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Studies on Joyce’s Ulysses

Jacqueline Genet
Wynne Hellegouarc’h

A clash of Titans Joyce, Homer and the idea of epic

David Norris

Texte intégral

1When I was invited earlier this summer to Greece to deliver a lecture on some aspect of Irish literature that would touch European culture, it was initially suggested that I should take as my subject the poet W.B. Yeats. However I am by profession a Joycean and it struck me immediately that the most appropriate subject would be the work of that great Dubliner and its relation to the literature of classical Greece. This conviction was reinforced when I discovered that the location of the conference on the beautiful island of Karpathos was the site of the mythical clash of the Titans. What more propitious omen for a paper dealing with a modern artist who with Promethean daring challenged the might of one of the literary gods of classical Greece by rewriting his most famous poem in modern guise. It is to Greece that we look for the origins of the city state, of much of the literature and of the philosophical and ethical systems that have guided Europeans these past several thousand years. In particular in the field of literature the creative mind has been consistently drawn to the artistry of that great myth maker and poet Homer and his genius in celebrating the spirit of man through epic.

2Joyce was born in 1882 a citizen of what was then the second city of the British empire – almost indeed a city state itself with a sense of its own pride and personality. The tradition in which he was steeped was not alone that of Aquinas but also as he himself was to point out of Plato and Aristotle. Ireland is an island, its literature and legend enriched with tales of wandering and seafaring from even before the time of St. Brendan the Navigator, and so a parallel with the wandering of the legendary heroes of the isles of Greece also most inevitably suggested itself. Moreover the relationship between Greece, an empire of the mind, and the more pragmatic imperialism of the neighbouring Romans, suggestive of the conflict between the imaginative and the administrative, finds also its reflection in the relationship between the Irish and the English.

3Growing to maturity during the first painful birth pangs of the new nation and setting his character Stephen Dedalus upon the mammoth mission of forging in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race, it is not surprising that Joyce should have been attracted to the idea of epic. Indeed although I intend to concentrate on the novel Ulysses and its relation to Homeric epic one should bear in mind that Joyce’s creative attention was attracted towards this form even in his earliest writings. In Dubliners for example there are some surviving echoes of a heroic mode and it is worth while remembering that Ulysses itself was first contemplated as a story for the collection.

4Remnants of an abandoned classical framework can occasionally be discerned in the book although I believe that the classical parallel has been extraordinarily over emphasised by the American critics Shattuck and Levin in their 1944 article “First Flight to Ithaca” in which they portray Dubliners as a preliminary sketch for Ulysses employing a consistent series of rather strained Homeric parallels. However, it is certainly true that the beautiful final paragraph of “The Dead”:

A few light taps upon the pane had made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamp light. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westward, softly falling onto the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorn. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

5is, as Richard Ellmann points out, probably borrowed by Joyce from a famous simile in the Twelfth Book of the Iliad:

The snow flakes fall thick and fast on a winters day. The winds are lulled and the snow falls incessant, covering the tops of the mountains, and the hills, and the planes where the lotus tree grows, and the cultivated fields, and they are falling by the inlets and shores of the foaming seas, but are silently dissolved by the waves.

6Joyce improves upon this scene later when towards the end of his life he telescopes the whole mood with exquisite neologistic imagination in a beautiful phrase from Fitmegans Wake “as flick as flowflakes”.

7Moreover in the story “Grace” there is a clear anticipation of the way in which Joyce will subsequently employ the structure of the Odyssey as a framework for Ulysses, although in the short story the principal effect is the comparatively simple one of ironic reduction. In “Grace” we follow an incident in the life of Mr. Thomas Kernan, a Dublin tea taster, and its repercussions in his wider social circle. There is a clear tripartite division. The first section deals with a mishap in the lavatory of a public house when the inebriated tea taster falls down the steps of the lavatory, bites off part of his tongue and is removed semiconscious as a result of the good offices of a friendly passer-by. The second stage deals with his uncomfortable convalescence during which he is at the mercy of a scolding wife and well meaning friends who persuade him in the third and final development of the story to attend a retreat for businessmen in the Jesuit church in Gardiner Street in Dublin.

