Homer The Odyssey Ulysses James Joyce Stephen Dedalus

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Telemachus

I am now writing a book based on the wanderings of Ulysses. ‘The Odyssey,’ that is to say, serves me as a ground plan. Only my time is recent and all my hero’s wanderings take no more than 18 hours. – James Joyce, 1918

For a discussion of this topic, check out our podcast episode here.

Welcome to the first post in an occasional series in which I read The Odyssey, break down the references in each of Ulysses’ eighteen episodes and pull out the ancient Greek parallels. Ulysses has its basis in Homer’s ancient Greek epic, so exploring the journeys of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus side by side seems like an obvious route. However, a word of caution: while The Odyssey is present in the text of Ulysses, knowing and understanding the Homeric parallels in Ulysses will only take you so far and will sometimes present you with “false friends” – apparent parallels where there are none. It’s kind of like the Spanish word embarazada. It looks a lot like a familiar English word, but using it to mean embarrassment might lead to… well, embarrassment.

Telemachus_and_Mentor1
Telemachus and Mentor, Pablo E. Fabisch, 1699

Just so we’re clear on terms – “Homeric parallels” are the ways in which Ulysses is modeled on Homer’s Odyssey. “Ulysses” is the Latin name for the main character (Odysseus in Greek) after allIf you’ve used a reading guide or annotation to Ulysses, you’ve likely noticed that each episode in the novel is given a title corresponding to The Odyssey. The first chapter about Stephen and the boys in the tower is called “Telemachus,” for instance. Although these designations are common coin amongst Ulysses enthusiasts, they never appeared in any published edition of the book. They were popularized by Stuart Gilbert after they appeared in his 1930 book Ulysses – A Study.  Joyce provided Gilbert with a schema outlining his novel as well as prominent themes and parallels in each episode. If you use an annotation that lists the corresponding organ, color, art etc. for each chapter, these also have their roots in Joyce’s schemata.

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Irish grandmother

The Women of Ulysses: Mother Grogan and the Milk Woman

To hear a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.

Part of an occasional series on the women of Ulysses.

Mother Grogan pops up a couple times throughout Ulysses. She is a reference to an anonymous folk song called Ned Grogan. I couldn’t find a recording of it, so I suppose it’s fallen out of popularity, but if you’re curious about the lyrics, you can find them here

Buck Mulligan invokes her during breakfast in the Martello tower in Telemachus:

—When I makes tea I makes tea, as old mother Grogan said. And when I makes water I makes water.

In Harry Blamires’ Bloomsday Book, he says that this line establishes a connection between making tea and urinating, which is a symbol of fertility and creativity.

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joyce ulysses haines black panther

Who Was the Real Haines?

God, isn’t he dreadful? he said frankly. A ponderous Saxon. He thinks you’re not a gentleman. God, these bloody English! Bursting with money and indigestion. Because he comes from Oxford. You know, Dedalus, you have the real Oxford manner. He can’t make you out.”

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.


*A note about terminology: The native language of Ireland is referred to in this post as both “Gaelic” and “Irish.” I only use Gaelic in quotes or names. The language is referred to as Irish by those who speak it.


Many of the characters that populate the Dublin of Ulysses were based on people that Joyce knew, although sometimes briefly. One such character is simply known as Haines – the over-eager Oxford student who irritates Stephen Dedalus with his delighted passion for Irish culture. Haines was a real person – a friend of Oliver St. John Gogarty’s (a.k.a. Buck Mulligan) from Oxford called Dermot Chenevix Trench. I became determined to learn more about Trench upon discovering that he has no Wikipedia page. Who was he? Why did Joyce include him in Ulysses? Was he really as dorky as the fictional Haines?

In the text of Ulysses, Haines appears only a few times, most notably in “Telemachus,” where we learn he has been keeping Stephen awake at night with his night terrors of a black panther. He speaks Irish to the milk woman and seems very keen to learn about Irish customs and culture generally, much to the amusement of Mulligan. Later, in “Scylla and Charybdis,” we learn he was supposed to join the other young men in the National Library, but he has scampered off to buy a book called Love Songs of Connacht. He just couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. He appears finally in the “Circe” episode, assisting Mulligan in performing a Black Mass. He’s characterized as an innocuous source of curiosity for Stephen’s friends but is mostly just a background character.

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