This episode corresponds with Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey. It is also where we first meet Mr. Leopold M. Bloom, the “hero” of Joyce’s novel. For those of you who need a refresher, “Calypso was a nymph in Greek mythology, who lived on the island of Ogygia, where she detained Odysseus for several years.” In this episode, it is Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife, who symbolizes Calypso.
The episode begins with the giant letter M beginning the phrase “Mr Leopold Bloom.” One must assume that there is some symbolism here. It may be that the M represents that Part II of the book is the main or middle section (note that there are three parts). It may also represent Leopold himself, M being the first, last, and middle letter in his full proper name: Mr. Leopold M. Bloom. If you remember back to the first part, which began with a giant S, the main figure in that part was Stephen Dedalus, whose name also begins and ends with the oversized letter. And yes, there is another very intriguing interpretation for which I will abstain from sharing at this point until after we complete the book, since it ties in with greater themes and the overall structure which is better addressed later on. Anyway, something to keep in the back of your mind as you read the book.
As I mentioned earlier, Molly is the archetype of the nymph. She is depicted as very sensual and it appears that she is involved in a clandestine affair with Blazes Boylan. To add to this imagery of Molly, there is a painting above their bed of the Bath of the Nymphs and Leopold likens Molly to the naked nymphs in the painting.
The Bath of the Nymphs over the bed. Given away with the Easter number of Photo Bits: Splendid masterpiece in art colours. Tea before you put milk in. Not unlike her with her hair down: slimmer. Three and six I gave for the frame. She said it would look nice over the bed. Naked nymphs: Greece: and for instance all the people that lived then.
Painting by Gérard de Lairesse
There is also some triple goddess symbolism in this episode. The triple goddess symbolizes the three stages of the female life cycle which combined form the Divine Feminine. The three stages are Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Leopold interacts all three aspects of the goddess. He encounters the Maiden at the butcher shop and silently lusts after your youthful beauty.
A kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish: the last. He stood by the nextdoor girl at the counter. Would she buy it too, calling the items from a slip in her hand. Chapped: washing soda. And a pound and a half of Dennny’s sausages. His eyes rested on her vigorous hips. Woods his name is. Wonder what he does. Wife is oldish. New blood. No followers allowed. Strong pair of arms. Whacking a carpet on the clothesline. She does whack it, by George. The way her crooked skirt swings at each whack.
The Mother aspect of the Goddess is obviously Molly. The Crone Leopold encounters after leaving the butcher shop.
No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.
On pages 64 and 65, there is discussion regarding metempsychosis, or the transmigration of the soul. Simplified, this is the Greek philosophical version of the concept of reincarnation, where the soul, being divine, continues to exist after physical death and can be reborn in a new physical form. As I read this section, which is too long to include here, I thought about how this ties in with the book. I believe that Joyce is implying that the soul, like an archetype or a trope, is destined to be resurrected as it migrates along the path of human existence. The souls, the symbols, and the stories that originated with Homer continue to be reborn and in Joyce’s case are manifest in his book. If I remember correctly from when I read this book 20 years ago, I think this is a theme that recurs throughout the book.
I want to end this post by saying that I found this episode to be pretty funny. There are lots of sexual puns woven in, which work well with the episode’s theme of the nymph. For example, there is the image of the woman “whacking it” that appears in one of the previous quotes. Another example is when Molly makes a sexual joke about someone’s name.
—Yes. Get another of Paul de Kock’s. Nice name he has.
For those of you reading along, next week I will cover episode 5, which ends on page 86 in my version with the phrase: “…a languid floating flower.” Read on!!
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