8Mr. Kernan’s unsteady feet prove the truth of the aphorism facile est descensus Averni and we become doubly aware of this ironic dimension when we discover that the entire story is modelled upon the movement and structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy – the fall into the ooze and slime of a public house lavatory representing the descent to hell of the inferno, the period of miserable recuperation representing the purgatorio and the final acceptance in the nave of the Jesuit church into the glorious company of down at heel businessmen, pawnbrokers and corrupt politicians in whose ears echo the smoothly pharisaical platitudes of a simoniacal priest an ironic paradiso.

9We approach closer to a situation where the action of a fiction is controlled by the structural resonance of a set of classical parallels in Joyce’s next book A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This is made clear even before the action of the novel starts, in the epigraph which precedes the title page –

Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes – he set his mind to the seeking out of hidden wisdom.

10This line from Ovid’s Metamorphoses is often ignored by students particularly since nowadays they frequently lack any smattering of a classical education, but it is in fact an important clue in the unravelling of the novel’s web. It refers to the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus, a mythical narrative that is even yet part of the European cultural subconscious. From the very first page until the very last page the image of the inventor Daedalus is present; Daedalus the artist whose human ingenuity allows him to defy the fate imposed upon him by his supernatural overlords escaping from the cruel maze of his own invention on man-made wings accompanied by his son Icarus whose vaunting triumph in the new-found exercise of flight leads to catastrophe as, soaring too close to the heat of the sun, waxen wings melt and the youth plummets to destruction in the sea.

11Joyce’s novel deals with the growth toward independent consciousness of the mind of a young boy in Ireland who aspires to be an artist. With an iron nerve the young James Joyce named his protagonist Stephen Dedalus. It is a tribute to the power of Joyce’s imaginative genius and his capacity to force the willing suspension of the readers disbelief that no one in the almost eighty years since the first publication of the novel has seen fit to cavil at his curious conjunction of names combining as it does the first martyr of the Christian church with the legendary death of the world’s first test pilot. Something of the complex trellis of symbolic resonances that sustains the frequently realist – or naturalist – appearing surface of the novel may be gathered from the fact that during the course of the first page or so of the book the figures not alone of Dedalus, Icarus and St. Stephen protomartyr are evoked but also those of Prometheus and Satan in his guise as Lucifer the fallen light-bearer.

12Indeed the image of Icarian fall is one of the most frequently recurring motifs of the novel. The action proceeds in a kind of halting dialectic. Stephen appears to make some advance morally, spiritually, intellectually or artistically but this is speedily undercut by a subsequent ironic intervention in a manner which is reminiscent of the sickening fall of the son of Daedalus. Frequently this trope is accomplished by the employment of a species of sympathetic form where the language itself seems to rise in ecstasy from earth bound prose to the delirium of a prophetic chant only to be dashed back to earth by the harsh realities of the prosaic life. A representative example occurs towards the end of chapter four where Stephen’s imagination inflamed by the thought of his strange name and its association literally takes off into the aether only to be grounded by the rough voices of his bathing companions –

Now, as never before, his strange name seemed to him a prophecy, so timeless seemed the grey warm air, so fluid and impersonal his own mood, that all ages were as one to him. A moment before the ghost of the ancient kingdom of the Danes had looked forth through the vesture of the haze wrapped city. Now, as the name of the fabulous artificer, he seemed to hear the noise of dim waves and to see a winged form flying above the waves and slowly climbing the air. What did it mean? Was it a quaint device opening a page of some medieval book of prophecies and symbols, a hawk like man flying sunward above the sea, a prophecy of the end he had been born to serve and had been following through the mists of childhood and boyhood, a symbol of the artist forging anew in his workshop out of the sluggish matter of the earth a new soaring impalpable imperishable being?

His heart trembled; his breath came faster and wild spirit passed over his limbs as though he were soaring sunward. His heart trembled in an ecstasy of fear and his soul was in flight. His soul was soaring in an air beyond the world and the body he knew was purified in a breath and delivered of incertitude and made radiant and commingled with the element of the spirit. An ecstasy of fright made radiant his eyes and wild his breath and tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept limbs.

- one! two! ... look out!
- oh, cripes, I am drownded!

