Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Ithaca" by C. P. Cavafis - An allegory of life (and business) ventures

Free translation of Cavafis poem “Ithaca” from Greek to English by Harris A. Samaras:

Ithaca
Constantinos P. Cavafis
(1911)

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray and hope that the road is long,
full of adventures and challenges, full of discovery and knowledge.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon, fear them not;
negligible fixations such as those you will never encounter on your path,
if your thoughts are high,
if a selective process that touches your mind and body dictates your every action.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them in your soul,
if your soul does not allow them to be set up before you.

Pray that the journey is long.
Many may the summer mornings be
when with pleasure and joy and rare excitement
you enter harbors for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician markets,
not just to purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
get as many hedonic perfumes as you can!
And may you visit many Egyptian cities
to acquire knowledge but learn from scholars and simple people alike.

But Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate destination and goal.
But hurry not!
May the journey last for years and years
and anchor at the island an old man,
rich from all that you earned on your quest,
expecting not that Ithaca will ever provide you with riches.

Ithaca has given you this amazing journey.
Without Her you would not have set out.
She (Ithaca) has nothing more to give you.

And if you deem Ithaca poor, She deceived you not.
Wise as you have become, with all this experience,
you must by now have realized the true meaning of Ithacas.

Ithaca, the poem, is not just a story about a fantastic voyage and of a hero overcoming some imaginary or not difficulties on his way back home. It is an inner-self quest for rediscovering who you really are; at the same time it is a celebration of the human nature and the capability of achieving your goals, even if it means that you have to go through the most difficult and unexpected obstacles to reach those goals.

It is the journey not the destination that matters most in ones quest for life, says Cavafis with aesthetism and skepticism! Parabolizing from Homer’s Odyssey, Cavafis expresses through myth, allusion and symbolism that most important in life is the experience acquired from the journey of life and not necessarily just reaching the ultimate single goal. If one allows self to ignore those encounters that are only negligible fixations imposed by society’s status quo; if one challenges the status quo with wisdom and an open mind; facing life without fear, avoiding the frayed and stereotyped; exploring life to the fullest… then this person will be truly rich… this person would have lived and “tasted” life to the fullest!

Entrepreneurship is no different! An excelling entrepreneur and businessman or businesswoman will have to understand life if he or she is to be successful: One will have to enrich his or her critical thinking and thought leadership skills if he or she is to answer the “whys” and the “whynots”, the “cans” and the “cannots”, the “hows” and the “hownots”, the “whatifs”. How else can you achieve your business goals unless you are a true explorer of life? How could you even understand what your business goals are or should be if you do not understand life?Life should not be wasted in always contemplating the goal of one’s endeavors or in building up hopes and schemes for the future but in enjoying the journey, gaining from the journey. An obsession with the final goal can blind a person to the real business of living, which is to enjoy and explore every minute that is available.

Life at times can be disappointing. The goals people strive for, their Ithacas, may not yield what they hoped for. Therefore, it is better not to have fixations. There may be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ithaca may be poor, with nothing to give. A person should not have the type of lofty ideals that society imposes and considers success. Yet, it is human to have ambitions and expectations, and one must have, to strive to explore and achieve. As the poet states, without having an “Ithaca,” a goal, in mind, there would be no reason to act at all, no reason to embark on a journey…
All of us set ever-changing goals that we want to achieve in our lifetime and we strive or not hard throughout our lives to reach these goals. As a result, we can all relate to our hero’s quest to reach Ithaca as being our own journey of life, to reach the goals we set before we start this long voyage. Just like Odysseus, we will all face difficulties, temptations and problems while we try to achieve what we want. The question is whether we have the strength and patience to remain focused on achieving these goals when we come face to face with the extreme difficulties of personal and business life alike – using all the resources of senses and intellect – just like Odysseus finally made it and reached his Ithaca.

What happens if we do not achieve all our goals when we finally reach our Ithaca? Should we be considered unsuccessful? Should we feel that we have failed in our lives or business venture? The answer is clearly “No”. The actual objective lies in making the voyage itself, and to face all those difficulties; to overcome them and gain experience while we are out making the voyage. By the time we reach our Ithaca we will already have gained so much from the trip that whether we reach our goals or not becomes of secondary importance.
The poet has a recipe for enjoying the journey that involves the cultivation of a certain habit of mind. The whole person – body, mind, spirit, even soul – must be fully alert and engaged in the life it is living. A person must keep his or her “thoughts raised high,” which means that the mind must not give in to melancholy or disappointment or the sordid aspects of life. The poet in his own unique way highlights the contemplation of art, which leads the mind to the higher levels of the human spirit, rather than allowing it to sink to abyssal depths.

Another prerequisite for happiness and content on the journey is what Cavafis calls “rare excitement.” This might be explained as a certain attitude to the experiences that life produces. A person must cultivate the ability to respond to situations and experiences as if they were entirely new and fresh, never before seen, and therefore an object of wonder and delight. The opposite would be to respond in a tired, mundane way, influenced by habit and custom, or by the polarized elements of society.
The last part of the recipe for a fulfilling journey is to enjoy the sensual aspects of life (“as many sensual/hedonic perfumes as you can”), to value beautiful things (symbolized by the precious stones), and to cultivate the intellect. The latter is suggested by the advice to learn and “go on learning” from the scholars in Egypt. The way this is phrased is significant. A person can never say that he or she has learned enough. Learning is an ongoing process with no final end in sight.

The advice given throughout the poem could be summed up as the need to live and feel life, to perceive, enjoy, and understand the world. The aim is to live in the actualities of the present moment, not in the imagined future that will only lead to fixations and obsessions…The final, and perhaps most important, symbol in “Ithaca” is Ithaca itself. Ithaca, Homeric Odysseus’ island kingdom, represents both the starting and ending place. Everyone comes from somewhere. There was a time and place that shaped them and made them what they are. As they reached adulthood they left home. Some went far indeed, even as this poem recommends. Ironically, the farther people get from home or focus (physically, temporally, and ideologically) the more they want to return. The great risk, however, is of idealizing your own personal Ithaca.
The point of life is the journey and the experiences along the way. If you go long enough you will eventually get back to where you began. Ithaca is the beginning and the end. Ithaca acts symbolically as a representation of the achievement of the goals people set in their lives. Consequently, the quest for reaching Ithaca stops being just a fantastic voyage... Instead, it can now be thought as everybody’s quest in their lives to make their dreams come true. Ithaca exists for each and every one of us, in personal and business life, although for each in different ways!
Remember, it is the path in between that makes life worth living! It is the path in between that makes a business venture a valuable experience and a remarkable story! It is the path in between that enriches our senses and intellect!

Read the full article at: "Ithaca" by C. P. Cavafis – An allegory about life (and business) ventures (August 2013)


No comments:

Post a Comment