Sirens, Circe and the Devil’s in the Detail

by Charlotte Reads Classics

I’m determined to finish this now! I’ve read too much to just give up. I was feeling ready to stop after the last couple of episodes, but after listening to the In Our Time podcast about Ulysses (radio 4, originally broadcast on Thursday) I am feeling much more excited again. To any other flagging Ulysses readers I highly recommend it.

Episode X – Wandering Rocks, 3pm, the Streets of Dublin

I enjoyed this section after the trickiness that the previous episodes have been but only after I got into the mindset of not caring who I was reading about, and just enjoying each scene as just that: a tiny piece of action, a small incident that happens on a normal day.

  • Stephen Dedalus watched through the webbed window the lapidary’s fingers prove a timedulled chain. Dust webbed the window and showtrays. Dust darkened the toiling fingers with their vulture nails. Dust slept on dull coils of bronze and silver, lozenges of cinnabar, on rubies, leprous and winedark stones. I think this could be Miss Havisham’s house. I enjoy reading Joyce’s descriptive sentences, I think because these seem to be what I am most used to reading.
  • Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance. I just thought that quote was really funny to share with my fellow book bloggers!

The Odyssey: The wandering rocks are a group of rocks between which the sea is always violent. They are one of two routes home to Ithaca, Odysseus chooses to avoid them.

Episode XI – Sirens, 4pm, The Concert Room

More form to learn! This episode is to be read like a fugue, which is a technique in classical music where two or more voices sing and repeat a theme is introduced in the beginning. At first I thought this would be an awful chapter to understand (look at the first page!) but it has turned out to be my favourite so far. I went back and read the first couple of pages when I had finished and it made more sense. I liked it because of the direct parallel’s to the greek myths. I also started to feel sorry for Bloom and his knowing about Molly’s affair.

The Odyssey: Femme fatales that sing enchanting music to try to lure sailors onto the rocky coast of their island. They are only described as mermaids in folk-lore after The Odyssey, to Homer they looked like women.

Episode XII – Cyclops, 5pm, the Tavern

This section is written like an epic poem, with the actual plot mixed in. Is Joyce being ironic? He writes about things like a description of a handkerchief. Or is this part of the whole meaning behind Ulysses? Is the ordinary epic?

This section also made sense of the earlier incident (back in Lotus-Eaters, I think). Bloom meets a man called Bantam Lyons who asks for his newspaper. When Bloom says he was about to throw it away anyway, the man actually thinks he is being given a tip. Fun fact: A horse called Throwaway won the real life Gold Cup at Ascot on 16th June 1904. Thus proving that is must be pointless trying to read Ulysses without the help of the internet!

  • Your God was a jew. When the Citizen is abusing Leopold I liked the people he listed as jewish, with the final dig being God.

The Odyssey: Cyclops are a race of one-eyed giants, Odysseus meets one called Polyphemus who eats some of his men. Odysseus manages to escape by blinding the cyclops with a heated stake. Right at the beginning of  the chapter, the unnamed narrator says Did you see that bloody chimneysweep near shove my eye out with his brush?

Episode XIII – Nausicaa, 8pm, Rocks on the Strand

I liked this chapter – Joyce is writing in the style of a nineteenth century romance, and that is a style that I am familiar with! The scene is told from two different perspectives and they link up satisfyingly: The first is a young girl, Gerty, fantasising about romance, the second is a strange man watching her, who turns out to be Bloom. The first quotation is from Gerty’s thoughts, the second from Bloom’s.

  • No prince charming is her beau ideal to lay a rare and wondrous love at her feet but rather a manly man with a strong quiet face who had not found his ideal, perhaps his hair slightly flecked with grey, and who would understand, take her in his sheltering arms, strain her to him in all the strength of his deep passionate nature and comfort her with a long long kiss. It would be like heaven. For such a one she yearns this balmy summer eve. With all the heart of her she longs to be his only, his affianced bride for riches and poor, in sickness in health, till death us two part, from this to this day forward.
  • Say a woman loses a charm with every pin she takes out. Pinned together. […] Always know a fellow courting: collars and cuffs.

The Odyssey: Nausicaa is a young girl and possible love interest for Odysseus after she finds him washed ashore on her island.

Episode XIV – Oxen of the Sun, 10pm, the Maternity Hospital

I know Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are in the hospital where Mrs. Purefoy gives birth to a son. I know that Joyce traces the history of the English language in this episode. I didn’t find either of these things out by actually reading the chapter. I read it, and it made no sense to me at all.

The Odyssey: Also known as the Cattle of Helios, they are the sun god’s symbol of fertility. Odysseus tells his men not to harm them, but they are too hungry to obey. Zeus punishes the crew by destroying the ship with a lightening bolt.

Episode XV – Circe, 12am, the Brothel

This episode is SO LONG! About 150 pages long! I thought it would be ok to read because it is written as a play, complete with stage directions. I foolishly thought knowing who was speaking would be easier to follow. It wasn’t. Sigh. But this section isn’t as slow to read as you’d think from looking at it.

The Odyssey: Circe is a goddess of magic, who turns Odysseus’ men into pigs after a meal. Odysseus protects himself from her potions, frees his men and they stay on the island for a year, feasting. Not really learning a lesson, it would seem.

So… I have read 522 out of 682 pages, I have finished Part II and am about to move onto Part III. The end is in sight…

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