13The novel of course ends on the splendid bombast

Welcome, oh life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Twenty-seventh April: Old father, old articifer, stand me now and ever in good stead.

14Splendid rhetoric sufficient to set the hairs on the back of an adolescent neck a-tingle and to suggest that the ever present image of a maze in the text with its elusive and misleading twists turns and blind ends has at last been successfully circumvented. But those of us whose minds have wandered far in the realms of literature, sought and found strange wisdoms in this and other texts will have caught another note, the note of irony, will have noticed the ambiguity of the word forge, will have spotted Stephen’s mother packing his new second hand clothes in the background in order to allow him the luxury of the heroic demonic gesture of shaking the dust of Dublin from his artistically cloven hoof before springing towards that freedom that is always over the horizon, and will hold the book open for a few last minutes after the encounter with the final full stop in anticipation of the sound of a distant splash. Nor are we disappointed. But in order to achieve that slightly sadistic satisfaction we must a close A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and reach for the opening pages of Joyce’s great epic Ulysses.

15In Ulysses James Joyce who had been described by the novelist George Moore as “a nothing, a nobody from the Dublin docks with no background, no breeding and no education” and dismissed by the great classical scholar and Provost of Trinity College Dublin Sir John Pentland Mahaffy as “an ill bird that fouls its own nest” and “a living argument in defence of my contention that it was a mistake to establish a separate university for the aborigines of the island” neatly bypassed the academic establishment whom he regarded as irrelevant to his purpose and took on the principal, Homer himself. Joyce had since a child been fascinated by the story of the Odyssey which he encountered as a boy in a children’s book first published in 1808 Tales of Ulysses by the essayist Charles Lamb known also as Elia. Indeed even after the completion of Ulysses, Joyce was still recommending this small book to friends and commentators as a helpful key to the understanding of his novel.

16Writing to the Italian critic Carlo Linati on the 21st of September 1920 in a letter which also included a detailed scheme of the structure of Ulysses Joyce wrote as follows:

It is an epic of two races (Israelite / Irish) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life). The character of Ulysses always fascinated me – even when a boy. Imagine fifteen years ago I started writing it as a short story for Dubliners! For seven years I have been working at this book – blast it! I is also a sort of encyclopaedia. My intention is to transpose the myth sub specie temporis nostri. Each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole) should not only condition but even create its own technique. Each adventure is so to say one person although it is composed of persons – as Aquinas relates of the angelic hosts. No English printer wanted to print a word of it. In America the review was suppressed four times. Now, as I hear, a great movement is being prepared against the publication, initiated by puritans, English imperialists, Irish republicans, Catholics – what an alliance! Gosh, I ought to be given the Nobel Prize for peace.

17It is interesting to note that Joyce here makes plain that what he is attempting is epic and also that his source goes back to childhood reading of Lamb rather than to any direct acquaintance with the original of Homer’s poem although he was, it is clear, interested in the theories of Victor Berard and others concerning the geographical location and possible Semitic origin of the Ulysses legend. It is a curious side light on Joyce’s attitude towards the Homeric substructure that he appears to have altered his attitude towards its significance after the initial reception of the book in the 1920’s, in much the same way that he said he thought he could no longer take any interest in music after writing the Sirens episode of the novel because he had exhausted the possibilities of music. This may of course to a certain extent have been conversational attitudinising during a period in which his interest had transferred to the creation of Finnegans Wake. But it is curious to note the episode retailed by Ellmann in his biography of Joyce which recalls a conversation between the novelist and Vladimir Nabokov in 1937:

Joyce said something disparaging about the use of mythology in modern literature. Nabokov replied in amazement, “but you employed Homer!” “A whim,” was Joyce’s comment, “but you collaborated with Gilbert,” Nabokov persisted. “A terrible mistake,” said Joyce, “an advertisement for the book. I regret it very much.”

