Ithaca. The metaphor of the journey of life.

The flags surrounding the Ithaca House, one of the buildings at Manzanita Village, are not in Tibetan or Sanskrit as is usually the case at most retreat centers.

Some of them are in ancient Greek. Most of them are English translations of Homer, Hesiod, and Constantine Cavafy. They echo aspects of longing and celebration …  to return home, to celebrate the miracle and beauty of life, to truly see. We made the flags because they reflect something of our work at Manzanita Village, and also because they are expressions of Western culture. They feel like home.

A century ago someone said that the western culture is merely a footnote to Homer. I wonder if that’s still true. Maybe. The flags help keep that question alive. Who still reads Homer today anyway? But yet we’re all still on that metaphorical journey, returning home to Ithaca. We’re still faced with challenges that parallel those that faced Odysseus and

Here are the texts from the flags.

Hesiod – Song to the Moon

Sing, muses sing!
Sing the fair-faced Moon, wide-winged Selene,
heavenly gleam, immortal head.

Circling earth, all beauty rises under her glowing light,
lampless air-beams from her golden crown.
The rays dwell, lingering where she bathes in the ocean stream,
dressed in radiance – divine Selene!

Harnessing strong-necked, glittering horses,
racing forward she rides.
She swells and wanes,
a message and an assurance to all.
Once joined in love to Zeus,
She is mother of Pandia, most beautiful.
Queen, white-armed Goddess, divine Selene
gentle heart, kind heart, illuminated hair, tumbling across the sky.
All songs, all life begins with you.

Cavafy – Ithaca

As you set sail for Ithaca, hope the voyage is long,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Cannibals of Lamos, monstrous Cyclops, wild Poseidon’s fury
– don’t be afraid of them.

You’ll never even see them if you hold your thoughts high,
and allow the sweet excitement of spirit and body guide you.

You’ll never meet cannibals, monsters, Poseidon’s storms
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your set them up yourself in front of you.

Hope the voyage is long.
Summer mornings will carry you
into sparkling new harbors of ecstasy.
Places seen for the first time – upside-down islands,
waterfalls tumbling into the sky

Sail there!
Trade with the Phoenicians, for mother of pearl and coral,
amber and ebony, agate and jade, attar of roses, and frankincense,
every perfume you can find

Lay anchor in Alexandria, trade stories with the wise ones
And always, always guard Ithaca in your mind.
But don’t hurry. You are destined to arrive.

Don’t hurry the journey, don’t hurry at all.
It’s better that it lasts for years.
You will be old when you reach the island,
rich with all that you have become,
not expecting anything of Ithaca.

Ithaca gave you the ocean.
Without her you would not have set out.
She’ll have nothing more to give you
And if you find her poor, do not blame her.

Wise as you will have become,
so full of experience,
you will have understood by then
what these Ithacas mean.

Hesiod – Song to Demeter

I sing Demeter, awesome goddess,
with her golden harvest sword, and her daughter Persephone,
who was swallowed into the ground with a cry as brief as truth on the empty air.
No one heard.

With grief and anguish Demeter pursues her.
Then with terrible rage she disowns the gods
and threatens to destroy everything living on earth
unless her beautiful daughter is given back.

Now the land cannot take seed,
the cattle pull the plough in vain.

Zeus asks all the Gods to summon her.
Sends Hermes to Hades to find Persephone
who sits beside the dark king.

Then Persephone burst back into the light.
Demeter greets her in a world of joy.
The world grows rich with leaves and fruit again.

But Persephone was made to taste the seeds of Hades
and must return to the misty darkness
four months out of every twelve, while the world waits.

I sing Demeter! Her golden hair!
Majestic goddess Demeter, and her daughter Persephone.
Greetings Goddess!
Preserve this place and carry this song.

From Homer’s Odyssey

εἴµ’ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς
πᾶσι δόλοισιν ἀνθρώποισι µέλω,
καί µευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
ναιετάω δ’ Ἰθάκην ἐυδείελον
ἐν δ’ ὄρος αὐτῇ Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον
ἀριπρεπές ἀµφὶ δὲ νῆσοι
πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι µάλα σχεδὸν ἀλλήλῃσι,
∆ουλίχιόν τε Σάµη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος
αὐτὴ δὲ χθαµαλὴ πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται
πρὸς ζόφον αἱ δέ τ’ ἄνευθε
πρὸς ἠῶ τ’ ἠέλιόν τε

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son
world-famed for stratagems
My name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home
It has a mountain, leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion, and Samé, and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca lies low, furthest to sea, towards dusk.
The rest, apart, face dawn and sun.

the magical journey to Ithaca