As you set out for Ithaca hope the voyage is a long one...

Travel: from the Latin viaticum, or funding for travel, which in the past was the most important thing for those who took off on a journey; it then assumed the present-day meaning of “Way”, how to get from one place to another, places that are far from each other. (Etymological dictionary)

Franca Severini

When asked where he came from, Socrates did not answer from Athens, but from the world.

A journey, traveling: who has never dreamed of leaving, of learning about new countries, new people, new customs. Travel is inherent to the very essence of Man, just as knowledge is intrinsic to the Self. The goal may be established or even undetermined, but what remains constant is the unconscious urge to explore the world, the unknown. Trips, whether they are for work, pleasure, exploration, or even exoduses caused by poverty, wars or disasters, all contain a key to the meaning of life.

Most of the time in the act of leaving, the most common question is related to where, much less to how to, almost never to the reason for our going.

The art of traveling, on the other hand, presents a series of questions that are anything but trivial and whose analysis could contribute to understanding what the Greek philosophers expressed with the word eudaimonia, or happiness.



he believed eudaimonia was directly related to inner peace as the result of rational behavior aimed at virtue.

So, if our existence aims at the pursuit of happiness, surely few things better than travel can reveal the characteristics of this endeavor.

With a leap into the contemporary age, the great American writer and playwright Cormac McCarthy in Beyond the Border defines traveling with these words:

“Ultimately every man’s path is every other’s. There are no separate journeys for there are no separate men to make them. All men are one and there is no other tale to tell. “



in nine-teenth century France, we have abundant evidenceof how journeys were for many artists and writers the meaning of life itself.

There, all is only order and beauty,

luxury, calm and sensuous pleasure.

Invitation au Voyage, Charles Baudelaire


Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821 and from early youth showed some discomfort for the “everyday”; he dreamed of traveling, going away to far off lands, to a place where the spirit would find peace.

Baudelaire considered travel fantasies a mark of distinction of the noble souls he called “poets”… souls unable to feel contentment in everyday life although aware of the limitations of other places and countries, and whose temperament swayed between hope and despair, cynicism and infantile idealism. It was the fate of poets, as in the case of Christian pilgrims, to live in a degenerate world without sacrificing the vision of an alternative, less compromised kingdom. A salient detail in the biography of the French poet: Baudelaire always felt a strong attraction for ports, railway stations, docks, trains, ships and hotel rooms, because he felt more at peace with himself in places of transit than within the walls of home.

For example, when in Paris during the times of worst oppression, the world seemed “dull and miserable”, he up and left “just to go”, he went to some port or station and there was finally free to exclaim to himself:

Take me away, O train! Carry me off, O ship!

Far! Far! Here the mud is made from our tears.

Or, the yearning for traveling is described with sarcasm, imagining the stories of travelers returning from remote places:

We saw the sand,

and waves, we also saw the stars:

despite the shocks, disasters, the unplanned,

we were often just as bored as before.

The Voyage, Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire admired not only the places of departure and arrival but also the means of locomotion and transport, especially the ocean liners of “infinite and mysterious charm that lies in the contemplation of a ship … like an animal full of genius suffering and exuding all the sorrows of human ambitions.”

Similarly, in our days, these feelings can arise from the most impressive examples of airplanes, these, too, “vast and complicated” creatures able to fly the skies despite their size.



The pleasure of the take-off is subjective and complex, but also psychological: the rapid rise of an airplane is an exemplary symbol of change; one day, who knows, we might even rise above what has always loomed over our heads.

And no one in the cabin, in the midst of all thecopious information communicated by the crew, ever announces that “we’re flying above the clouds”, anexperience that Leonardo Da Vinci, Poussin or Turner would have been ecstatic about. We see them fromup there in the aircraft as entities in constant motion, clouds flowing tranquilly: below us friends, colleagues, family, the places of our existence reduced to small scratches on the crust of the earth; and yet it is once again the French poet who captured the essence of this experience:


The Stranger

Tell me, enigmatic man, whom do you love beet? Your father, your mother, your sister, or your brother?

“I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother.”

Your friends, then?You use a word that until now has had no meaning for me.”

"Your country?

“I am ignorant of the latitude in which it is situated.”

Then Beauty?

“Her I would love willingly, goddess and immortal.”


“I hate it as you hate your God.”

What, then, extraordinary stranger, do you love?

“I love the clouds--the clouds that pass--yonder--the marvelous clouds.


As you set out for Ithaca

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.


Hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you come into harbors seen for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.


Keep Ithaca 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 Ithaca to make you rich.


Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you would not have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

 you will have understood by then what this Ithaca means.

 Konstantinos Kavafis

(Alexandria, Egypt, 29 April 1863 and Alexandria, Egypt, 1933)

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

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