Tag Archives: epic

Announcing New Read-Along: Homer’s “Odyssey”

Odyssey

I’ve been considering re-reading The Odyssey again for a while now. This will be my third time reading it. For this reading, I wanted a translation that was true to the poetic feel of Homer’s original. I reached out to Symbol Reader, a friend and fellow blogger, to get her recommendation. She suggested Robert Fitzgerald’s translation.

(If you are not familiar with her site, I highly recommend you visit. Her blog is one of my favorites: symbolreader.net)

My plan is to read through the text and post my thoughts and analysis for each of the twenty-four books contained in the epic. If you are interested in reading along and using the comments section to share your thoughts, questions, impressions, you are encouraged to do so. I will be sharing my first post on “Book I” soon.

“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story…”

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“Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea” by William Butler Yeats

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This poem is too long to include in this post. For those who need, here is a link to the full text hosted on the California State University website:

Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea

In order to understand this poem, you need to know the three key characters: Cuchulain, a warrior from Irish mythology who served under the rule of Conchubar; Emer, who is Cuchulain’s wife; and the swineherd, Cuchulain’s son who is unnamed in the poem. The basic story which the poem conveys is a reverse Oedipus tale, where Cuchulain mistakes his son and slays him and is then overwhelmed by guilt.

In the beginning of the poem, the swineherd returns home to his mother who had instructed him to watch the shore for Cuchulain’s return. Anguished by her husband’s failure to return, Emer seems to perform an act of sorcery.

Then Emer cast the web upon the floor,
And raising arms all raddled with the dye,
Parted her lips with a loud sudden cry.

Emer then instructs her son to go and camp near Conchubar’s camp where Cuchulain is and to challenge him. Cuchulain, eager for glory, fights with his son and ultimately kills him.

After short fighting in the leafy shade,
He spake to the young man, ‘Is there no maid
Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round,
Or do you long for the dim sleepy ground,
That you have come and dared me to my face?’

‘The dooms of men are in God’s hidden place,’

‘Your head a while seemed like a woman’s head
That I loved once.’

Again the fighting sped,
But now the war-rage in Cuchulain woke,
And through that new blade’s guard the old blade broke,
And pierced him.

‘Speak before your breath is done.’

‘Cuchulain I, mighty Cuchulain’s son.’

After slaying his son, Cuchulain is wracked with guilt and broods alone, inconsolable. Conchubar fears that Cuchulain will become overwhelmed with grief and will ultimately slaughter all the members of the party. This sets the scene for the final part of the poem, which to me is the most interesting.

Then Conchubar, the subtlest of all men,
Ranking his Druids round him ten by ten,
Spake thus: ‘Cuchulain will dwell there and brood
For three days more in dreadful quietude,
And then arise, and raving slay us all.
Chaunt in his ear delusions magical,
That he may fight the horses of the sea.’
The Druids took them to their mystery,
And chaunted for three days.

Cuchulain stirred,
Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his own name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.

There is a lot of symbolism woven into these lines. First, we have number mysticism, the numbers ten and three both repeated, emphasizing their importance. The number ten is a reference to the number of sefirot that comprise the kabbalistic Tree of Life, which figures prominently in Golden Dawn philosophy with which Yeats was well versed. Then the number three represents the trinity, as well as the three stages in the cycle of life: birth, life, and death. There are many other mystical connections with the numbers 3 and 10, but this should suffice for the purpose of this post.

The Druids then perform a chant with the intent of evoking “delusions magical.” Basically, the Druids are chanting mystical poetry which after a period of time causes Cuchulain to slip into an altered state of consciousness. The sea is a symbol for Cuchulain’s subconscious. He is thrust into his own psyche and there does battle with himself and his memories. He has no choice but to vanquish his inner demons and self-hatred; if he fails, he will drown in the sea of sorrow and lose touch with the realm of waking consciousness.

This poem works really well as a psychological allegory, but also contains some great mystical and mythological symbolism. I am pretty sure that there is more to this poem than what I included here and that someone who is more versed in Irish mythology would be able to draw deeper interpretations. If you uncover any other symbols or allusions in this poem, please share them in a comment.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 17

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds to Odysseus’ return home to Ithaca in Homer’s Odyssey. According to SparkNotes, it is “narrated in the third person through a set of 309 questions and their detailed and methodical answers, in the style of a catechism or Socratic dialogue.” Since I’m not a Catholic, I can’t really say that it was like a catechism, but I will say that for me, the style resembled the method of scientific inquiry, where one seeks to get to the truth or prove a theory by posing a series of questions. It is strange reading, since much of what takes place in the episode is discussion between Bloom and Stephen, and then later Bloom telling Molly about his day, yet there is noticeably no dialog whatsoever in this episode.

