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The poem titled Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy was written in 1911. In this sonnet, the great poet of all times alludes to the “importance of enjoying the trip, any trip, and not only longing for a journey’s end” (González De León, 2017). This illustration can be extended to a variety of processes in life, save to say that as much as we enjoy the trip “we all want to return home, to Ithaca” (Gonzalez De Leon, 2017) for many reasons. Perfect to add that in this poem Cavafy makes a beautiful “allusion of the legendary journey of the Odyssey 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” (“Ithaca Poem,” n.d.). In this essay, I will explore this illusion, by giving deep analyses of the stanzas and commenting on the historical, political, and mythological facts on which the poem is referring. My comment will be wreathed with numerable poetic devices, such as metaphor, and repetition, whose drive will be to simplistically and bare the principal theme of the poem.

The initial verse of the poem starts with Cavafy addressing the reader in the second person, as ‘you’. To the reader, he offers advice, but the reader is not named, this means that he or she could be anyone; it also could be Odysseus, safe to say that he is addressing any reader of the poem. Therein, Cavafy says “As you set out for Ithaka hope your road is a long one” (Cavafy, 1911), In this, the poet is saying “that as the traveler sets out on his journey, he must hope that it is a long one, full of adventure and discovery “ (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.). The destination in question is Ithaka, an island off the Western Coast of Greece, where Odysseus reverted to after the Trojan War.

Odysseus’ journey was a very long and difficult one. Accozzoli states that the journey covered “14 places, 5192 miles, which is about 8 356 km” (Accozzoli,). In all, it took him ten years before he was able to rejoin his wife Penelope in Ithaka. It is important to indicate that in the context of this poem, Ithaka is a purpose of any journey through life, because “everybody has a purpose, a special unique assignment” (Van Lint, 2019).

The journey through life has many obstacles. In line four of the poem, Odysseus encounters two hindrances. The first obstacles he meets are the “Laistrygonians who ate many of his men and destroyed eleven of his twelve ships by throwing rocks from high cliffs” (Wiki, 2019). While twelve ships were destroyed, Odysseus’ ship was not, since it was hidden in a cove near shore. After this calamity, they met the Cyclops “who were giant, one-eyed, wild race of lawless creatures who possessed neither social manners nor fear of the Gods” (Greek Gods & Goddesses, 2017). Another calamity met them, in on this one, the Polyphemus, took Odysseus and his men prisoner and ate six of them before Odysseus escaped with the remaining six men. An interesting element in both these unfortunate events is that even though they were catastrophic, Odysseus never gave up on his journey to Ithaca, but also that the men who were with him exuded loyalty, like real soldiers.

At times in life, the rightness of our actions can be deemed wrong in certain situations. In verse five, Cavafy recalls the event in which Poseidon obstructs Odysseus’s return. He did this because Odysseus had “blinded Polyphemus who was Poseidon’s son” (Atsma, 2017). All these beings, including the ones I mentioned in the above paragraphs, had one purpose, to delay or destroy Odysseus. In line five, Cavafy advises Odysseus and the reader, not to be afraid of them. But also that if the reader keeps his thoughts raised high, in other words, focusing on the purpose of his journey; he will never encounter any challenge resembling those monsters. Here, Cavafy encourages Odysseus and the reader to remain hopeful.

There is a variation to the advice that Cavafy gives to Odysseus in line five. In lines eight to eleven, Cavafy repeats this advice, but in this instance, he says that the Laistrygonians, Cyclops, or Poseidon “will not appear as long as the Odysseus or the reader’s spirit and body are stirred by a rare excitement” (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.). This is to say that Odysseus or the reader “must always continue to experience the thrill of being alive” (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.). In other words, enjoy the trip through the challenges or obstacles, don’t mind them, because if you mind them, they will appear if they are summoned within his soul, and allow them to reside in him.

