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.
Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. The Joyce Project : Ulysses : Pigeonhouse, 1922. m.joyceproject.com/chapters/telem.html.