18Perhaps the reason for this late blossoming diffidence on Joyce’s part was because he felt uncomfortable about the increasingly sensational claims being made on his behalf by acolytes about his command of a myriad of languages. Frank Budgen in an appendix to the second edition of his book James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses entitled Further Recollections of James Joyce makes the following comment:

Joyce associated a good deal with such Greeks as were available in war time Zurich, for he thought they all had a streak of Ulysses in them. Although he knew some Greek he was not a Greek scholar by high academic standards. By chance one day I stumbled on the fact that this was a sore point with him. I told him that I left school and went to work in my thirteenth year, but that the only thing that I regretted about my lack of schooling was that I was never able to learn Greek. He thereupon regretted his insufficient knowledge of that language but, as if to underline the difference in our two cases (or so I interpreted it) he said with sudden vehemence: “but just think: isn’t that a world I am peculiarly fitted to enter?” As a work of reference for his Ulysses he used the Butcher-Lang translation of the Odyssey.

19Similarly although Joyce indicates in the Linati Schema of 1920 the titles of the various episodes of Ulysses that give the most immediate clue to their Homeric correspondence he specifically omits these from the published work. In other words they nowhere appear as chapter titles in the printed version of the novel. It is I think clear that by omitting these titles Joyce was seeking to avoid the displacement of critical attention from his creation onto its epic original and a concentration on measuring the discrepancies between the two works instead of assessing Ulysses as a work of art in its own right.

20Joyce undoubtedly also wished to have the freedom to vary the emphases of his tale as distinct from the original. In doing so Joyce was also following in the gentle footsteps of Charles Lamb who, as the editor of the most recent 1977 Garland reprinting of the tales of Ulysses, Professor David Greene, says

infuses the character of Ulysses with a modern sensibility. By making explicit what is only implicit in the Odyssey, Lamb makes Ulysses feel his situation most strongly.

21There is also another curious and amusing parallel with Joyce in that strangely the normally inoffensive and almost pusillanimous Lamb, anticipating Joyce’s difficulty by over 100 years, got himself into trouble with his publisher who objected to indecorous descriptions of the giant’s vomit and asked him also to tone down a number of particularly bloodthirsty passages. In a letter to William Godwin of March 11th 1808 Lamb wrote:

The giants vomit is perfectly nauseous, and I am glad that you pointed it out.

22However, he refused to give in to Godwin’s other demand saying with a remarkable Joycean flourish:

If you want a book which is not occasionally to shock, you should not have thought of a tale which was so full of anthropophagi and wonders. I cannot alter these things without enervating the book, and I will not alter them if the penalty should be that you and all the London book sellers shall refuse it.

23The similarity with Joyce’s correspondence about Dubliners with the publisher Grant Richards in which he uses virtually identical phraseology is remarkable.

24Whatever about its mildly bizarre origins, Joyce’s clear desire was to re-enter Ireland in the stakes of the European epic, a thing not contemplated since the heroic cycle of the Fiannaiocht, and in so doing felt at least as much at liberty as Charles Lamb in dealing with his source material. Joyce’s Ulysses consist of eighteen episodes divided three, twelve, three. The first three the Telemachiad deal with the initial situation of dispossession and the anguish of Odysseus’ son Telemachus, the central twelve deal with the actual adventures of Odysseus, while the final triad complete the novel with the Nostos or return home.

25Joyce has selected his eighteen episodes from the Homeric original with regard for his own artistic requirements. Indeed several of the episodes do not occur as episodes at all in the original but are expanded by Joyce out of glancing references in Homer. For example, in the Telemachiad, the Proteus section is expanded from a piece of indirect narration in which in Homer Telemachus is told by Menelaus of his encounter with the ever changing god of the sea Proteus, and how despite the ever shifting nature of this god of the sea he eventually managed to pin him down and extract news of the wandering Odysseus. Similarly the Wandering Rocks episode which Joyce places at the centre of his novel as an entr’acte does not occur in Homer at all. The heroes are warned against this particular marine hazard by the enchantress Circe and so they choose another way home encountering instead the equally ferocious Scylla and Charybdis. And thus the wandering rocks are present by absence, an appropriate Joycean phenomenon. (Joyce as an undergraduate argued that absence was the highest form of presence).

26In addition to these kinds of changes certain episodes are displaced in order to fit in with the realities of Dublin life of the 1904 period. For example the visit to the underworld which takes place late in the Homeric cycle is introduced as a morning episode early on in Ulysses as a tribute to the actuality of funerary practice in the Dublin of the period. The tendency of all this is to demonstrate Joyce’s positive desire to create a new epic form, and I shall argue that this is related as closely to developments in the 18th Century English novel as it is to Homer’s Odyssey.

