Ithaca and the Heathen World

10 April 2019


According to Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus sets out for Troy with the best of intentions. He is defending the honor of Menelaus, the king of Sparta and fighting a war to retrieve Hellen, Menelaus’ Queen (Homer.) Odysseus sets out on his odyssey not due to a lust for adventure or a desire to engage in untoward actions, but due to fealty to his king and service to his Gods. Odysseus is only detained from his wife and son after the ten years of the Trojan war because he offends Poseidon and not for any self-serving or sinful purposes—at least, not in the context of the value structure of the ancient world.


In Dante’s Christian view of the world and divorced from the context of his own time, Odysseus, now known as Ulysses, has come to a different understanding of the impetus for his adventures. Ulysses says to Dante:

[N]ot fondness for my son, nor reverence

for my aged father, nor Penelope’s claim


to the joys of love, could drive out of my mind

the lust to experience the far-flung world

and the failings and felicities of mankind. (Alighieri 26.89-93.)

Filtered through time and translated by another religious value structure, Ulysses believes that he had broken his covenant with family to seek the worldly pleasures of pillage, plunder, and sins of the flesh like those he engaged in on Circe’s island. Also, when asked about his final voyage, Ulysses starts out by saying that he left from Circe’s island. He says, “When I left Circe, […] who more than a year/detained me […]” (Alighieri 26.86-87.) In Dante’s version of The Odyssey, Ulysses never made it home to Ithaca to save his wife and son from the suitors and never regained the honor of his family. Therefore, Dante transforms Homer’s triumph of human persistence into a tragedy of human folly.


Interestingly, Ulysses has an understanding of the changing world uncharacteristic to the other sufferers of hell. Many times, in the summary or notes (I cannot find examples at the moment), Ciardi explains that the dead while they have the power to predict the future they are unable to see the present state of the living world (Ciardi.) Somehow, Ulysses knows the modern names of places that he had visited when he was lost at sea for ten years. He says:

I put out on the high and open sea […].

As far as Morocco and as far as Spain

I saw both shores; and I saw Sardinia […]. (Alighieri 26.94, 97-98)

Dante’s decision, as a writer, to give Ulysses the special privilege to know the what has been happening in the living world helps to divorce Ulysses from the cultural and religious context in which he lived allowing him to be an example of a suffering and tormented soul rather than a luminary of the heathen world living (in death) among the likes of Homer and Plato.




Work Cited

Alighieri, Dante, and John Ciardi. The Inferno. New American Library, 2003.

Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

Repetition as Ritual: Echoes of The Odyssey through Time

15 March 2019


Jennifer Clarvoe’s article, “Poetry and Repetition,” is concerned mainly with how the repetitions within a particular text call attention to important elements and highlight unexpected connections within the poem that may go unnoticed otherwise. Clarvoe’s argument that most closely relates Homer’s epic to James Joyce’s Ulysses comes as a discussion of a short poem unrelated to either Homer’s epic or Joyce’s novel based on that epic. She says, “It is not a poem overtly organized by repetition, but one whose subliminal orchestrations have everything to do with these echoes and returns” (Clarvoe 40.) This same sentiment holds true for Joyce’s Ulysses. Aside from the novel’s title and it’s chapter titles which were not included in the original edition (JH 2017,) Ulysses is not overtly organized by the repetition of Homer’s work but has everything to do with echoes and returns to the elements of The Odyssey.

Clarvoe is not silent on the extensive use of repetition in The Odyssey. When she discusses the repetition of the ritual to conjure the dead in The Odyssey, Clarvoe says, “The repetition marks the ritual as ritual, as repeatable; it exists as a form out of time, to be fulfilled in time” (Clarvoe 31.) While the people of ancient Greece are not likely to need to use a ritual to conjure the dead out of the afterlife, Homer uses repetition of other rituals throughout The Odyssey to pass on important aspects of cultural knowledge. While Homer strictly details the rituals to be performed then shows them being performed in strict compliance to the instructions, Homer sets up a theme then iterates on that theme with each succeeding repetition when teaching more nuanced subjects than general life lessons. Homer is able to teach a fuller understanding of cultural expectations through a series of simple stories based on similar themes.

