Ithaca and 2008

By Paulo Coelho

One of the great classics of all literature, Homer’s “Odyssey,” tells of the return of the hero Ulysses to the island of Ithaca, where his wife Penelope has been waiting for him for over ten years. Ulysses undergoes all sorts of challenges but eventually returns home.

Many centuries later, another Greek poet, Konstantinos Kavafis, dealt with this homecoming in a different manner, creating one of the most beautiful metaphors of this journey in search of our dreams. While the drama of the “Odyssey” centres on the difficulties in arriving and in the suffering of the beloved wife, in Kavafis’ poetry exactly the opposite is asked of Ulysses: he should enjoy the journey and experience all that needs to be lived.

As we now are getting ready to 2008, please keep in mind that the journey is the real thing. I wish you all a wonderful 2008. Focus your attention in your dreams, but enjoying the beauties of the path. Below, the poem by Kavafis:

When you leave for Ithaca,
may your journey be long
and full of adventures and knowledge

Do not be afraid of Laestrigones, Cyclopes
or furious Poseidon;
you won’t come across them on your way
if you don’t carry them in your soul,
if your soul does not put them in front of your steps.

I hope your road is long.
May there be many a summer morning,
and may the pleasure of seeing the first ports
bring you great joy.
Try to visit the markets of Phoenicia
and buy the very best.
Go to the cities of Egypt
and learn from a people with so much to teach.

Don’t lose sight of Ithaca,
for that’s your destination.
But take your time;
better that the journey lasts many a year
and that your boat only drops anchor on the island
when you have grown rich
with what you learned on the way.

Don’t expect Ithaca to give you many riches.

Ithaca has already given you the voyage;
without Ithaca you would never have parted.

Ithaca gave you everything and can give you no more.

If in the end you think that Ithaca is poor,
don’t think that she has cheated you.
Because you have grown wise and lived an intense life,
and that’s the meaning of Ithaca.

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  1. eleonora says:

    meravigliosa poesia!

  2. Matt H says:

    It is my best friends birthday tomorrow and I asked him to pick a number between 1 and 30. It was so that I could pick out a story and send it to him to read. This story was number 24 on the list the number he choose because of how old he would be turning. I included 2 other stories from the warrior of light.

    Happiness is something we both talk about more times I can imagine and when I read the above it blew me away, because I placed it with the story about happiness form the warrior of light and email them (before I read them) to him. My journeys and travels bring me happiness, my interactions and voice, each moment, each experience, each joyful laughter in that moment reminds me more of the truth that beats in every step.

    But we doubt, full of doubt we take each step and then without warning turn to see what dangers we missed. We each are alone, born alone and die alone, but think of this truth from a lonely perspective. If everything is but a construct of my mind then I am thankful that each experience was so connected to me that I could not see the division between its creation and my mind, nor the connection. It is seeing on the journey the connection that makes me happy and the reminder, when in doubt, that I separate from its creation but no less part.

    My friend helped me see this message here, and I know that he his my friend because he gave this through our connection. He did so without asking and I hope that whenever he is lonely or lost on the journey that he would look back and remember my hand on his shoulder, because just one connection is enough to remove the doubt we all feel and it’s unnecessary part in the journey.

  3. Angela says:

    Dear Paulo,
    I am new to your website and blog although I have read your books as they came into my life since i was a teenager. I first gave the poem of Ithaca to somebody when i was 25. It encapsulates the very essence of what i believe, of what i fought for in my life growing up in a Greek family, as a child, a teenager, and in my twenties. I only wish you could read it in Greek – so very much has been lost in the translation you have above, the very impact of the way Kavafis weaves his sentences and uses the language, the punctuation to emphasize his words. At my most elated moments and in my darkest, Ithaca is my amulet around my neck, making sure that my heart never forgets.

  4. Nithin says:

    Hi paulo, I was introduced to the Alchemist by one of my friends. I loved it very much. I find that your works contain a central theme and that is, journey is more important than the destination. I must say it fascinates me a lot. Considering the situation I am undergoing, wish I had a mentor like you. Dont know if you realize, you have impacted so many lives (including me). your books make me question, why are we attracted to some people so much that we forget all others, even those who love us more than we do ourself? Is it okay to have ego when it comes to people we care for? Is love really unconditional? Is it possible that you love a person very much but she does not reciprocate..can someone be so insensitive? In that case do we still continue to love, without expecting anything in return? I feel if we expect something in return, then it is not love anymore, it becomes a business!! I have so many questions (read complaints) in life. Anyways, Thanks for those good works. Of those millions of readers, you have a fan, an admirer who will always envy people close to you.