27That Joyce was interested in the creation of epic is evidenced not only by the concealed structure of the work but also by a series of references that rise to the surface in the novel drawing the reader’s attention to the author’s ambition. The words of the librarian Best in the Scylla and Charybdis (library) episode refer – “our national epic was yet to be written, Dr. Sigerson says. Moore is the man for it. A knight of the Rueful countenance here in Dublin. With a saffron kilt? O’Neill Russell? Oh, yes, he must speak the grand old tongue. And his Dulcinea? James Stephens is doing some clever sketches. We are becoming important, it seems.”

28In choosing the wily Ulysses as his hero Joyce shows himself attracted to the qualities of intellectual agility, prudence and skill as a negotiatior rather than the brute physical prowess associated in the popular mind with the heroes and demi-gods of antiquity. The presentation of the figure of Ulysses – Bloom also represents a maturing by Joyce both in technical accomplishment and psychological insight. One can view Joyce’s complete oeuvre as a continuously expanding and developing entity. Dubliners for example is akin to a series of medallioned and Sepia-toned Vignettes, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man broadens the presentation by Chiaroscuro and the development of psychological depth in the representation of its central character. With Ulysses we are given for the first time three dimensions, and this relates to the way in which Joyce regarded Odysseus / Bloom. In conversation with Budgen in Zurich in 1918 while engaged on the composition of the novel, Joyce stated “I see him from all sides, and therefore he is all-round in the sense of your sculptors figure. But he is a complete man of the world – a good man. At any rate, that is what I intend he shall be.” He glossed this somewhat further and characteristically by saying to the sculptor Paul Suter that he intended Bloom to be seen not really as gut but as gutm+ tig decent. The concept of Bloom as an all-round man was clearly important to Joyce, and Budgen records how the author teased him by asking to name a complete all-round character in world literature. Balzac, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, even Shakespeare all failed to provide the necessary answer. Budgen hazarded Faust and then Hamlet. All were rejected in favour of Ulysses.

no age Faust isn’t a man. But you mentioned Hamlet. Hamlet is a humanbeing, but he is a son only, Ulysses is son to Laertes but he is father to Telemachus, husband to Penelope, lover of Calypso, companion in arms of the Greek warriors around Troy and king of Ithaca. He was subjected to many trials, but with wisdom and courage came through them all. Don’t forget that he was a war dodger who tried to evade military service by simulating madness. He might never have taken up arms and gone to Troy, but the Greek recruiting sergeant was too clever for him and, while he was ploughing the sands, placed young Telemachus in front of his plough. But once at the war the conscientious objector became a jusqu’auboutist. When the others wanted to abandon the siege he insisted on staying till Troy should fall.

29So we have James Joyce taking on an ancient epic theme, selecting for its hero a figure noted for intellectual rather than physical gifts and treating his subject almost as a sculptural model, a mode surely appropriate to the Grecian theme. The treatment of this theme by Joyce has come under the reproving scrutiny of certain classical scholars, notably my own distinguished colleague the late Professor W.B. Stanford. In his scholarly work The Ulysses Theme Professor Stanford while displaying both admiration for and understanding of Joyce chides for him for both sordidness and sacrilege. However, one must ask the question how po-faced was Homer himself? It is said that even Homer nodded and one hopes that he may also have smiled occasionally. Professor Hugh Kenner in Dublin’s Joyce in a section entitled Odyssey as Comedy makes the point that our Western European understanding of Homer depends very largely upon the quality and emphasis of translation. He opens by quoting the following sentence:

I come from wonderland, where I have good estate, and I am the son of my lord Neverstint GriefanPain; my name is Battleddwn.

30and poses the question as to whether this comes from the Cyclops episode of Ulysses. Of course it does not, it comes directly from Homer as translated by Dr. W.H.D. Rouse. Kenner makes the point that the usual practice of translators is to leave proper names in their original without making any attempt to render the vestiges of sense they contain. As he says:

Alybas, Apheidas Polypemonides, Eperitos; they sound so much more majestic, and the whimsical etymologies are (surely!) a mistake. But Dr. Rouse (in an essay appended to his Odyssey) introduces much evidence that Homer’s diction is colloquial and often ingeniously comic.