Homer signals the importance death as a theme as he repeats it multiple times throughout the narrative of The Odyssey. The specter of looming death is present within each of the books of Homer’s epic. In book 11, “The Kingdom of the Dead,” Homer even locates death as an actual place within the world as well as the souls that live within it. To Odysseus surprise, he finds Elpenor has beaten him to the underworld even though they had left his dead body on Circe’s island. (Homer 11.56-93.) However, Elpenor’s death is of no surprise to Homer’s audience as they are informed of Elpenor’s death in the previous book (Homer 10.605-617.) Homer uses this repetition of Elpenor’s death in his own words to reiterate the cultural importance of mourning and properly burying the dead. Now that Homer has set up Elpenor’s death as a ritual out of time, to be fulfilled in time, Joyce uses the trip to the graveyard to burry Paddy as a stand-in for Elpenor and as a way of iterating on the theme of death updating the theme for the modern world.

Elpenor’s request for a proper burial (Homer 11.79-80) is transformed in Ulysses. Elpenor warns that if he is not properly buried, Odysseus risks a curse from the Gods. Elpenor’s plea from the dead becomes a chance for Joyce’s Leopold Bloom’s interior dialogue to dissect the modern connotations of being excluded from the excepted burial rights of the dominant culture. In connection with the conversation about a suicide, Bloom thinks, “Refuse christian burial” (Joyce 1922.) The lack of capitalization of the proper noun, “Christian,” within Bloom’s interior monologue serves as a subtle reminder that he, born of Jewish descent, exists outside the bounds of the Christian majority and, therefore, would likely be refused a Christian burial himself. But exclusion of the religious minority is not the only problem that Bloom finds with burial rights since Homer had his say on the matter.

In The Odyssey, Elpenor offers a world where improper burial rights could invite a curse from the Gods. He says, “Don’t sail off/and desert, me left behind unwept, unburied, don’t/or my curse may draw god’s fury on your head” (Homer 11.79-81). But in Joyce’s novel, the curse is no longer the Gods metering out their fury on the living for not delivering the rights to the dead. Instead, the living deliver their curse on the dead for anyone who offends the masses with an improper death. Still on the subject of Suicide, Bloom thinks, “They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave. As if it wasn’t broken already” (Joyce 1922.) Therefore, Joyce’s modern world may have done away with Gods and the supernatural, but the monsters still inhabit the Earth only they take the form of mob violence and group think.

Interestingly, with his understanding for societies taboo against suicide, Bloom has no problem with the circumstances surrounding Paddy’s death. Looking at the conversation amongst the characters in the carriage Paddy’s death was the direct result of a lifetime’s overindulgence in alcohol. They say:

“— The Lord forgive me! Mr Power said, wiping his wet eyes with his fingers. Poor Paddy! I little thought a week ago when I saw him last and he was in his usual health that I’d be driving after him like this. He’s gone from us.

— As decent a little man as ever wore a hat, Mr Dedalus said. He went very suddenly.

— Breakdown, Martin Cunningham said. Heart.

He tapped his chest sadly.

Blazing face: redhot. Too much John Barleycorn. Cure for a red nose. Drink like the devil till it turns adelite. A lot of money he spent colouring it.” (Joyce 1922)

The total acceptance of Paddy’s life of alcohol abuse and his subsequent death from the same abuse goes totally counter to the many repetitions of the call for moderation within The Odyssey.

Elpenor’s death is likely the strongest of the calls for moderation in alcohol intake as his death is the explicit result of overindulgence. When Odysseus describes Elpenor’s death, he says, “There was a man, Elpenor, the youngest in our ranks,/none too brave in battle, none too sound in mind.[…]/sodden with wine […]/headfirst from the roof he plunged” (Homer 10.608-609, 612, 615.) Odysseus describes Elpenor in a poor light. He shows Elpenore as inexperienced by describing him as the youngest, as a coward by describing him as none to brave, as stupid by describing him as none to sound in mind, and as a possible alcoholic by describing him as sodden with wine. Very early in the next chapter, Elpenore repeats similar lines reinforcing the connections foolishness and drinking to excess. When describing his own death, Elpenor says, “[T]he doom of an angry god, and god knows how much wine—/they were my ruin” (Homer 11.67-68.) But even with the understanding that Elpenor led a foolish life Odysseus agrees to honor him with a hero’s burial. Elpenor says, “[B]urn me in full armor, all my harness, […]/so even men to come will learn my story.” Even though Odysseus describes Elpenor’s death as he would a fool’s death, he agrees to these terms for his burial.