In Joyce’s novel, Bloom also returns home, but it is not a triumphant return such as with Odysseus. He realizes he does not have his key and is locked out. After Stephen leaves, Bloom bumps his head on furniture that has been moved, adding to the sense that although he is home, it does not feel like home. He then gets into bed with Molly who is asleep at that point and notices signs that Blazes Boylan had been there and had sex with Molly in their bed. I can’t help but feel sad for Bloom.

As with all the episodes in this book, this one is also packed with lots of symbolism, so I am just going to focus on a few passages that were key for me on this reading.

Bloom is depicted as feeling dejected. He had hopes of doing significant things with his life, but he feels as if he never did.

Why would a recurrent frustration the more depress him?

Because at the critical turningpoint of human existence he desired to amend many social conditions, the product of inequality and avarice and international animosity.

(p. 696)

As Stephen is leaving, both he and Bloom step outside and together they look up at the stars. Bloom has an epiphany as he realizes his connection to the universe. He envisions universes within himself, universes within each atom that composes everything in existence. It seems as if he grasps the connection between the scientific and the mystical, as symbolized by astrology. It is a fairly long passage, but it warrants including here.

With what meditations did Bloom accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Mediations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Major) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Acturus: of the procession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in the cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained in cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible components bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

(pp. 698 – 699)

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

Bloom’s epiphany continues as he realizes that god is ineffable. It is impossible for any human to understand and know the divine source, we can only use symbols as a way to allow us a glimpse of the true essence of the divine.

His (Bloom’s) logical conclusion, having weighed the matter and allowing for possible error?

That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia, there being no known method from the known to the unknown: an infinity, renderable equally finite by the suppositious probable apposition of one or more bodies equally of the same and of different magnitudes: a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its future spectators had entered actual present existence.

(p. 701)

Bloom then gazes at the moon. As he does so, he recognizes the lunar orb as a symbol for the goddess.

What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?

Her antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising, and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant implacable resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.

(p. 702)

After getting into bed with Molly and noticing the signs of Boylan having been there, Bloom seems to resign himself and kisses Molly’s buttocks, which wakens her. It is revealed that they have not been intimate for 10 years, which would explain Molly’s affairs. After Bloom finishes telling her about his day, they lay in silence. Above them, the light from the lamp casts concentric circles on the ceiling, representing the eternal cycles of life-death-rebirth, and also the cycles of myths as represented in stories.

What moved visibly above the listener’s and the narrator’s invisible thoughts?

The upcast reflection of a lamp and shade, an inconstant series of concentric circles of varying gradations of light and shadow.

(p. 736)

Molly is then depicted as the Earth Goddess from which all life is born and to which all life returns. Bloom becomes the archetype of the weary traveler, at the end of his journey, returning to the womb of the divine female source from which he was created, thus ready to begin the cycle once again.

In what posture?

Listener: reclined, semilaterally, left, left hand under head, right leg extended in a straight line and resting on left leg, flexed, in the attitude of Gea-Tullus, fulfilled, recumbent, big with seed. Narrator: reclined laterally, left, with right and left legs flexed, the indexfinger and thumb of the right hand resting on the bridge of the nose, in the attitude depicted on a snapshot photograph made by Percy Apjohn, the childman weary, the manchild in the womb.

Womb? Weary?

He rests. He has travelled.

(p. 737)

The episode ends with an unanswered question.

Where?

BlackDot

(p. 737)

The question is left unanswered because the tale is eternal. Bloom has returned to his point of origin and the cycle must begin again, and the myth, like all existence, must continue in the never-ending circle.

This is, in fact, the end of the tale for Leopold Bloom. The final episode is Molly’s famous internal soliloquy, which I will cover in my next post.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 16

"Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus" by Henri-Lucien Doucet

“Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus” by Henri-Lucien Doucet

This episode corresponds with the scene in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus is reunited with his son Telemachus in the hut of Eumaeus prior to his return to Ithaca. In Joyce’s novel, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are in the cabman’s shelter having coffee and a roll. Bloom is offering “fatherly” advice to Stephen, particularly in regard to his choice of friends and his tendency to visit Nighttown, Dublin’s red-light district. Because Odysseus was in disguise in the Homeric epic, images of impersonation, disguise, and false identity permeate the episode.