31Kenner further goes on to compare a sentence from the Odyssey in two different translations, the first from Butcher and Lang’s Odyssey runs as follows:

But the daughter of Cadmus marked him, Ino of the fair ankles and sat upon the well-bound raft and spake “hapless one, wherefore was Poseidon shaker of the earth, so wonderous wroth with thee?”

32The same sentence translated by Rouse goes:

Poor Odysseus! You’re odd I see, true to your name! Why does Poseidon earth shaker knock you about in this monstrous way?

33Both are accurate translations in their own way, but one is reminded of the scene in E.M. Forster where the pedantic The Rev. M. Eager glosses the line from Dante non fata guerra al maggta as “war not with the May” whereas the spirit is far more aptly caught by Mr. Emmerson “don’t go fighting against the Spring”. The Rouse translation brings Homer within the ambit of Joyce and comedy. Kenner continues by invoking Alexander Pope’s reference to the statement of Longinus that the Odyssey is indeed at least in part comic.

34The mention of Pope brings in the question of the immediate ancestry of Joyce’s epic. It seems to me that the Ulysses of James Joyce springs at least as much from the heart of the 18th Century English novel as from the epic of classical Greece. First of all 18th Century English culture was Augustan, obsessed by the classic, nervously encountering and measuring discrepancies between the ancient and the modern world, usually, though not always to the disadvantage of the modern. One could instance Swift’s Battle of the Books, Pope’s Rape of the Lock and Dunciad, the translations of the classics by most of the leading poets into the inappropriate metre of the heroic couplet and finally the first great comic novel in English Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. The writers of the 18th Century first of all attempted to translate epic from Latin and Greek into English but found the ungainly manners of the antique heroes fitted only awkwardly into the niceties of Augustine culture. It was like a Sumo Wrestler dressed by Balmain. However, it is very important to note that even in the case of Pope and The Rape of the Lock the tensions and diminutions of the mock heroic operated as a two way system. Not only was the modern age found lacking in primitive virtues but the tensions established led to a reassessment of the nature of the heroic, and it is here that we are at the heart of the Joycean comic epic.

35Perhaps the most important influence on Joyce, a man also heavily influenced by the classics, was Henry Fielding. Fielding in the introduction of Joseph Andrews gives us a description of the new form of writing upon which he is embarking. He describes it as “a comic epic poem in prose”. What better description could there be for James Joyce’s Ulysses.

36I believe in fact that the influence of Fielding on Joyce is quite direct. Joseph Andrews is a picaresque novel. It concerns the adventures of a young footman, “Joseph Andrews”, virtuous and beautiful who fends off the amorous advances of a group of women protesting his principle, chastity — a reversal of the usual situation upon which no doubt Mr. Leopold Bloom the new womanly man might have some sympathetic comment. In his flight from the wicked city back to pastoral innocence Joseph is attacked, robbed, stripped, beaten and left for dead. A coach full of stock characters passes by and detecting something untoward stops to investigate the situation. The postilion is sent to poke around in the ditch and disclosing the naked and bruised figure of Joseph is met by a shriek of disdain from a lady of refined sensibility in the coach who squeaks “Oh Jesus a naked man, dear coachman drive on and leave him”. Here it is clear that Fielding is using the Christian value system as an unspoken negative analogue operating behind the text. The Christian heritage of his readership would immediately bring into play the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Cyclops episode of Ulysses Joyce, in an episode very clearly and directly modelled upon the details of Homer’s account of the encounter between Odysseus and Polyphemus, uses the Christian myth in a very similar fashion.

But begob I was just lowering the heel of the pint when I saw the citizen getting up to waddle to the door, puffing and blowing with the dropsy and he cursing the curse of Cromwell on hi, bell, book and candle in Irish, pitting and spatting out of him and Joe and little Alf round him like a leprechaun trying to peacify him.
- Let me alone, says he.
And begob he got as far as the door and they holding him and he bawls out of him:
- Three cheers for Israel!

