Painting by William Etty
This episode corresponds to the section in Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus encounters the sirens. “In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous yet beautiful creatures, portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island” (Wikipedia). In Ulysses, the episode takes place inside a bar and the sirens are represented by the two barmaids, Lydia Douce and Mina Kennedy, who are very flirtatious. Joyce also incorporates themes of music and intoxication into the episode. Essentially, this is the sex and drugs and rock and roll chapter.
Joyce does something very creative at the beginning of this episode. He essentially composes an overture to the chapter. He takes snippets of text from the episode and weaves them together, creating a literary prelude of sorts. It reads like a modernist poem, and while I have not been impressed with Joyce’s poetry, I have to say that this works well for me. The actual episode begins with the word: “Begin!”
Early in the episode, Lydia and Mina are gossiping and laughing. They are immediately portrayed as sexual by their little dirty jokes.
—O saints above! Miss Douce said, sighed above her jumping rose. I wished I hadn’t laughed so much. I feel all wet.
—O, Miss Douce! Miss Kennedy protested. You horrid thing!
And flushed yet more (you horrid!), more goldenly.
As the episode continues, the connection is made between music and sexual arousal. In the next passage, a tuning fork is used as a phallic symbol to reinforce the connection between music and sexuality.
From the saloon a call came, long in dying. That was a tuningfork the tuner had that he forgot that he now struck. A call again. That he now poised that it now throbbed. You hear? It throbbed, pure, purer, softly and softlier, its buzzing prongs. Longer in dying call.
As Leopold Bloom sits in the bar, the combination of alcohol, music, and sexuality starts to overwhelm him. He loses himself in a flood of thoughts, memories, and fantasy caused by the environment.
Tenderness it welled: slow, swelling. Full it throbbed. That’s the chat. Ha, give! Take! Throb, a throb, a pulsing proud erect.
Words? Music? No: it’s what’s behind.
Bloom looped, unlooped, noded, disnoded.
Bloom. Flood of warm jimjam lickitup sweetness flowed to flow in music out, in desire, dark to lick flow, invading. Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her. Tup. Pores to dilate dilating. Tup. The joy the feel the warm the. Tup. To pour o’er sluices pouring gushes. Flood, gush, flow, joygush, tupthrop. Now! Language of love.
Toward the end of the episode, there is a scene where Lydia is stroking the beer tap like it is a penis. This is symbolic of the connection between intoxication and succumbing to sexual temptation.
On the smooth jutting beerpull laid Lydia hand lightly, plumply, leave it to my hands. All lost in pity for croppy. Fro, to: to, fro: over the polished knob (she knows his eyes, my eyes, her eyes) her thumb and finger passed in pity: passed, repassed and, gently touching, then slid so smoothly, slowly down, a cool firm white enamel baton protruding through their sliding ring.
With a cock with a carra.
When I read Ulysses for the first time in college, this was one of the episodes that really stood out for me. Probably because I played music for so many years, I really related to the musical imagery and symbolism that permeates this episode.
Next week I will cover Episode 12 which ends on page 345 with the phrase “… like a shot off a shovel.”
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