Throughout this episode, Bloom tries to present himself as an erudite person, which he is not. It is a disguise he dons in the hopes of gaining the trust and friendship of Stephen. Bloom uses clichés and big words to try to sound smart, but in truth, doing so only draws attention to the fact that he is significantly less educated than Stephen. It is also worth pointing out that Stephen provides terse responses, almost as if he is intentionally hiding his intelligence.

—Everybody gets their own ration of luck, they say. Now you mention it his face was familiar to me. But leaving that for the moment, how much did you part with, he queried, if I am not too inquisitive?

—Half-a-crown, Stephen responded. I daresay he needs it to sleep somewhere.

—Needs, Mr Bloom ejaculated, professing not the least surprise at the intelligence, I can quite credit the assertion and I guarantee he invariably does. Everyone according to his needs and everyone according to his deeds. But talking about things in general, where, he added with a smile, will you sleep yourself? Walking to Sandycove is out of the question and, even supposing you did, you won’t get in after what occurred at Westland Row station. Simply fag out there for nothing. I don’t mean to presume to dictate to you in the slightest degree but why did you leave your father’s house?

—To seek misfortune, was Stephen’s answer.

(p. 619)

As the conversation in the cabman’s shelter continues, the topic of Parnell comes up, along with his scandalous affair with Kitty O’Shea, who was married to Captain William O’Shea. This causes Bloom to think about his marriage to Molly and her relationship with Blazes Boylan.

The eternal question of the life connubial, needless to say, cropped up. Can real love, supposing there happens to be another chap in the case, exist between married folk?

(p. 651)

Joyce then makes the connection back to the Odyssey, pointing out that men will hang around waiting for their chance to move in on a married woman, in the same way that the suitors waited around for their chance at Penelope in Homer’s epic.

He personally, being of a skeptical bias, believed, and didn’t make the smallest bones about saying so either, that man, or men in the plural, were always hanging around on the waiting list about a lady, even supposing she was the best wife in the world and they got on fairly well together for the sake of argument, when, neglecting her duties, she chose to be tired of the wedded life, and was on for a little flutter in the polite debauchery to press their intentions on her with improper intent, the upshot being that her affections centered on another, the cause of many liaisons between still attractive married women getting on for fair and forty and younger men, no doubt as several famous cases of feminine infatuation proved up to the hilt.

(pp. 655 – 656)

Toward the end of the episode, Bloom convinces Stephen to return with him to his house. As they walk off together into the night, they talk about music, sirens, and usurpers. The episode concludes with a streetsweeper’s impression of the two walking together which I found to be beautifully written.

The driver never said a word, good, bad or indifferent. Me merely watched the two figures, as he sat on his lowbacked car, both black—one full, one lean—walk towards the railway bridge, to be married by Father Maher. As they walked, they at times stopped and walked again, continuing their téte-à-téte (which of course he was utterly out of), about sirens, enemies of man’s reason, mingled with a number of topics of the same category, usurpers, historical cases of the kind while the man in the sweeper car or you might as well call it the sleeper car who in any case couldn’t possibly hear because they were too far simply sat in the seat near the end of lower Gardiner street and looked after their lowbacked car.

(p. 665)

We’re nearing the end of the book. The next episode ends on page 737 in my version with what appears to be a large bullet-like punctuation.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section16.rhtml

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

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

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 15

CirceAndSwine

This episode corresponds with the section in Homer’s Odyssey concerning Odysseus’ encounter with Circe. According to Greek mythology, Circe is the goddess of magic and sorcery and is renowned for her knowledge of potions and herbs.

In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is described as living in a mansion that stands in the middle of a clearing in a dense wood. Around the house prowled strangely docile lions and wolves, the drugged victims of her magic; they were not dangerous, and fawned on all newcomers. Circe worked at a huge loom. She invited Odysseus’ crew to a feast of familiar food, a pottage of cheese and meal, sweetened with honey and laced with wine, but also laced with one of her magical potions, and drunk from an enchanted cup. Thus so she turned them all into swine with a wand after they gorged themselves on it. Only Eurylochus, suspecting treachery from the outset, escaped to warn Odysseus and the others who had stayed behind at the ships. Odysseus set out to rescue his men, but was intercepted by the messenger god, Hermes, who had been sent by Athena. Hermes told Odysseus to use the holy herb moly to protect himself from Circe’s potion and, having resisted it, to draw his sword and act as if he were to attack Circe. From there, Circe would ask him to bed, but Hermes advised caution, for even there the goddess would be treacherous. She would take his manhood unless he had her swear by the names of the gods that she would not.

