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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Decoding Dedalus: God Becomes Featherbed Mountain

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 line 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 line that begins “God becomes…” and ends “…featherbed mountain.”

God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain. 

This sentence is a riddle for us, Stephen’s phantom students.

Early in “Proteus,” Stephen thinks, “Signature of all things I am here to read,” and as the episode closes, Stephen is still deciphering these signatures. All of the items in this list are, at least theoretically, signs that might appear to Stephen on the seashore. The question is, can we (or Stephen) interpret these signs? This sentence shows a progression of concepts shifting and metamorphosing into one another, staying true to the slippery, protean nature of the shore. Where does the land end and the sea begin? It’s all a matter of perspective depending on ever-changing and overlapping forms – the sand, the water, the tides that join them, all existing on a continuum, nacheinander and nebeneinander. 

How does God transform into a featherbed mountain, anyway?

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James Joyce Ulysses women Mr Deasy Nestor

Ep. 24 – A Shout in the Street

204px-Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Helen_of_Troy
Helen of Troy, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863

Blooms and Barnacles’ series on Mr. Deasy and “Nestor” comes to a close with a discussion of the old headmaster’s biased views of women’s negative impact on history. The relative culpability of four woman accused of causing history’s great evils is explored, along with what exactly Stephen means when he refers to God as a “shout in the street.”

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Ulysses, Proteus, Leopold Bloom, James Joyce

Decoding Dedalus: Haroun al-Raschid

That’s all in the Protean character…. Everything changes: land, water, dog, time of day. Parts of speech change, too. Adverb becomes verb. – James Joyce

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 pages 47 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “After he woke me…” and ends “You will see who.” 

As Stephen sits watching Tatters the dog cavort across the sands of Sandymount Strand near the end of “Proteus,” his mind jumps from pards and panthers to the English student Haines. Stephen was awoken in the middle of the night due to Haines’ screaming about a nightmare of a black panther, and now he recalls  an interesting dream of his own. We’ve already discussed Stephen’s own nightmare of his mother’s angry shade, but Stephen’s second dream focuses on his future rather than his past. In the past, we’ve explored Stephen’s relationship with the Akasic record, which allows him access to the memories of all humankind. The Akasic record, however, can also show the future. Craig Carver explains:

In sleep this spectacle is often spontaneously perceived by the self freed of the domination of external impressions.

Meaning, one can experience a freer form of perception, detached from all those ineluctable modalities in a dream state. Suddenly, those modalities become… eluctable I guess?

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Maud Gonne, James Joyce, Ulysses

Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne, beautiful woman, La Patrie, M. Millevoye, Felix Faure, know how he died?

Maud Gonne’s name appears in Ulysses’ third episode, Proteus,  as Stephen rummages through his recollections of his brief sojourn in Paris. Though Gonne did reside in Paris in the early 1900’s, she never met James Joyce (or Stephen Dedalus), but their non-meeting had long lasting effects on James Joyce, though he may have never realized it.

The life of Maud Gonne is often told in close proximity to the men she knew, and since my blog is about James Joyce, her story will be framed by its brief overlap with Joyce’s. However, before we dive into that, I’d like to give space to her biography, warts and all.

Joyce and Maud Gonne never met, though Yeats provided her contact information to Joyce before he left for Paris in 1902. She was living in the city at the time and could be a helpful contact there. Joyce called on her, but was turned away by the concierge. Gonne was nursing her niece who was sick with diphtheria and was under a quarantine as a result. She wrote him a gracious apology letter and offered to meet him post-quarantine. Joyce, ever prickly, took this as a slight and never followed up, though it may have been due to embarrassment about his shabby appearance due to the extreme poverty he experienced during those months. It seems like an episode barely worth mentioning, but as we’ll see, it may have had some long-term consequences.

So, who exactly was Maud Gonne and why are we talking about her?

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St. Ursula, Buck Mulligan, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ulysses CCD: St. Ursula

—I pinched it out of the skivvy’s room, Buck Mulligan said. It does her all right. The aunt always keeps plainlooking servants for Malachi. Lead him not into temptation. And her name is Ursula.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.


Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan discuss, as Stephen puts it, a symbol of Irish art – the cracked looking glass of a servant, a literal looking glass that Mulligan stole from a literal servant. “Skivvy” means a menial laborer or a servant. Mulligan laments that his aunt only keeps unattractive servants to keep her nephew out of trouble. “Lead him not into temptation” is a play on a line from the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s her name, Ursula, that we’ll focus on today. There’s no wrong time to learn about the religious allusions found in a Buck Mulligan insult.

Naming the servant “Ursula” connects her to a saint with a distaste for the less fair sex and an interesting legend attached to her. “Ursula” is  Latin for “little female bear” and she is the patron saint of archery, England, and the cities of Cologne, Germany and Binangonan, Philippines. Her feast day was on the 21st of October until it was removed from the liturgical calendar in the late 1960’s. St. Ursula lived in the 3rd or 4th century and, based on several biographies I read, is either a valiant warrior for women’s rights or a total fabrication.

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James Joyce Ulysses women Mr Deasy Nestor

The Women of Ulysses: Mr. Deasy’s Perfidious Women

Part of an occasional series on the women of Ulysses.

For all posts on Mr. Deasy, click here.

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

In “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus finds himself in a discussion with his employer, Mr. Deasy. They have reached a conversational impasse after Stephen shrugs off the manifestation of God as a mere “shout in the street.” A pregnant pause follows, and Mr. Deasy responds by condemning four traitorous women. Mr. Deasy is the first, but certainly not the last, person to point to the evils of womankind in Ulysses. As we shall see, some of these women are less culpable than the Mr. Deasies of the world would have us believe.

—I am happier than you are, he said. We have committed many errors and many sins. A woman brought sin into the world.

The woman who brought sin into the world is of course Eve, the Biblical first woman, who gave into temptation in the Garden of Eden and unleashed sin onto the world. But what of Eve? Don Gifford points out in Ulysses Annotated that the language in the book of Genesis describing Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge is less accusatory than it is often remembered: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Romans 5:12 tells us it was man who brought sin into the world: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man…” On the other hand, there’s 1 Timothy 2:14: “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not that hard to cherry pick Bible quotes to meet your agenda. There’s a different interpretation for everyone in the audience.

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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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