Arrah, sit down on the parliamentary side of your arse for Christ’ sake and don’t be making a public exhibition of yourself. Jesus, there’s always some bloody clown or other kicking up a bloody murder about bloody nothing. Gob, it’d turn the porter sour in your guts, so it would.

And all the ragamuffins and sluts of the nation round the door and Martin telling the jarvey to drive ahead and the citizen bawling and Alf and Joe at him to whist and he on his high horse about the jews and the loafers calling for a speech and Jack Power trying to get him to sit down on the car and hold his bloody jaw and a loafer with a patch over his eye starts singing “If the man in the moon was a jew, jew, jew” and a slut shouts out of her:

- Eh, mister! your fly is open, mister!
And says he:
- Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God.
- he had no father, says Martin. That’ll do now. Drive ahead.
- Whose God? says the citizen.
- Well, his uncle was a jew, says he. Your God was a jew.
Christ was a jew like me.
Gob, the citizen made a plunge back into the shop.
- By Jesus, says he, I’ll brain that bloody jewman for using the holy name. By Jesus, I’ll crucify him so I will.
Give us that biscuitbox here.

Your never saw the like of it in all your born puff. Gob, if he got that lottery ticket on the side of his poll he’d remember the gold cup, he would so, but begob the citizen would have been lagged for assault and battery and Joe for aiding and abetting. The Jarvey saved his life by furious driving as sure as God made Moses. What? O, Jesus, he did. And he let a volley of oaths after him.
- Did I kill him, says he, or what?
And he shouting to the bloody dog:
- After him, Garry! After him, boy!

And the last we saw was the bloody car rounding the corner and old sheepface on it gesticulating and the bloody mongrel after it with his lugs back for all he was bloody well worth to tear him limb from limb. Hundred to five! Jesus, he took the value of it out of him, I promise you.

When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: Elijah! Elijah! And he answered with a main cry: Abba! Adonai! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe’s in Little Green Street like a shot off a shovel.

37I would like to conclude by adumbrating some of the qualities that I believe bind Joyce in his modified epic to its classic original. There is the subject matter as already disclosed — the following of incident from the great original. There is also Joyce’s use largely for comic effect of epic simile, epithet and heroic listing (see for example the Cyclops episode once more). As important as any of these elements is the closeness of both Joyce and Homer to sound and to an aural culture. Homer unquestionably used traditional materials and descriptions just as Joyce mines and rifles the folklore jokes and sayings of his native Dublin. But most importantly, sound is the most significant clue to an understanding of Joyce by his audience. Two examples will suffice: the Proteus episode already mentioned is perhaps most intellectually complex of all the episodes of Ulysses. In it Joyce rifles the whole history of academic scholastic philosophical thought in Europe reaching back to Plato, Aristotle and Bishop Berkeley. He seeks their help in addressing one of the most difficult problems to confront the artist, the question of how to give form and permanence through art to human experience which is essentially a flux. In the middle of all this disembodied cerebration the ordinary reader is allowed a handle on the mystery. A curious sentence occurs:

Listen: a fourworded wavespeech: seesoo, hrss, rsseeis, ooos.

38What is happening here is not a cabbalistic conjuring or numerology gone mad; it is in fact the accomplishment of the protean miracle by the young Stephen Dedalus who is noting down on a fragment of paper the exact sound of a wave as it crashes upon the shoreline of Sandymount Strand and retracts its foam once more through the shingle.

39The second example addresses the question raised by Professor Stanford of Joyce’s sordid sacrilege in the Naustcaa episode of Ulysses. Loosely based upon the Homeric episode Joyce has Ulysses / Bloom half concealed behind a rock and admiring the deliberately exposed undies of Gerty McDowell perform an act of ritual adulation personalised as masturbation. We switch in an ironic antiphon between Gerty’s rock and the Star of the Sea Church while Bloom’s erection and detumescence is portrayed as a firework display:

The summer evening had begun to fold the world in its mysterious embrace. Far away in the west the sun was setting and the last glow of all too fleeting day lingered lovingly on sea and strand, on the proud promontary of dear old Howth guarding as ever the waters of the bay, on the weedgrown rocks along Sandymount shore and, last but not least, on the quiet church whence there streamed forth at time upon the stillness the voice of prayer to her who is in her pure radiance a beacon ever to be storm-tossed heart of man, Mary, star of the sea.


