“[Focusing in the Homeric parallels] is decorous when the Homeric theme is narcosis, but is apt to occur whatever the Homeric theme, and years of concentration on the large-scale patterns … have fostered an expositor’s Ulysses in which characters sleepwalk through a grand design… and very little happens save the display of eighteen successive tableaux vivants.” – Hugh Kenner
Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The Odyssey: Book 9
Odysseus and his men land on an island inhabited by the Lotus Eaters, a gentle people who only consume the fruit of the lotus plant. Those who eat the lotus fruit forget about returning home, preferring instead to hang out on the lotus island and eat lotus fruit. Odysseus drags his sailors weeping back to the ship and ties them to their oars in order to escape the Lotus Eaters’ island.
While James Joyce gave the Lotus Eaters a full episode in Ulysses, Homer only gave them a short mention in Book 9 of The Odyssey, which is mainly about Odysseus’ misadventure with the Cyclops. “Lotus Eaters,” Ulysses’ fifth episode, has a bit of a reputation for being uninteresting, sort of a stop over before we get to some of the flashier episodes, the ones Joycean critics throw around phrases like “tour de force” when describing. Appreciating “Lotus Eaters,” then, is an exercise in appreciating the mundane. In this episode, our modern Odysseus, Leopold Bloom, kills some time between preparing breakfast for himself, his wife and his cat, and the funeral of his friend Paddy Dignam. He goes to the post office, attends Mass, drops in at the chemist, and has a bath. All fairly normal ordinary activities, suffused in an airy haze.