim her...since what it's mater is the experiences and the knowledge you have gained (fig. 13-15).

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.

Ithaka has an allegorical meaning. In your life you might have many Ithakas, and as a consequence many goals. Everytime you reach Ithaka, and she has nothing more to give you, you have achieved your goal. Then you set another goal, probably even higher, in order to start your journey again. What it matters is not only Ithaka, but the fact that you are in a constant vigilance and effort.

Constantine Peter Cavafy [5] was born on April 17, 1863, in Alexandria, Egypt with a Greek citizenship and ancestry. From the age of nine to sixteen, Cavafy lived in England, where he developed a love for the writing of William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, and Oscar Wilde. Due to financial problems, his family moved back to Alexandria in 1880 and two years later  in Constantinople (currently Instabul). It was in Constantinople that he wrote his first poems.

The poem was probably writtern around 1894 and was published in Greek in 1911 [4] and it shows his oullook on life. It can be found in Cavafy’s Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, edited by George Savidis, Princeton  University Press, 1980 (link). You could also listen the poem narrated by Edmund Keeley.