Similarly, Bloom describes Paddy’s death positive terms. He says, “— The best death” (Joyce 1922.) Despite Homer’s repeated calls for moderation and despite the obvious signs of Paddy’s wasted life destroyed by overindulgence of alcohol, Both Elpenor and Paddy are honored in death receiving all the rights due to them as full members of their societies. This contradiction seems to show that in both Homer’s time and Joyce’s time a person’s burial is a time for somber recollections and happy memories of the dead despite what the evidence of their life may show.

Joyce’s subtle callback to Homer’s epic give the text of Ulysses both a framework from which to draw the scenes of the novel, and an ancient world view that in its contradictions with modern thought gives lessons to teach us in the present day how to be good members of society. Clarvoe might say that the repetition of The Odyssey in Ulysses is the ritual out of time to be fulfilled in our time as our lives repeat the same lessons taught three thousand years ago.

Works Cited

Clarvoe, Jennifer. “Poetry and Repetition.” Antioch Review, vol. 67, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 30–41. EBSCOhost,

Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922.

  1. “Schemas.” The Joyce Project : Ulysses : Schemas, 2017,

The Godless Funeral Procession

27 Feb 2019


The “Hades” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses repurposes the theme of travel that is central to The Odyssey. Bloom and Daedalus’ trip to the cemetery recalls both Odysseus’ trip to the underworld accompanied by his crew and the suitors’ procession to the underworld led by Hermes. When Odysseus visits the underworld, he is sent under Circe’s orders to head the expedition (Homer 10.540-545.) Bloom and Daedalus are led to the cemetery by an unseen carriage driver. The missing driver in Joyce’s adaptation of homer’s scene is much like Circe’s promise to Odysseus that he will be piloted to the underworld by the north wind. Circe says, “[L]et no lack of a pilot at the helm concern you, no […] the North Wind will speed you on your way” (Homer 10.555, 557.) Although Odysseus must take it on faith that he will make it to the underworld without the aid of an experienced pilot, he is given the assurance from no less than a Goddess that he will reach his destination. When the suitors travel to the underworld in the last chapter of The Odyssey, they are led by Hermes, another of the pantheon of Gods (Homer 24.1-15.)  In the world of The Odyssey, even those who have gravely offended the Gods and have suffered their wrath are led by holy guidance, but Bloom and Daedalus are not given the same supernatural attention. While it can be assumed that Bloom and Daedalus have seen that they have a pilot for their carriage, the reader is given no assurance that there is anyone directing their trip. Therefore, Bloom and Daedalus’ world is shown to be much more tenuous than Odysseus’ world. Bloom and Daedalus must rely on a society directed by humans alone, a society where the existence of a guiding power can only be guessed at.






Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922.

The Lotus Eaters of Blood and Flesh

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.



Works Cited

Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922.


13 Feb 2019

The “Calypso” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses starts off with a short inventory of Leopold Bloom’s tastes in food. The narrator says, “Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine” (Joyce 1922.) Two paragraphs later he inventories the food that he puts on his wife’s plate. And somewhat later in the chapter, Bloom inventories the city in one long paragraph of stream of consciousness thought.  Bloom narrates his thoughts:

“[T]he loose cellar flap of number seventy five. […] [T]he steeple of George’s church. […] Boland’s breadvan delivering with trays our daily […]. [S]entry there, old ranker too, old Tweedy’s big moustaches […]. Turbaned faces going by. Dark caves of carpet shops, big man, Turko the terrible[…]. Cries of sellers in the streets. […] The shadows of the mosques among the pillars: priest with a scroll rolled up. A shiver of trees, signal, the evening wind. […] Fading gold sky. A mother watches me […]. High wall: beyond strings twanged. Night sky, moon, violet, colour of Molly’s new garters. Strings. […] A girl playing one of those instruments […]” (Joyce 1922.)