  5. Issayas says:

    Hi Paulo, I have read eleven minutes, the Alchemist, The Zahir, The Valkayers, The Fivth Mountain and The Mektub. You made me feel better and know poet Cavafy who became my favorite poet after Paulo Neruda. Your books and writings made me envy to the world you already built. You are inspiring many younths in Eritrea. (Eritrea is East African country near Ethiopia and Sudan). So we are burning with your ideas and i think recently we will be clean if we got the witch of portobelo

  6. Ashok C. says:

    Hi Paulo, I recently read your Zahir, wherein you have dealt with the theme of the journey of Ulysses and quoted this poem on Ithaca. The idea of leaving behind our past and fill in the void with a new life in the vast emptyness akin to the beautiful Steppes, — is enchanting. But, when the protagonist reaches his love, Esther, does he not get back to his 'past,' maybe enriched with a vast array of new lights and experiences?
    Incidentally, in Harper Collins edition of Zahir, , page 308, I notice a historical inaccuracy. Did not Buddhism travel from India to China, rather than the other way round, as written? By the way, I am an Indian and your books are tremendously populatr in my country.

    Regards and admiration. Ashok C.

  7. Ray says:

    Hello there,

    I have read many of your books and find them all enligtning. Not so much Brida though, I taught it maybe more suited women.
    Any way whats it all about?

  8. theresa says:

    I read zahir a few days ago.i’m still in the magical field created by your book.i thought i love every one and loved by every one.but now i understood, love is something else.something i have expirenced but never given back. now i deceided to by my heart.i’m in a journey to love the world.yes this is my vocation,my dream, my ithacca. thanks for opening my eyes.

  9. Girish says:

    Dear Sir
    Generally, I have no habit for extra reading. But I have been gone through your The Alchemist and The Zahir. From Alchemist I learned about path. From zahir about Destiny. I am convinced that each and every person hase their own way to grow, own way to learn the same thing and own destiny. My & others destiny need not be same. Ultimately, I LEARNED FROM OUR RELIGIOUS(HINDU, INDIA) BOOK, “BHAGVAD GEET” THAT , ALL ROAD LEADS TOWARDS THE SAME DESTINATION (GOD). MORE WE DEVIATE FROM ROAD MORE TIME WE HAVE TO SPEND HERE ON EARTH. Anything happens for good. Good not for individual, good for all.
    Thank you for helping me, by providing such wonderfull knowledge like Ithaca & personal alling.
    Sir, road is long, so pray for all of us.

  10. samina says:

    I’ve rewritten this sentence about five times….I am so shocked. A few days ago I was wondering what I would name I would give myself…just now I reached the chapter where he is told to think of a name.

    “He taught me to love myself rather than to love him..”pg 337 The Zahir…how I wish I could read Esther’s story.

  11. Girish says:

    Thx Sir
    I found The Zahir, suggested to me by Zahir. I am in my way………

  12. samina says:

    Over the last few days I have been reading ‘The Zahir’, a book that was left at my home by a good friend and a book
    that I had ignored for at least five months.

    I do love your writing, I remember feeling warmth after reading ‘The Alchemist’ and weeping when I read ‘I Sat By The River
    Piedra And Wept’. You have a beautiful gift and I am glad that I have the luxury of being able to buy your books, hide
    in cafes at lunchtime and lose myself in a sea of words.Yet I did not read your book as soon as it sailed to my home.

    I’m not sure what made me pick up ‘The Zahir’, I’ve been walking around like a zombie in London for the last seven months. I
    visited my sister and saw the book that was supposed to be on my shelf was hidden amongst books on her shelf.

    Two days prior to meeting my sister she had said to me on the phone ‘somehow you have lost your dreams’, I was shocked-
    how could a twenty-four year old who has a wonderful husband, supportive family and a good social circle lose her dreams?
    It has left me wondering what my dreams are, the word ‘dream’ is my Zahir because deep down I have no idea what I want.
    As soon as I turned the first page and saw ‘Ithaca’ I knew I was meant to read your book. Each chapter is making me smile,
    some bits float past me and then I have to re-read it to truly understand it…and to understand what it means to me.

    I had a terrible day at work, I sat on the train home depleted and scowling but as soon as I read the following line I laughed so much, “Look, just because I work in a railway station doesn’t mean I know everything about trains. That’s just the way things are.”

    Thank you for waking me up….thank you for reminding me to enjoy the journey.

    I look forward to having life guide me when I least expect it to another Paulo story.

  13. Lenka says:

    Hi Paulo, thank you very much for wonderfull text.
    Yesterday I wrote you about my “new love” :-). Not “new”, but very old – from secondary school. I love him so much, but I am not sure, if he does know it. I believe he can understant…I am hoping…Bye, Len