The EU, a new Ithaca?

Thanks to the attention it has received in literature from Homer to Cavafy, the island of Ithaca, symbol of the invincible yearning for home, has become one of the most popular and familiar metaphors. The epithet is widely used – not just by the literary community – as a readily recognizable symbol, with all the risks of excessive use that can reduce the most meaningful speech to the most inert cliche. A few weeks ago, Presas Oleguer, a Barcelona soccer player, published a book called «The Road to Ithaca» in a direct reference to Cavafy. The book was a surprise to many due to their prejudice against soccer. Few were surprised on the other hand when European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso chose to use the Ithaca metaphor, reading aloud an extract from the poem. It’s an age-old habit, as politicians and diplomats who visit a foreign country try to honor (or flatter) the host by throwing native words or symbols into their speech. How much truth is there in Barroso’s statement that «a united Europe is our Ithaca»? Because Europe has never been united but embroiled in endless strife, Ithaca cannot stand for the return to a past ideal. A «united Europe» cannot be something to yearn for but must be a case study on will and vision – one that borders on the area of wishful thinking. Renaming the European Economic Community as the European Union does not seem to have changed things, i.e. the thinking of those who have undertaken to organize Europe not just as an economic union but also as a political alliance between unequals. Cavafy may urge readers to «pray that the road is long,» but his advice is not for European leaders. They appear unwilling to «learn and learn» from their peoples who, when expressing their will in referendums, are treated like Laestrygonians or the Cyclops.