19 Feb 2019
In the “Lotus Eaters” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses, the setting of the church adapts the scene from The Odyssey where Odysseus returns to his house disguised as a beggar. Like Odysseus’ dining hall, Joyce’s church room is a place where people gather from the larger community to listen to music, eat food and drink wine (in the form of communion), and perform religious rituals. In The Odyssey Odysseus’ loyal servants serve bread and wine. The narrator says, “Philoetius, trusty herdsman, brought on loaves of bread […]; Melanthius poured the wine” (Homer 20.281-283.) In Joyce’s Ulysses, the bread and wine is served by the priest. Bloom narrates through his inner dialogue. He says, “The priest went along by them, murmuring, holding the thing in his hands. He stopped at each, took out a communion, shook a drop or two (are they in water?) off it and put it neatly into her mouth” (Joyce 1922.) Like Odysseus’ servants, the priest is a servant to his congregation; however, the priest is also a symbol of religious authority. Therefore, Joyce flips the balance of power within his adaptation of the scene.
In The Odyssey, Odysseus must endure the indignity of the suitors taking advantage of his hospitality while they profane his halls with thoughts of criminal acts. Odysseus, as king of Ithaca, is granted a rare view into the petty plottings of his inferiors through his disguise as a beggar. In this scene, Odysseus is shown in contrast to the room full of petty suitors. He is a king temporarily removed from his power to be taught how to act by viewing the bad actions of the suitors and the good actions of his loyal servants. Yet in Joyce’s Ulysses, Bloom sits surrounded by women who likely are fully invested in the ritual of the mas while he profanes the mas by thinking inappropriate thoughts. When Bloom enters the church he thinks, “Nice discreet place to be next some girl. […] Jammed by the hour to slow music. That woman at midnight mass. Seventh heaven” (Joyce 1922.) Bloom is contrasted against these women, not as a king temporarily brought low to learn from the good and bad acts of his inferiors, but as a man of middling authority and questionable morals.
Bloom lashes out in his thoughts against those that he believes to have power over him. As a man of the early 1900s, Bloom would be expected to hold authority over the women. However, he is portrayed in this scene as being subservient to Martha, the woman with whom he plans to have an affair. Also, Blooms seems to be somewhat envious of the women in the church for the joy that they seem to get out of their religious rituals. He diminishes their joy in his mind by thinking of them as if they are ignorant children by relating the religious right to a lollipop. Bloom says, “Look at them. Now I bet it makes them feel happy. Lollipop. It does” (Joyce 1922.) When it comes to the priest who holds religious authority over him, Bloom is much more vicious in his cynical thoughts. Bloom thinks, “Wine. Makes it more aristocratic […]. Pious fraud but quite right: otherwise they’d have one booser worse than another coming along, cadging for a drink” (Joyce 1922.) Bloom continues to diminish the authority of the priest by going after the church as a whole. He thinks, “Squareheaded chaps those must be in Rome: they work the whole show. And don’t they rake in the money too?” Through accusations of vice on the part of those who he feels subservient to, Bloom tries to excuse himself for the path he has taken in life.
Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. The Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922. m.joyceproject.com/chapters/lotus.html.