These inventories both bring Bloom’s world to life in vivid detail and connect Ulysses to The Odyssey with the use of a literary technique that is characteristic of the epic.


Also in this chapter, Joyce compares Bloom’s cat to the Greek Gods. In The Odyssey, Calypso is tagged with the epithet “lustrous goddess” (Homer 5.87, 96) and Bloom’s cat is described as lustrous creature. The narrator says, “Mr Bloom watched curiously, kindly, the lithe black form. Clean to see: the gloss of her sleek hide, the white button under the butt of her tail, the green flashing eyes” (Joyce 1922.) The cat is also described the same way that the Greek Gods are often shown in The Odyssey. The narrator says, “They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to. Vindictive too” (Joyce 1922.) The reason why Odysseus had such a difficult time getting home from Troy is because Poseidon holds a grudge against him for blinding Polyphemus (Homer 1.22-24, 10.583-596, 614-619.) Therefore, Poseidon evinces the vindictive qualities of the Greek Gods. In this week’s readings, Athena shows how, like the cat, the Greek Gods understand more about humans than humans do about them (Gods and cats.) Odysseus is told by Athena what he must do to successfully rid his house of the unwanted suitors. Athena says, “[T]hanks to me the Phaeacians all embraced you warmly. And now I am here once more, to weave a scheme with you […] and tell you all the trials you must suffer in your palace” (Homer 13.343-344, 347-348.) But this comparison of the cat to the gods also juxtaposes the way the Greek Gods are revered in Greek Myth with lack of significance that the Greek Gods have in contemporary times.


In Joyce’s Ulysses, the cat, while being compared to the powerful Greek Gods, is dependent on Bloom for her very subsistence. The cat lives in Bloom’s house because he feels that he can get some use out of the cat. Bloom expects the cat to catch mice. While Bloom looks for some small thing to feed the cat, the narrator says, “Give her too much meat she won’t mouse” (Joyce 1922.) Also like Calypso holding Odysseus captive, Bloom has a fascination with the way the cat looks. The same quote about Bloom watching the cat’s lithe black form that compares the cat to the Greek Gods also compares the cat to Odysseus being admired by Calypso and Bloom to Calypso admiring Odysseus. And like the Goddess who doesn’t quite understand how Odysseus sees the world, Bloom wonders at how the cat sees the world. Illuminating Blooms thoughts, the narrator says, “Wonder what I look like to her. Height of a tower?” (Joyce 1922.) And like Odysseus standing at the shore staring across the ocean and longing to be home, the cat sits looking at the door hoping Bloom will open it and let her leave (Joyce 1922.) Joyce’s re-examination of the relationship between Calypso and Odysseus in this chapter shows that Bloom has a heightened awareness of the power discrepancy between him and his cat. And as a stand-in for Calypso, Blooms relationship with the cat highlights the abusiveness of a physical relationship between Calypso and Odysseus as a human can be little more than be an unwilling pet to a God.




Works Cited

Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922.

Odysseus, King under the Mountain: A Reference to The Hobbit while Discussing a Different Tolkien Novel that is Off Topic

4 Feb 2019

Odysseus’ wanderings through the landscape of ancient Greek myth are more than just a rehashing of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. Homer uses themes from The Argonautica to anchor Odysseus’ tale within the cannon of Greek myth. Repeating themes from the stories that people are already familiar with signals to his audience that the story that he is telling is of just much importance as the story from which he is borrowing. Therefore, borrowing themes from The Argonautica signals the audience to pay attention as the story they are about to hear is loaded with important lessons that will help them to become better citizens.


