James Joyce, Leopold Bloom, Lotus Eaters, Ulysses

Ulysses & The Odyssey: The Lotus Eaters

“[Focusing in the Homeric parallels] is decorous when the Homeric theme is narcosis, but is apt to occur whatever the Homeric theme, and years of concentration on the large-scale patterns … have fostered an expositor’s Ulysses in which characters sleepwalk through a grand design… and very little happens save the display of eighteen successive tableaux vivants.” – Hugh Kenner

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

The Odyssey: Book 9

Odysseus and his men land on an island inhabited by the Lotus Eaters, a gentle people who only consume the fruit of the lotus plant. Those who eat the lotus fruit forget about returning home, preferring instead to hang out on the lotus island and eat lotus fruit. Odysseus drags his sailors weeping back to the ship and ties them to their oars in order to escape the Lotus Eaters’ island.


 

While James Joyce gave the Lotus Eaters a full episode in Ulysses, Homer only gave them a short mention in Book 9 of The Odyssey, which is mainly about Odysseus’ misadventure with the Cyclops. “Lotus Eaters,” Ulysses’ fifth episode, has a bit of a reputation for being uninteresting, sort of a stop over before we get to some of the flashier episodes, the ones Joycean critics throw around phrases like “tour de force” when describing. Appreciating “Lotus Eaters,” then, is an exercise in appreciating  the mundane. In this episode, our modern Odysseus, Leopold Bloom, kills some time between preparing breakfast for himself, his wife and his cat, and the funeral of his friend Paddy Dignam. He goes to the post office, attends Mass, drops in at the chemist, and has a bath. All fairly normal ordinary activities, suffused in an airy haze. 

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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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