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.
Odysseus in exile. The ultimate reluctant hero-- all he ever really wanted to do was return home. But as everyone knows, exile and place is never a matter of location --but rather is a matter of meaning; for as the Poet Cavafy says above, "the Lestrygonians, the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon: these are all things we carry within our souls.
Robert Harrison, in a recent Entitled Opinions show about Heidegger, talked about Odysseus' Second Journey. The one that occured after he finally arrived back to Ithaka. Made to set out one more time; this time he was to carry an oar and walk as far as he could go until reaching a land where people didn't know salt or seafaring ships, and there, he was to plant his oar deeply into the ground and perform a sacrifice to Poseidon.
It's interesting, isn't it? The way a Hero must wander into exile/meaninglessness-- that is, he is required to go to a "place" where he is world-less, ground-less, and blindist. To walk to a place where the meaning of an "oar" is no longer meaningful, and there, to plant it in the ground to make new meaning.
Is this not the existential journey par excellance? For as Harrison explains, those that do not undergo these journeys into foreign lands and instead stay at home without undergoing this kind of "estrangement" will forever remain estranged--estranged right there in their own homelands.
As a hero's journey, we are talking of imaginal journeys into authenticity; where a person journeys and comes to terms with their own existence/death. This is exile. It is a journey away from the inauthentic; which Heidegger characterized as "idle curosity, gossip and diversion/entertainment"-- sound familiar? However you define it, Kierkegaard was probably not far off when he defined the inauthentic as the lack of any passionate commitment. Hence, in Proustian terms:
'The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes--Proust
So the Hero goes into exile. He goes Blind in order to get new eyes. And only then does he return Home, in Aletheia (ἀλήθεια). And he does all of this in time. In Being and Time. In meaning.
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 gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
The Greeks and their destiny. In the end, though, is Cavafy not also suggesting this same idea that our destiny is probably nothing else but the inner journey of meaning itself, no matter "where" we find ourselves? For as many of you will recall, Cavafy, the great poet of foreign lands and times past, never in fact traveled to these places that he was writing about. Writing his epic historical and romantic poetry, he lived alone for 25 years, working as a clerk in the employment of the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt, in Alexandria. Indeed, when I think of him working by day in a government office and at night writing poetry of such passion, well, not unlike how I think of Mandelstam writing in prison, I am almost overhelmed by this triumph of the human spirit.
The foreign lands, the exotic goods, the unending oceans and the heroes of antiquity--these were all lands he visited in his exquisite imagination. Dreaming of Ithaka, I think it is true that what really matters is what happens in the breathing and seeing/blindist heart.