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Being optimistic and hopeful enables us to envision, to look forward to easy moments in our journey to Ithaca. This sentiment is solidified and repeated in the second verse of the poem when Cavafy says “Hope your road is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time” (Cavafy, 1911). In this, Cavafy “imagines various places where a person might stop, such as a Phoenician trading station” (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.).). You will know that Phoenicia was the coastal district of ancient Syria and is now the coast of modern Lebanon. Its ports were centers of trade in the ancient world (Mark, 2018). With this, Cavafy tells the reader that many beautiful things may be purchased there, including precious stones such as mother of pearl and coral, and every kind of perfume. Likewise, he indirectly encourages the reader to visit Egyptian cities and learn from the scholars who live there. This is because, in the ancient world, Egypt was a “center of learning” (Sesanti, 2018), especially its capital city, Alexandria, which “was one of the largest cities in the world and contained the largest library” (UNESCO, 2003).

With all the optimism and hope seeded in the reader, in verse three, in particular the first line, Cavafy advises the reader again. In this, he says he must make sure that at all material times, Ithacas remains in mind. This is because; it is his destination, a final one. This advice can be related to many life situations or contexts, to a student who is a first year, his final destination is graduation, he or she must keep that in mind, no matter the difficulties he or she comes across along the way, he must keep the Ithaka in mind by all means necessary. Another value that Cavafy accords to the reader is that he “must not hurry the journey at all” (Cavafy, 1911), because it is “it is better if the journey lasts for years so that the reader is old by the time he reaches home and also wealthy from all he has accumulated on his travels. Then, he will not expect Ithaka to make him rich” (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.). In this value three important qualities, experience, knowledge, and wisdom. These qualities are achieved in the journey towards Ithaca. It is these values that prepare the reader for the Ithaca.

Looking at the above paragraphs, it is clear that metaphor and repetition seem to be the dominant poetic devices that Cavafy puts to use. In the context of the poem, the Island of Ithaka relates to Odysseus’ home, but Cavafy uses this in a supplementary sense because the road to Ithaka is a metaphor for everybody’s journey through life. It embodies, the aspirations, goals, visions, aims, and objects of the human race, a reward for actions that one person in the present.

Apart from metaphor, repetition is notable throughout the poem. In the first verse, Cavafy repeats the names of the antagonists from the Odyssey, the Laistrygonians, Cyclops, and Poseidon. He does this to “emphasize how they may be avoided” (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.). Likewise, the repetition of “as long as” (Cavafy, 1911) in lines seven and eight of stanza one resonates with the recurrence of “unless” (Cavafy, 1911) at the beginning of lines twelve and thirteen. The “effect suggests that the reader needs repeated reinforcement before he or she is ready to hear and absorb the message offered by Cavafy” (Ithaca Poetry, n.d.).

As approach the end of this essay, I wish to allude to the historical context of the poem. You will remember that “When Greece was under Turkish rule in the eighteenth century, Greek literature virtually disappeared. It was awakened following the Greek War of Independence between 1821 and 1827. As Greek national pride grew, there was a strong movement amongst writers to use the demotic form of the Greek language. Demotic is the popular form of Greek used by the ordinary person. However, many writers passionately believed in the preservation of the classical literary language. The controversial debate continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Many Greek intellectuals argued that using the demotic language was the only way to preserve Greek literature and develop Greek culture. But, feelings ran high on both sides. In 1903, university students rioted in Athens when a translation of the New Testament in demotic Greek was serialized in a newspaper. More riots followed several years later when Aeschylus’s ancient Greek trilogy the Oresteia was performed in demotic Greek. The Greek government did not recognize the demotic form of the language until 1917, and only then was it taught in schools. Cavafy aligned himself for the most part with the movement for demotic Greek, which is the language used in the Ithaka poem. He was a contributor to the magazine of a youth group called Nea Zoe, which existed to promote demotic Greek literature. Cavafy’s poetry appeared in Nea Zoe for a decade. However, Cavafy also valued the purist, or classical form of the language, which was part of his family and class heritage” ().

In sum, this essay spoke to the notion that it is better to trip than to arrive. Life should not be wasted in always anticipating the goal of one’s endeavors or in building up hopes and schemes for the future but in enjoying the journey. This was done through deep analyses of the stanzas and commenting on the historical, political, and mythological facts to which the poem is referring. And comments thereof were wreathed metaphor and repetition 

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