Tag Archives: Aeolus

“Odyssey” by Homer: Book X – The Grace of the Witch

CirceAndSwine

In this book, Odysseus continues his tale of his journey. He actually covers three parts of his odyssey in this book. First, he describes his dealings with Aeolus, ruler of the winds. Aeolus gives him a bag of wind to aid in his voyage, but some of his greedy men think it has gold and open it, resulting in the boat being blown back to Aeolia. Next, Odysseus and his crew arrive at the land of the Laestrygonians, who are cannibalistic giants and devour a few of his men. Finally, they arrive at the island of Circe, who is depicted as a goddess but also a sorceress.

What I found the most fascinating about this book are the allusions to magic and ritual. Circe is obviously very skilled in the mystical arts and the imagery of her weaving “by that craft known to the goddesses of heaven” (Fitzgerald Translation: p. 171), her use of herbs and potions, and her wielding of a wand, all conjure some fantastic visions of the mystical woman.

The god Hermes offers to assist Odysseus in overcoming Circe’s spells. He provides Odysseus with instructions on how to use an amulet in conjunction with sex magic to protect himself from the sorceress.

But I can tell you what to do
to come unchanged from Kirke’s power (Note: alternate spelling in translation)
and disenthrall your fighting crew:
take with you to her bower
as amulet, this plant I know—
it will defeat her horrid show,
so pure and potent is the flower;
no mortal herb was ever so.

Your cup with numbing drops of night
and evil, stilled of all remorse,
she will infuse to charm your sight;
but this great herb with holy force
will keep your minds and senses clear:
when she turns cruel, coming near
with her long stick to whip you out of doors,
then let your cutting blade appear,

Let instant death upon it shine,
and she will cower and yield her bed—
a pleasure you must not decline,
so may her lust and fear bestead
you and your friends, and break her spell;
but make her swear by heaven and hell
no witches’ tricks, or else, your harness shed,
you’ll be unmanned by her as well.

(ibid: p. 174)

The plant that Hermes refers to appears to be mandrake, which according to myth will drive a human insane if pulled from the ground.

He bent down glittering for the magic plant
and pulled it up, black root and milky flower—
a molu in the language of the gods—
fatigue and pain for mortals to uproot;
but gods do this, and everything, with ease.

(ibid: p. 174)

Mandrake

Mandrake

Near the end of the book, Circe tells Odysseus that he must open a portal to the underworld, summon the spirit of the blind prophet Teiresias, and inquire about what he needs to do in order to return home. Circe provides instructions to Odysseus, and these instructions read like a dark magic ritual.

Here, toward the Sorrowing Water, run the streams
of Wailing, out of Styx, and quenchless burning—
torrents that join in thunder at the Rock.
Here then, great soldier, setting foot obey me:
dig a well shaft a forearm square; pour out
libations around it to the unnumbered dead:
sweet milk and honey, then sweet wine, and last
clear water, scattering handfuls of white barley.
Pray now, with all your heart, to the faint dead;
swear you will sacrifice your finest heifer,
at home in Ithaka, and burn for them
her tenderest parts in sacrifice; and vow
to the lord Teiresias, apart from all,
a black lamb, handsomest of all your flock—
thus to appease the nations of the dead.
Then slash a black ewe’s throat, and a black ram,
facing the gloom of Erebos; but turn
your head away toward Ocean. You shall see, now
souls of the buried dead in shadowy hosts,
and now you must call out to your companions
to flay those sheep the bronze knife has cut down,
for offerings, burnt flesh to those below,
to sovereign Death and pale Persephone.
Meanwhile draw sword from hip, crouch down, ward off
the surging phantoms from the bloody pit
until you know the presence of Teiresias.
He will come soon, great captain; be it he
who gives you course and distance for your sailing
homeward across the cold fish-breeding sea.

(ibid: p. 181)

I cannot help but wonder whether Homer was schooled in the magical arts. Regardless, this is a very interesting segment of the epic. I am eager to read about Odysseus’ encounter with the spirits. Check back soon for my thoughts on Book XI.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 7

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds with Book 10 of Homer’s Odyssey, where Aeolus gives Odysseus a bag of wind to help him sail back to Ithaca. Unfortunately, Odysseus’ men think there is riches in the bag and open it, resulting in them being blown off course. Joyce, therefore, incorporates images and references to wind, breath, and air throughout this episode.

The episode is set in the newsroom where Bloom is pitching an ad that he is trying to sell. The structure of the text in the chapter resembles a newspaper, where each section is preceded by a large-font headline. Early in the episode, Joyce criticizes the newspaper media, asserting that the papers are mainly interested in ads and fluff pieces, which is similar today.

It’s the ads and side features sell a weekly not the stale news in the official gazette. Queen Anne is dead. Published by authority in the year one thousand and.

(p. 118)

As Bloom observes the printing press, he considers the fate of newspapers. Considering Bloom wiped his butt with paper from a publication earlier in the book, I suspect that he also considers this as a use for newspapers, even though he does not overtly state it.

Mr Bloom, glancing sideways up from the cross he had made, saw the foreman’s sallow face, think he has a touch of jaundice, and beyond the obedient reels feeding in huge webs of paper. Clank it. Clank it. Miles of it unreeled. What becomes of it after? O, wrap up meat, parcels: various uses, thousand and one things.

(p. 120)

Joyce uses this episode to poke fun at those people who he sees as full of nothing but hot air. The first are the pseudo-intellectuals who act all inflated but really come off as pompous. At one point, the characters in the newsroom are reading a speech by one of these intellectuals that was published in the paper. As they read it, they cannot help mocking it.

Ned Lambert, seated on the table, read on:

Or again, note the meanderings of some purling rill as it babbles on its way, fanned by the gentlest zephyrs tho’ quarreling with the stony obstacles, to the tumbling waters of Neptune’s blue domain, mid mossy banks, played on by the glorious sunlight or ‘neath the shadows cast o’er its pensive bosom by the overarching leafage of the giants of the forest. What about that, Simon? he asked over the fringe of the newspaper. How’s that for high?

—Changing his drink, Mr Dedalus said.

Ned Lambert, laughing, struck the newspaper on his knees, repeating:

The pensive bosom and the overarsing leafage. O boys! O boys!

(p. 123)

The other group that Joyce mocks is newspaper persons, who are depicted as blown about with no direction, allowing themselves to bend in whatever direction the wind is blowing.

Funny the way those newspaper men veer about when they get wind of a new opening. Weathercocks. Hot and cold in the same breath. Wouldn’t know which to believe. One story good till you hear the next. Go for one another baldheaded in the papers and then all blows over. Hailfellow well me the next moment.

(p. 125)

The one passage that really struck me in this episode, though, has to do with how a small, seemingly insignificant act can have a profound impact on the world. Joyce is essentially evoking the butterfly effect. I had learned about this when I read a book on chaos theory years ago and always assumed this was a relatively new concept, but a quick search online uncovered that the concept was originally formulated in 1890 by Henri Poincaré in what was called sensitive dependence. Anyway, I was somewhat surprised to find this reference in Joyce’s novel.

Pause. J. J. O’Molloy took out his cigarette case.

False lull. Something quite ordinary.

Messenger took out his matchbox thoughtfully and lit his cigar.

I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives.

(p. 140)

Overall, I enjoyed this episode. I found it very funny and full of puns and wordplay. Next week I’ll cover Episode 8 which ends on page 183 with the word “Safe!”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section7.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

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