This poem is based on the ancient Greek epic poem Odyssey, which is attributed to the legendary author Homer. Quick summary of the Odyssey: there was a war between the ancient Greeks and the Trojans (Troy was – and still is – located at nowadays North-western Turkey), the Greeks laid siege on the city of Troy for 10 years and they destroyed it (there’s another ancient epic poem, Aeneid by the Roman author Virgil, that picks up the story after the destruction of Troy, but let’s stick to Homer’s Odyssey for now). After that, one of the Greek kings named Odysseus (in Latin: Ulysses) set out for Ithaka, his birthplace and kingdom. On his journey home (which lasted, according to the poem, 10 years) he had many adventures and misadventures.
And, for the film buffs, a good adaptation of the Odyssey is this one:
Anyway, I posted this poem because we can see it as a representation of life itself. And I can’t decide if it’s optimistic or pessimistic…
At first glance, it seems very optimistic: keep trying and fighting to reach your goals, whatever they are. Its meaning is similar to the phrase ”the chase is better than the catch”. But the final lyrics of the poem make me think of it as pessimistic and a little bit ironic:
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.
These lyrics are implying that it was all for nothing, that every effort was fruitless and meaningless. And that’s why I can’t decide… I might say that the interpretation of Cavafy’s poem depends on someone’s views on life…