This episode corresponds with the Wandering Rocks, or Planctae, in Homer’s Odyssey.
In the Odyssey of Homer, the sorceress Circe tells Odysseus of the “Wandering Rocks” or “Roving Rocks” that have only been successfully passed by the Argo when homeward bound. These rocks smash ships and the remaining timbers are scattered by the sea or destroyed by flames. The rocks lie on one of two potential routes to Ithaca; the alternative, which is taken by Odysseus, leads to Scylla and Charybdis. Furthermore, in the Odyssey of Homer, it was Hera, for her love of Jason, who sped the Argo through the Symplegades safely.
In Joyce’s book, this episode is broken into 19 subsections, each symbolic of a wandering rock. Each of the subsections focuses on one of the characters in the book while that character makes his or her way through Dublin. Throughout each of these parts, glimpses of other characters pop up. These out-of-place paragraphs represent the danger of trying to navigate the episode and having dangerous, unforeseen shards of text suddenly appear, causing you to crash. The final subsection is a complete chaotic mashup of all the characters, which culminates the final thrust of effort needed to clear the chapter.
The following section provides a good example of the text in this episode. Individuals are depicted as wandering around, having haphazard collisions with other people while chucks of text from other subsections suddenly appear.
A onelegged sailor crutched himself around MacConnell’s corner, skirting Rabaiotti’s icecream car, and jerked himself up Eccles street. Towards Larry O’Rourke, in shirtsleeves in his doorway, he growled unamiably
—For England . . .
He swung himself violently forward past Katey and Boody Dedalus, halted and growled:
—home and beauty.
J. J. O’Molloy’s white careworn face was told that Mr. Lambert was in the warehouse with a visitor.
A stout lady stopped, took a copper coin from her purse and dropped it into the cap held out to her. The sailor grumbled thanks and glanced sourly at the unheeding windows, sank his head and swung himself forward four strides.
He halted and growled angrily:
—For England . . .
Two barefoot urchins, sucking liquorice laces, halted near him, gaping at his stump with their yellow-slobbered mouths.
He swung himself forward in vigorous jerks, halted, lifted his head towards a window and bayed deeply:
—home and beauty.
The last thing I would like to mention about this episode is that I believe there is hidden number mysticism woven in, which is unseen, just as the wandering rocks. The episode is comprised of 19 subsections. In Jewish kabbalistic number mysticism, this would be combined as 1 + 9 to give us the number 10. Ten is the episode number and it is also the number of sephirot in the kabbalistic Tree of Life. An explanation of the sephirot is far beyond the scope of this post, so I will simplify for those who need and say that according to Jewish mysticism, the sephirot are the building blocks of all existence. Everything that exists is a result of God’s emanation through the sephirot. Again, this is a very simplified version, but it’s my belief that Joyce hid number mysticism throughout Ulysses and the fact that the primary character in the book is Jewish would lead me to suspect that the hidden numeric symbolism is Jewish in nature. I will expand on this idea in future posts, when the time is right.
For those of you interested in learning more about the symbolism in the kabbalah, I recommend On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism by Gershom Scholem.
My next post on Ulysses will cover Episode 11 which ends on page 291 in my book with the phrase “Done.”
Previous Posts on Ulysses: