Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five

I haven’t let this young man off very lightly, have I? Many writers have written about themselves. I wonder if any one of them has been as candid as I have? – James Joyce to Frank Budgen

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

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Five fathoms…” and ends “We enjoyed ourselves immensely.”


Before we leave the shores of Sandymount at the end of “Proteus,” we should dive into one last motif just a bit deeper. We’ve previously focused on drowning in relation to the death of Stephen’s mother and as a manifestation of Stephen’s hydrophobia, but at the end of the episode, the image of a drowned man in Dublin Bay resurfaces once more. As we’ll see, Stephen fear of drowning extends beyond his memories of his mother coughing up bowls of green phlegm.

Moving his focus from the sand, stones and seaweed on Sandymount Strand, Stephen begins to contemplate the waters of Dublin Bay. He has attempted to categorize and order the scattered people, creatures and detritus of the shore through Berkeleyan idealism and the fixed language of heraldry, but the sea is still a wild place, shifting and protean. The sea contains mysteries yet untamed, the ninth wave out from land a portal to the otherworld. It is not confined to the restrictions of solid forms like those found on the shore. It is a place of possibility, and ultimately, change.

Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five”

joyce ulysses buck mulligan

Who Was the Real Buck Mulligan?

—He’s in with a lowdown crowd, Mr Dedalus snarled. That Mulligan is a contaminated bloody doubledyed ruffian by all accounts. His name stinks all over Dublin.

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

This post is a part of an occasional series on the real people behind the characters in Ulysses.


Most of the links that come up in a Google search for “Oliver St John Gogarty” are for pubs, hostels, apartments etc. instead of the man himself. At 8 a pint, The Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar allegedly serves the most expensive pint in Ireland, according the Irish Sun. However, I don’t think it is a fitting legacy for the man fictionalized by Joyce as Buck Mulligan.

Oliver St John Gogarty (pronounced like Sinjin Gogurt-y), was a notable figure in his own right – a surgeon, a poet and a politician. In Ulysses, he appears as Malachi “Buck” Mulligan – a joshing blasphemer and Stephen Dedalus’ main antagonist. Mulligan has a habit of showing up and making Stephen look foolish and injecting crass commentary into otherwise serious discussions, as in “Scylla and Charybdis” when Mulligan shows up at the National Library to add his two cents to Stephen’s Shakespeare theory. Joyce said of Mulligan, “He should begin to pull on the reader as the day goes on… to the extent that Buck Mulligan’s wit wears threadbare….” Personally, Mulligan doesn’t wear on my nerves, but he does come off as a bully and tormentor. The dynamic between Mulligan and Dedalus has its roots in Joyce’s complex, real-life relationship with Gogarty.

Continue reading “Who Was the Real Buck Mulligan?”