Queen of angels, queen of patriarchs, queen of prophets, of all saints, they prayed, queen of the most holy rosary and then Father Conroy handed the thurible to Canon O’Hanlon and he put in the incense and censed the Blessed Sacrament and Cissy Caffrey caught the two twins and she was itching to give them a ringing good clip on the ear but she didn’t because she thought he might be watching but she never made a bigger mistake in all her life because Gerty could see without looking that he never took his eyes off of her and then Canon O’Hanlon handed the thurible back to Father Conroy and knelt down looking up at the Blessed Sacrament and the choir began to sing Tantum ergo and she just swung her foot in and out in time as the music rose and fell to the Tantumer gosa cramen tum. Three and eleven she paid for those stockings in Sparrow’s of George’s street on the Tuesday, no the Monday before Easter and there wasn’t a brack on them and that was what he was looking at, transparent, and not at her insignifiant ones that had neither shape nor form (the cheek of her!) because he had eyes in his head to see the difference for himself.

Cissy came up along the strand with the two twins and their ball with her hat anyhow on her to one side after her run and she did look a streel tugging the two kids along with the flimsy blouse she bought only a fortnight before like a rag on her back and bit of her petticoat hanging like a caricature. Gerry just took off her hat for a moment to settle her hair and a prettier, a daintier head of nutbrown tresses was never seen on a girl’s shoulders, a radiant little vision, in sooth, almost maddening in its sweetness. You would have to travel many a long mile before you found a head of hair the like of that. She could almost see the swift answering flush of admiration in his eyes that set her tingling in every nerve. She put on her hat so that she could see from underneath the brim and swung her buckled shoe faster for her breath caught as she caught the expression in his eyes. He was eyeing her as a snake eyes its prey. Her woman’s instinct told her that she had raised the devil in him and at the thought a burning scarlet swept from throat to brow till the lovely colour of her face became a glorious rose.

And Jacky Caffrey shouted to look, there was another and she leaned back and the garters were blue to match on account of the transparent and they all saw it and shouted to look, look there it was and she leaned back ever so far to see the fireworks and something queer was flying about through the air, a soft thing to and fro, dark. And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a diving an entrancing blush from straining back ....

She would fain have cried to him chokingly, held out her snowy slender arms to him to come, to feel his lips laid on her white brow the cry of a young girl’s love, a little strangled cry, wrung from her, that cry that has rung through the ages. And then a rocket sprang and bang short blind and O! then the roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, o so lively! o so soft, sweet, soft!

40Anybody who can find sordidness, blasphemy or obscenity in these lines rather than compassion and humanity and supreme artistic skill seems to me themselves disordered. Or perhaps it is that my own poor old hormones are too jaded to be set a-twitter by such material nowadays. In any case it seems to me what Joyce is doing here is nobly in harmony with the spirit of the Odyssey as translated by Professor Rouse.

41In conclusion let me return to my title “Clash of the Titans” and let me proclaim as presumptuous referee this clash to have been a draw. Joyce accepts the subject matter of Homer’s great epic, renews its technique with extraordinary virtuosity as did also the great modern Greek writer Nicos Kazantzakis in his Odyssey and deepens in so doing our fundamental understanding of the human spirit. Homeric epic was a literature of comrades and it is therefore appropriate to leave the last word to Joyce’s comrade the French critic Louis Gillet:

Irish literature is the literature of an island of navigators: the world it made a present of a big theme, the theme of Quest, voyage discovery, Adventure. It was the Quest of the Holy Grail, the voyage of St. Patrick, of St. Brendan which was no other (from centuries before Columbus) than a route to the new world; later with Dean Swift, it was Gullivers Travels. I have told of Joyce’s existence and wandering life. It was natural that life should appear to him as an odyssey. An extraordinary odyssey which never left the circle of Dublin’s streets; the poet’s whole story is but that of a single book, a single dream. While the exile wandered from town to town, on the shores of the Tiber on the Adriatic, on the Quays of the Seine, on the banks of a Swiss lake, he was — like Ulysses — a dreamer in search of Ithaca, and living only in his fatherland.


Trinity College, Dublin

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 1991

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