James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, metempsychosis

Met Him Pike Hoses

— O rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words. 

While Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan were sniping at each other over breakfast on June 16, Leopold and Molly Bloom were discussing the idea of metempsychosis (better known as reincarnation) over their morning tea. After toiling through “Proteus,” we’re all familiar with high-minded metaphysical ideas and obscure references sliding in and out of the text of Ulysses. “Calypso,” like the preceding episodes, is full of references a 21st century reader might miss, but in this episode, we find high-minded topics like metempsychosis embedded in pop cultural ephemera that would have been recognizable to people in 1904 but might go over our heads today. Welcome to the mind of Leopold Bloom.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Calypso

“… I found that for [Joyce] human character was best displayed – I had almost said entirely displayed – in the commonest acts of life. How a man eats his egg will give a better clue to his differentiation than how he goes forth to war… Cutting bread displays character better than cutting throats.”  – Frank Budgen

Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Odyssey: Book 5

The gods are having a council. The nymph Calypso has imprisoned Odysseus on her island, Ogygia, and Athena persuades Zeus to intervene. Hermes the messenger is sent to Calypso, delivering Zeus’ message to release Odysseus or else. Calypso wanted to make Odysseus her immortal lover, but he was not interested. While on the island, he was forced to spend nights with Calypso and then spent the days weeping on the beach. Calypso lets Odysseus go, but not before reminding him that she’s way hotter than his wife. Odysseus builds a raft and sails away. Poseidon is not impressed, though, and sends thunderstorms to destroy Odysseus and his raft. After more divine intervention, Odysseus makes it to land.


Is it just me, or is it incredibly satisfying when, after finishing those last few pages of “Proteus,” you turn the page and it says “II” in giant Roman numerals? If you’re feeling a pronounced sense of accomplishment, feel free to raise your fists aloft like Rocky. You deserve it. Maybe stop for ice cream on the way home tonight.

Angelica_Kauffmann_-_Calypso_calling_heaven_and_earth_to_witness_her_sincere_affection_to_Ulysses
Calypso calling heaven and earth to witness her sincere affection to Ulysses, Angelica Kauffmann, 18th c.

Here in “Calypso,” the fourth episode of Ulysses, we finally meet our hero, Mr. Leopold Bloom, namesake of Bloomsday and our Odysseus stand-in. Like his son Telemachus, the reader spends the first three episodes of Ulysses searching for their own lost Odysseus, and here he is! Though Joyce’s novel runs parallel to Homer’s epic, the characters and situations are not always direct correlations. Rather, they are sideways versions of Homer’s archetypes. When we meet Odysseus in The Odyssey, he is languishing on the island of Ogygia where he is held captive by the nymph Calypso. Mr. Bloom is also languishing, but more subtly. Rather than weeping on a beach, he is preparing breakfast for his household. While Odysseus’ emotions are powerful and effusive, Bloom represses and evades his frustration as best he can.

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Proteus, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Proteus

This episode contains practically no action. Nothing happens…. – Stuart Gilbert, on “Proteus”

Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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

The Odyssey: Book 4

Telemachus and co. find their way to the home of Menelaus, the jilted husband of Helen of the Troy, the “face that launched a thousand ships” and started the Trojan War. Menelaus tells Telemachus about his travails returning home from the war. He found himself becalmed on the Egyptian isle of Pharos, home to the sea god Proteus, who was upset that Menelaus had failed to honor him with proper sacrifices. Eidothea, Proteus’ daughter, reveals to Menelaus that Proteus can answer his questions, but only if he can restrain the sea god. However, Proteus is a shapeshifter, and Menelaus must restrain the god as he changes from beast to plant to water to fire. Menelaus succeeds, and Proteus tells him where to find Odysseus. Menelaus passes this information on to Telemachus. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Penelope realizes Telemachus is gone and doesn’t take it well.

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Nestor

   Mulligan will dub me a new name: the bullockbefriending bard.

Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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

The Odyssey, Book 3:

Telemachus and Mentor (Athena in disguise) find themselves in Pylos to meet Nestor, a wise king who fought with Odysseus in Troy. Unfortunately, Nestor doesn’t know what became of Odysseus on his journey home. Athena reveals herself by transforming into an osprey. Nestor is so impressed with Telemachus’ divine companionship that he sacrifices a heifer in Athena’s honor. There is much feasting upon the sacrificial heifer before Telemachus sets off to meet Menelaus, still in search of Odysseus.


Nestor’s biography is fairly exciting. He was the grandson of Poseidon and an Argonaut who fought centaurs and went to war with Odysseus and friends in Troy. When we meet him in The Odyssey, though, his salad days have gone and he is the wise old king of Pylos. His parallel in Ulysses is Mr. Deasy, who oversees his school from a dusty office stuffed with relics from the past, such as his collection of Stuart coins and seashells. Mr. Deasy’s CV is less impressive than Nestor’s (the only thing we know about him is that he is the headmaster of the school where Stephen works), but he is happy to rest on the laurels of his lofty ancestors, particularly Sir John Blackwood who died in an attempt to vote for Ireland to join the United Kingdom. This sort of parallel will arise again and again as we look at Nestor and Deasy. Mr. Deasy believes he is a vaunted wiseman like Nestor, but in truth he is all talk.

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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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