Decoding Dedalus: Glorious, Pious and Immortal Memory

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on page 31 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).

Glorious, pious and immortal memory. The lodge of Diamond in Armagh the splendid behung with corpses of papishes. Hoarse, masked and armed, the planters’ covenant. The black north and true blue bible. Croppies lie down.

Having listened to Mr. Deasy’s imprecise recitation of history, Stephen Dedalus returns a silent retort. With great efficiency, Stephen rebuts the headmaster’s assertion that the orange lodges had actually supported the repeal of the Union, even before Catholic political hero Daniel O’Connell had. (You can find a discussion of Mr. Deasy’s comments here). While the old headmaster is eager to lessen the sectarian nature of Ireland’s historical strife, Stephen can’t look away.

Glorious, pious and immortal memory.

026-1-victoria-loyal-orange
A banner from an Orange Lodge in Ontario

These words are included in the opening of the Orange Toast. Though it sounds like a delicious brunch menu item, the Orange Toast is actually a proclamation recited in memory of King William III, also known as William of Orange, by the Orange Order (previously the Orange Society). A protestant fraternal organization, not unlike the freemasons, chapters of the Orange Order meet in the orange lodges cited by Mr. Deasy. Though they have rebranded in recent years, the Orange Order have historically been a strictly pro-Union, pro-monarchy and anti-Catholic organization, at times violently so. Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Glorious, Pious and Immortal Memory”

James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Deasy of West Britain

Horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon.

For all posts on Mr. Deasy, click here.

The conversation between Stephen and Mr. Deasy in ‘Nestor’ rings familiar to anyone who’s ever had to sit across from, let’s say, a conservative uncle at a holiday dinner. This chapter deftly captures the experience of listening to an elder’s bloviating nonsense, but the bloviating nonsense of an elder that you can’t tell to get stuffed. Mr. Deasy is Stephen’s boss, though Stephen calculates how he could get out from under Deasy’s thumb:

The same room and hour, the same wisdom: and I the same. Three times now. Three nooses round me here. Well? I can break them in this instant if I will.

For now, he’s stuck in this office collecting his salary. Money is what brings these two together on the morning of the 16th of June. A wealthy man like Deasy hopes to enlighten the young Artist, who is more likely to rack up debt than meticulously save:

—Because you don’t save, Mr Deasy said, pointing his finger. You don’t know yet what money is. Money is power. When you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.

Which is, of course, a quote from Iago, one of Shakespeare’s most odious villains. Stephen catches the blunder, but Mr. Deasy is not to be derailed:

Continue reading “Deasy of West Britain”

Ulysses CCD: St. Columbanus

His mother’s prostrate body the fiery Columbanus in holy zeal bestrode.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.

The line above appears on page 27 of ‘Nestor’ in the midst of Stephen’s musings on young Sargent, the student receiving the young Artist’s tutelage in algebra. It’s a random line in the midst of Stephen’s musing on amor matris – a mother’s love. Columbanus is the name of Irish saint who did exactly what this line states – stepped over the body of his own mother in order to follow a holy calling. This is a reference you could easily step over and get on your way, but let’s take a moment to learn about who this Columbanus fellow was.

St. Columbanus, pronounced like Call ‘em, Bannus, lived in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. His name is the Latinised form of Columbán, which means “white dove” in Irish (modern spelling is colm bán). There’s also an Irish saint who’s called both Columba and Colmcille, but he’s an entirely different person, so set him aside for now. St. Columbanus’ feast day is November 23, and he is patron saint of motorcycles, though they didn’t have motorcycles back in the 6th century.

Most of what we know about St. Columbanus’ life comes from an account written a few years after his death by a monk named Jonas. You can read the entirety of his account here if you’re interested. It’s certainly the most colorful of the accounts I’ve read.

Columbanus was born around 540 in the province of Leinster in the southeast of Ireland. Columbanus was a clever, handsome young man, which attracted many comely maidens and lead to worldly temptations, if you follow my drift. He met a nun around this time that told him he would continue to be lead astray by lust unless he took extreme measures. He needed to leave the place of his birth and dedicate his life and talents to holy matters, which he promptly did. His mother begged and pleaded him to stay, going so far as to lay her body in his path to prevent him leaving. Columbanus stepped over her instead and made his way into the wider world.

After spending time in a couple of Irish monasteries, Columbanus journeyed to mainland Europe, first in the Burgundy region of France and later in Bobbio, Italy. For most monks, monastic life meant staying in one monastery for their entire career, but Irish monks tended to travel abroad to spread their message. Traveling was encouraged during this era because the fall of the Roman Empire in the previous century had allowed “barbarians” (aka non-Christians) to gain ground on the continent. Young men like the handsome, charismatic Columbanus, an originator of this peripatetic practice, would bring the Faith to these godless heathens.

Though he was able to found several monasteries in Burgundy, controversy began to grow around the Irish monks’ peculiar customs. For example, the Irish monks under Columbanus’ leadership celebrated Easter on a different date than the French monks. Shocking, I know.

The real conflict arose when Columbanus butted heads with the Frankish Queen Brunhilde who was acting as regent until her son was old enough to rule. Her son Theuderic was living out of wedlock with a woman. Brunhilde allowed this arrangement because she feared a marriage would weaken her power. Columbanus was imprisoned and driven out of France. He landed on his feet, though, and was embraced by the king of Lombardy in modern-day Italy. Columbanus founded a monastery at Bobbio where he lived the remainder of his life. He wrote against the Arian controversy at this time, which is of interest to Ulysses readers since it appears elsewhere in the novel.