Homer’s allusion to the clashing rocks from The Argonautica comes shortly on the heels of Odysseus’ trip to Hades where he performs ritual sacrifice to Persephone and the ghosts of the underworld in order to speak to Tiresias (Homer 11.30-41 and 12.69-72.) This ritual is described by Circe in chapter 10 and then repeated by Odysseus in chapter 11 (Homer 10.569-576 and 11.30-41.) According to Jennifer Clavore’s “Poetry and Repetition,” Odysseus’ instruction of how to do the ritual and then his following through with the ritual in strict obedience to the instruction signals the cultural importance of the ritual (Clavore 31.) Therefore, the circumstances of The Argonautica being repeated within the text of The Odyssey signals with their repetition that the themes are of great cultural importance. The long list of ghosts that Odysseus spoke with also helped to anchor the tale of The Odyssey into the myths of the ancient Greeks as Odysseus spoke with many of the notables of Greek myth such as Heracles’ mother (Homer 11.302-303,) Oedipus’ mother (Homer 11.307,) and Ariadne, the daughter of Minos (Homer 11.364-365.)


According to M. L. West, the most apparent borrowing that Homer takes from The Argonautica comes from the section of The Odyssey that deals with the clashing rocks (West 39.) While the clashing rocks are mentioned, Odysseus is instructed to take a different rout avoiding the dangers as he does not have the magical ship the Argo or the protection of Hera (Homer 12.73, 76-80.) Therefore, Odysseus does exist within the same mythic construction of the ancient world but he is only following the same rout taken by a predecessor and not claiming Jason’s exploits as his own. In fact, Circe even says, “One ship alone, one deep-sea craft sailed clear, the Argo, sung by the world, when heading home from Aeetes” (Homer 12.73-75.) Circe even admits that the story of the Argo had been “sung by the world.” Therefore, she is stating that the exploits of Jason and his crew are general knowledge of everyone who is hearing Odysseus, and she is inviting Odysseus to learn the lessons taught in myth the way that the audience of The Odyssey is expected to learn from it. So if The Argonautica is actually known by the world, the way that Circe claims it is, Jason’s exploits are in the public domain and the typical rules of copyright and attribution of the intellectual property of others do not apply.


Somewhat off topic, Odysseus’s descent into the underworld reminded me quite a bit of Aragorn’s time with the ghosts in Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s ghosts could not rest until they had redeemed themselves for the pact that they had broken with their king and they obey Aragorn because he is of the royal line, and Homer’s ghosts come at the behest of Odysseus both because he had made a sacrifice to them and because he had the favor of Circe and Athena.

Works Cited

Clarvoe, Jennifer. “Poetry and Repetition.” Antioch Review, vol. 67, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 30–41. EBSCOhost,

Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

West, M.L. “‘Odyssey’ and ‘Argonautica.'” The Classical Quarterly 55.1 (May 2005): 39-64.

Thudding Wings of Daedalus

30 Jan 2019

Early on in the Nestor chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen calls upon the muses while listening to the boys answers to his history questions. Stephen thinks, “Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it.” (Joyce 1922.) According to “The Joyce Project” page about this highlighted section of text, the phrase “daughters of memory” referrers to the nine muses, and the sentence, “Fabled by the daughters of memory,” essentially means “produced by the daughters of inspiration (JH 2012.) In this instance where Steven is retrieving the stories of history from the uninspired youths, he is invoking the muses and begging them to inspire the students to retell the past in a more imaginative and interested way.

Joyce’s portrayal of Steven tutoring history works as a fractured retelling of Odysseus’ time with the Phaeacians listening to the heroic tales from the bard. The students’ failure to engage with the stories of the past leaves Steven feeling as if the society has lost its way by ignoring the lessons of the past. Steven thinks, “A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake’s wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame” (Joyce 1922.) The impatience that the students have with their history lesson seems to Steven Daedalus like the thud of wings. And taken with his name as a reference to Icarus the thud of wings is a fall from greatness, a fall that seems likely to destroy civilization as represented by shattering glass and toppling masonry. When compared to Odysseus’ reaction to the song of the Phaeacian bard, Steven’s encounter with the retelling of history rings hollow.

In Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen pleads in silence to be lost in the emotion of a heroic retelling of the past and is thwarted by the by student who would much rather be out engaging themselves in the sport of hockey. However, Homer has his bard bring history to life with such feeling that Odysseus is brought to tears. With the bard singing of Odysseus’ exploits, the narrator says, “That was the song the famous harper sang/but great Odysseus melted into tears,/running down from his eyes to wet his cheeks” (Homer 208.84-86.) The song, as told by the bard, has the power to make powerful Odysseus break down into tears and Odysseus’ tears bring on the sympathy of the king. Therefore history has the power to make real change in Odysseus’ world. Yet in Joyce’s retelling, history is more of an inconvenience that gets in the way of the real fun and Steven’s inner monologue is a reaction to history’s lost power.



Works Cited


Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

  1. “Daughters of Memory.” The Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 2012.

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922.

Homer’s Rosy-Fingered Odyssey

21 Jan 2019

The first thing that strikes me about the first four books of The Odyssey is its use of repetition as an organizational device within the text. As an introduction to each new act, Homer writes, “Now when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared […]” (Homer 800 BCE.) Homer repeats this phrase or a similarly worded phrase about the coming of morning as a kind of shorthand to let his audience know that he is beginning on a new segment of the narrative. According to New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, “Homer uses these prefabricated metrical building-blocks to facilitate rapid composition of long narrative poems in an oral setting” (B.G. and T.V.F.B. 378-379.) But the repetition of Homer’s phrase could have other implications as well.

When discussing repetition of a particular ritual in The Odyssey, Jennifer Clavore, in “Poetry and Repetition,” states, “The repetition marks the ritual as ritual, as repeatable; it exists as a form out of time, to be fulfilled in time” (Clavore 31.) Following Clavore’s logic the repetition of the coming of morning and the near exact repetition of the wording of the phrasing indicates that Homer is pointing out the special significance of the coming of day and the sunrise in particular. The repetition could be a promise that the morning will come as it always does and it could have similar meaning to the contemporary saying “tomorrow is another day” signifying the possibility of getting a fresh start despite the difficulties one may have had in the past. According to Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Homer’s epic poems were originally intended to give moral and religious instruction (Szegedy-Maszak 95.) Therefore, the phrase, “the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn,” with its personification of the dawn could easily be an allusion to whichever Greek God who is responsible for bringing about the morning as The Odyssey is chock full of Gods that take active interest in the dealings of individual mortals such as Telemachus and Ulysses.

Of the many parallels between the text of Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses, the appearance of the Gods amongst the humans stands out to me. Chapter one of Joyce’s novel spends much of the text in parodying and blaspheming the Catholic Church which is the dominant religion in the Ireland of the text, yet Steven Daedalus feels that the old woman who delivers the milk to them is a goddess. Joyce writes, “Old and secret she had entered from a morning world, maybe a messenger. […] A wandering crone, lowly form of an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer, their common cuckquean, a messenger from the secret morning” (Joyce 1922.) Steven’s godly messenger stands in stark contrast to Telemachus’ visitation from Minerva who comes in the form of Mentes, the chief of the Taphians and later in the form of Mentor, both characters of high esteem (Homer 800 BCE.) Telemachus’ visitation from the Goddess in the form of heroic characters reflects on his royal status and hints at his possibility of his own heroic transformation. However, Steven’s visitation by a Goddess in the form of a crone shows that he likely has a much more humble fate in store for him. Interestingly, in the quote about Steven’s visitation by the crone there is a mention of “secret morning” that calls back to Homer’s repeated phrase, but I am not sure yet what this emergence of “secret morning” means within Joyce’s text.

Works Cited

B.G., and T.V.F.B. “EPITHET.” New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, Jan. 1993, pp. 378–379. EBSCOhost,

Clarvoe, Jennifer. “Poetry and Repetition.” Antioch Review, vol. 67, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 30–41. EBSCOhost,

Homer. The OdysseyThe Internet Classics Archive,

Joyce, James. UlyssesThe Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922.

Szegedy-Maszak, Andrew. “Why Do We Still Read Homer?” American Scholar, vol. 71, no. 1, Winter 2002, p. 95. EBSCOhost,