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, Proteus

Ep. 46 – Paradise of Pretenders

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Lambert Simnel carried on the shoulders of his (barefoot) Irish supporters.

Kelly and Dermot explore Ireland’s historic connections to various pretenders to the English throne, how this connects to Stephen’s unsquashable beef against Buck Mulligan,  Solange Knowles, medieval abstrusiosities of all sorts, the mystery of the princes in the Tower, Dermot’s disdain for the Tudors, whether or not Ireland is still a “paradise of pretenders,” Stephen’s sadness and guilt, his shadow projection, his hydrophobia, his relationship to his sister Dilly, and the drowning motif of Ulysses.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, Moses, Judaism

Is Leopold Bloom Jewish?

It is odd that the creator of the most outstanding Jew in modern literature did not at that time know any of the Jewish community in Dublin. – Padraic Colum, p. 56, Our Friend James Joyce

Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. – James Joyce, in the New York Times

It is a truth universally acknowledged that James Joyce’s modernist epic Ulysses tells the story of a Jewish Dubliner named Leopold Bloom. So famously Jewish, in fact, that Mel Brooks borrowed the name for the peevish accountant in The Producers. I say this because the title of this post may seem absurd on its face. “Of course Bloom is Jewish!” you may be scoffing. Before you turn to another blog, hear me out. Is Dublin’s most famous Jew not really Jewish?

Bloom’s father Rudolph was a Hungarian Jew, so most of the Jewish references swimming around Bloom’s mind have their origins in childhood memories of him. Jewishness is matrilineal, however, and Bloom’s mother, Ellen (née Higgins) was not Jewish. There is some speculation among folks who are given to speculate about such things that Ellen’s father, Julius Higgins, was also a Hungarian Jew and therefore Leopold is ¾ Jewish, though this is not explicitly backed up in the text of Ulysses. We know little about Julius Higgins other than that he was born Karoly. While this is a common Hungarian name, it doesn’t necessarily make him Jewish.  Regardless, even if Julius had been devoutly Jewish, his status alone wouldn’t factor into whether Leopold or Ellen were Jewish as he was a father and not a mother.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus, the Viking, Dublin, history

Ep. 44- Galleys of the Lochlanns

oh-boy-sleep-thats-where-im-a-vikingKelly and Dermot set sail for the time of Vikings and jerkined dwarfs! They discuss the differences of similarly-shaped seafaring vessels, Lochlanns, Fr. Dineen’s Irish dictionary, the intersection of Viking and Celtic cultures in Ireland, torcs, tomahawk, the horrors of 14th c. Dublin, famine, plague and slaughters, the story of the time a pod of cetaceans washed ashore in medieval Dublin, the story of the time the Liffey froze over and people grilled on top of it, Stephen as a changeling, Stephen momentarily becoming displaced in time, and Stephen’s attempt to construct an Irish identity.

Steve Carey of Bloomsday in Melbourne drops by to chat about how to put on a Bloomsday theatre production in the time of Covid.

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus, Sir Lout, Stephen Dedalus

Ep. 43 – Panthersahib and Pointer

Kelly and Dermot consider, Stephen’s decision to leave the Martello Tower, his struggles as a would-be artist in the colonial landscape of Edwardian Dublin, his fear of dogs, the protean process of death and decay, what the heck a grike is, why Sir Lout talks like that, how to pronounce “gunwale,” some more meditations on death and decay, and who the two maries are.

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The Three Women on the Tomb of Christ, Irma Martin, 1843

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James Joyce, Ulysses, Proteus, Kevin Egan, Clerkenwell Prison

Ep. 42 – Under the Walls of Clerkenwell

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An artist’s rendering of the Clerkenwell Explosion, 1867.

Dermot and Kelly take on some of the history behind the tale of Irish exile Kevin Egan. This episode’s discussion covers the story of the 1867 Clerkenwell explosion, what that has to do with Kevin Egan, Egan’s relationship to his wife and son, Dermot’s relationship to Tayto crisps, Egan’s memories of Kilkenny, the Berkeleyan quality of memory, more father-son angst, and a cautionary tale for young Stephen.

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James Joyce, Calypso, Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, Tayto, potato

Bloom’s Potato

“On the doorstep he felt in his hip pocket for the latchkey. Not there. In the trousers I left off. Must get it. Potato I have. Creaky wardrobe. No use disturbing her.” Ulysses, p. 57

The episodes “Calypso” and “Telemachus” correspond roughly to the same point in Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus’ day – 8:00 A.M., breakfast hour.  The beginning of their stories overlap in many ways, including that both Stephen and Bloom leave home that morning without their key. Stephen’s is “usurped” by Buck Mulligan, while Bloom’s is absentmindedly forgotten.  A relatable mistake to most folks – he changes his trousers for a funeral, but neglects to transfer all the contents, leaving his latchkey in the other pair. However, he is unwilling to go back upstairs and disturb a dozing Molly, and so he leaves to buy his kidney without the latchkey to the front door of his Ithaca. However, Bloom idiosyncratically remembers a seemingly odd and insignificant item – a shriveled, black potato. A peculiar and impractical object to carry in a pocket it would seem, but Bloom thinks as he leaves for Dlugacz’s “Potato I have.” Why in the world would a grown man carry a dried-out, old spud in his pocket?

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Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Ep. 41 – Froggreen Wormwood

449px-Edouard_Manet_-_The_Absinthe_Drinker_-_Google_Art_Project
Édouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker, 1859

Images of early morning Paris through the ineluctable modality of Stephen Dedalus’ memory, smells of incense and absinthe. We discuss Stephen’s life as a starving artist (literally), Kevin Egan and his unwilling exile in Paris, Egan’s real life counterpart, New York Times write-ups of duels in the 19th century, Irish nationalist groups of the 19th century, the proper way to drink absinthe, dalcassians and Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne, Édouard Drumont v. Léo Taxil, and the pitfalls of attempting to make Ireland more like continental Europe.

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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, Leo Taxil, blasphemy, Baphomet, Ulysses, Paris

Ep. 39 – C’est le pigeon, Joseph.

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La Vie de Jésus, by Léo Taxil

Stephen Dedalus learns the value of gentlemanly blasphemy in this episode of Blooms & Barnacles. Our hero evades the nets of his oppressors while recalling a conversation with a friend in Paris. Topics include the changing face of Ringsend, the Pigeonhouse, Stephen’s epiphanies and the Epiphany, Dermot speaking French, what Jules Michelet doesn’t know about women, absinthe, the elaborate blasphemies of Leo Taxil’s pornographic pope period, Baphomet, the freemasons, and the greatest trick ever played on the Catholic Church (that might be overstating it, but it’s a fun story).

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