To bring it back to our boy Stephen, St. Columbanus leaps to mind while he contemplates that weak, willowy boys like Cyril Sargent (and Stephen Dedalus) owe their lives to the love of mother. Stephen bears an enormous guilt for refusing to pray at his mother’s deathbed because of his rejection of Catholicism, metaphorically stepping over her body, while Columbanus is venerated for physically stepping over the body of his weeping mother in order to embrace the call of Catholicism.

 

Further Reading:

Jonas the Monk’s account of St Columbanus’ life:

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/columban.asp

 

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04137a.htm

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-columbanus-716

 

https://www.catholicherald.com/Faith/Your_Faith/The_Saints/A_patron_saint_for_motorcyclists/

 

https://www.ancient.eu/Saint_Columbanus/

 

Decoding Dedalus: Dark Men of Mien and Movement

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on page 28 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).


Across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of their letters, wearing quaint caps of squares and cubes. Give hands, traverse, bow to partner: so: imps of fancy of the Moors. Gone too from the world, Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement, flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend.

These thoughts traverse Stephen’s mind as he sits to help young Sargent with his algebra. Stephen, distracted as ever, ponders the greater mysteries and histories behind something so seemingly simple as a young student’s algebra problem. However, as you’ve certainly guessed by now, nothing is ever simple in Ulysses. Oh my god, there is so much in this one, you guys.

Let’s dive in.

Across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of their letters, wearing quaint caps of squares and cubes. Give hands, traverse, bow to partner: so: imps of fancy of the Moors.

Let’s start with the word “morrice.” Usually spelled Morris dance today, this is  a traditional/ historical form of folk dance from England and Wales and, as a result, has had a lot of different spellings over the years. Morris dance does indeed involve a certain amount of mummery and the wearing of quaint caps. Some styles include blackface as part of the costume.

Stephen is slipping into a daydream as young Sargent works his algebra, watching the numbers come alive and dance across the page. It’s sort of like John Cusack in Better Off Dead, except less whimsical and less 80’s. The last line is key here. “The Moors” refer to the inhabitants of medieval Muslim Spain. While the origins of Morris dance are unknown, some believe “Morris” to have evolved from “Moorish.” The costumes of some styles of Morris dance and the unfortunate blackface seem to reflect this to me. Stephen thinks of the Moors in particular, though, because algebra was introduced to Europe by Muslim scholars.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Dark Men of Mien and Movement”

Weep No More: Lycidas in Nestor

—Tell us a story, sir. —O, do, sir. A ghoststory.
Did you ever have a teacher in school who had a tenuous-at-best grip on their lessons? They were easily distracted or maybe a little too much of a hippie. Maybe they were a substitute who wasn’t too invested in the job. Stephen Dedalus is this teacher, a learner uneasy as a teacher. Stephen’s heart is just not in this job, and it’s clear from the first lines of ‘Nestor’ that he is going through the motions on the surface. His thoughts continually intrude upon his focus as he listlessly carries out his uninspired lesson plan.  Not only does his student Armstrong know less than nothing about Pyrrhus, the rest of the boys are totally disinterested in the lesson and ready to distract their teacher. Stephen grimly realizes,“In a moment they will laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay.”
John_Milton_1
John Milton
When the history lesson doesn’t go well, Stephen leap-frogs to his own area of expertise – poetry. The little scrap of a literature lesson is a few lines recited from the John Milton poem “Lycidas.” The significance of this poem gets glossed over in some annotations, including my favorite Gifford annotation, but it’s worth pausing a moment and considering why Joyce included this poem in particular. Afterall, “’A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” We can assume Joyce chose “Lycidas” for a reason. “Lycidas” is a pastoral elegy, that is, a poem written to commemorate and lament someone’s death, but rather than being direct, the poet uses a variety of classical and natural imagery to express their true emotions. “Lycidas” is considered one of the finest examples of this style of poetry. It was written in 1637 by John Milton, who was hugely influential on Joyce, mostly through his much more famous work Paradise Lost. Milton wrote “Lycidas” (pronounced liss-id-us) to mourn the death of his friend Edward King, a Cambridge scholar who died by drowning. Though it’s a longer poem, the lines found in ‘Nestor’ are as follows:
Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead, Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor…
Continue reading “Weep No More: Lycidas in Nestor”

Pyrrhus: A Disappointed Bridge

In the Gilbert schema, the art of ‘Nestor’ is listed as history, so it is fitting that the episode opens with Stephen delivering a history lesson. The topic is Pyrrhus, an ancient Greek king mostly remembered by the phrase “Pyrrhic victory.” The basic facts of the battle are there, but let’s indulge in the art of history ourselves and expand on the details the young student Cochrane lays out in his recitation.

First, a definition: a Pyrrhic victory is a victory in which the victor incurs such heavy losses that it may as well be a loss. You can drop this phrase in conversation at fancy dinner parties to sound smarter when talking about politics or sports. I’m assuming. I don’t go to a lot of fancy dinner parties. Pyrrhus, as mentioned above, was a military leader in ancient Greece fighting against an early but ascendant Rome. Tarentum, as recalled by Cochrane, was a Greek city in the instep of the boot of the Italian peninsula. Pyrrhus’ army, which included several dozen war elephants because PETA didn’t exist back then, helped push the Romans out of Tarentum in 280 BCE.

Continue reading “Pyrrhus: A Disappointed Bridge”

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.

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.

Continue reading “Ulysses & The Odyssey: Nestor”