(Wikipedia)

In Joyce’s novel, this episode takes place in the red light district, most of which is in a brothel. The entire episode, which is the longest in the book at around 180 pages, is written in the form of a play script. The majority of the “action” that takes place is in the form of hallucinations and mental visions induced by intoxication. This draws on the symbolism of Circe as a sexual temptress and one who can ensnare men using drugs and potions. I see the use of the play form as symbolic of the action playing out on the stage of the individuals’ minds and psyches.

In Homer’s epic, Circe turns Odysseus’ men into swine. Likewise, Joyce uses pig metaphors throughout the episode to reinforce the image of the men who are soliciting the prostitutes being nothing but swine.

Most of Bloom’s hallucinations are tied to feelings of guilt regarding his sexuality. At one point he imagines himself on trial where all his dark secrets are exposed. It is like he is being accused and confronted by his conscience which is no longer comfortable with the things he has done and imagined.

THE CRIER

(Loudly.) Whereas Leopold Bloom of no fixed abode is a well-known dynamitard, forger, bigamist, bawd and cuckold and a public nuisance to the citizens of Dublin and whereas at this commission of assizes the most honorable…

(p. 470)

In one of the hallucinations, Bloom has a cross-dressing fantasy. He imagines himself being forced to assume a female role and become a prostitute. This ties in with Hermes’ warning to Odysseus that Circe would take his manhood.

BELLO

(Points to his whores.) As they are now, so will you be, wigged, singed, perfumesprayed, ricepowdered, with smoothshaven armpits. Tape measurements will be taken next your skin. You will be laced with cruel force into vicelike corsets of soft dove coutille, with whalebone busk, to the diamond trimmed pelvis, the absolute outside edge, while your figure, plumper than when at large, will be restrained in nettight frocks, pretty two ounce petticoats and fringes and things stamped, of course, with my houseflag, creations of lovely lingerie for Alice and nice scent for Alice. Alice will feel the pullpull. Martha and Mary will be a little chilly at first in such delicate thighcasing but the frilly flimsiness of lace round your bare knees will remind you…

(pp. 535 – 536)

In another of Bloom’s hallucinations, he encounters the Goddess in the form of The Nymph. She accuses him of exploiting her, using her sacred image in advertising as a means to sell things. I found this to be a powerful critique on how women continue to be exploited by the media.

THE NYMPH

Mortal! You found me in evil company, highkickers, coster picnic makers, pugilists, popular generals, immoral panto boys in flesh tights and nifty shimmy dancers, La Aurora and Karini, musical act, the hit of the century. I was hidden in cheap pink paper that smelt of rock oil. I was surrounded by the stale smut of clubmen, stories to the callow youth, ads for transparencies, truedup dice and bustpads, proprietary articles and why wear a truss with testimonial from ruptured gentleman. Useful hints to the married.

BLOOM

(Lifts a turtle head towards her lap.) We have met before. On another star.

THE NYMPH

(Sadly.) Rubber goods. Neverrip. Brand as supplied to the aristocracy. Corsets for men. I cure fits or money refunded. Unsolicited testimonials for Professor Waldmann’s wonderful chest exuber. My bust developed four inches in three weeks, reports Mrs Gus Rublin with photo.

BLOOM

You mean Photo Bits?

THE NYMPH

I do. You bore me away, framed me in oak and tinsel, set me above your marriage couch. Unseen, one summer eve, you kissed me in four places. And with loving pencil you shaded my eyes, my bosom and my shame.

(pp. 545 – 546)

This is such a long episode and there is so much that can be analyzed and explored, way too much for a single blog post. As such, I will look at one last quote that struck me as interesting. Stephen (who was with Bloom in the brothel) gets into an argument with a soldier. He criticizes the soldier’s willingness to die for his country. It is a display of anti-nationalism. Considering that Joyce wrote this at a time when nationalism was on the rise in Europe, I found it a poignant critique on the socio-political climate of the time.

STEPHEN

(Nervous, friendly, pulls himself up.) I understand your point of view, though I have no king myself for the moment. This is the age of patent medicine. A discussion is difficult down here. But this is the point. You die for your country, suppose. (He places his arm on Private Carr’s sleeve.) Not that I wish it for you. But I say: Let my country die for me. Up to the present it has done so. I don’t want to die. Damn death. Long live life!

(p. 591)

My next post on Ulysses will cover Episode 16 which ends on page 665 in my copy with the phrase “… and looked after their lowbacked car.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section15.rhtml

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

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