No Man Can Serve Two Masters: Classical Influence in Paradise Lost

Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, brings together Christian and Classical myth in order to draw attention to a foundational part of the Christian origin story. Milton uses his Classical education to connect his epic with other foundational texts of western society such as The Iliad and The Odyssey and to reiterate the importance of Christian studies alongside the Classics. Milton brings the Greek and Roman Gods into the story of Adam and Eve both to ornament the story and to reinforce themes with Classical parallels. Even the most fleeting reference to Classical myth creates a tapestry or parallels and meaningful connotations within the text. When discussing the repetition of a particular ritual in Homer’s Odyssey, Jennifer Clavore 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.) The advent of Christianity in Western society occurs as a result of Roman imperialism, and the Roman Empire was built off Greek ideas such as democracy. Because of Western society’s origins in Roman and Greek thought, Greek and Roman myth have the quality of feeling older than Christian myth when viewed from this perspective. Therefore, Milton’s repetition of Classical references and rituals create temporal distortion in a story of the beginning of the universe. This distortion gives the Classical repetitions much more power than they would have already had. The inclusion of the name of the Roman Goddess, Aurora, although it appears only once in the text of Paradise Lost, acts as ritual repetition of Classical thought both as ornamentation and opposition to the Christian message contained within Milton’s text.

John Milton Begins Book V of Paradise Lost with a reference to one of Homer’s stock lines about the rosy fingered dawn (Milton V.1.) Milton’s line, “Now Morn her rosy steps in th’ eastern clime…” (V.1) corresponds closely to Homer’s line, “When young Dawn with her rose red fingers shone once more…” (Odyssey II.1.) 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” (Epithet 378-379.) In Homer’s day, epic poems are committed to memory and sung to a live audience. The use of stock lines and repeated epithets are necessary to help with memorization and to keep the recitation to a standard meter. By Milton’s time, reading and writing is much more common, and it is no longer necessary to compose and store poetry solely through memorization. Milton has the benefit of written composition which gives him the luxury of time that allows for the revision of lines to rework rhythm and diversify the imagery to avoid unnecessary repetition. Therefore, when Milton incorporates Homer’s imagery of the “Dawn with her rose red fingers,” he does so not as a stock line intended to initiate the meter but as an invocation of Homer’s verse to locate his Christian epic within the context of the Classical epic tradition. In essence, Milton calls back to Homer’s stock line to invoke the blind poet as his Classical muse and use the image of Aurora as a de facto invocation of the muse.

In live performance, the invocation of the muse serves as a queue for the audience to suspend their disbelief. It allows the audience to believe that the poet is not some fallible person standing in front of them relating stories of pointless fantasy but a conduit of the Gods relating the secrets of the universe and is therefore a ritual to invoke holy revelation. According to Elizabeth Minchin:

[T]he initial appeal serves a practical function: it announces the performance. It is the signal for the audience-to-be to stop talking amongst themselves and to listen to an extraordinary tale. […] By implication he assures his audience that his story will be a story worth telling; its divine source is a guarantee of its authenticity and its quality. […] [H]e offers a bare outline of the story to come. (Minchin 1995)

As there is no performer to disrupt the illusion of Milton’s telling of the poem, an invocation to the muse actually serves to disconnect the reader from the experience of the poem rather than draw him or her in. And in a decidedly Christian poem like Paradise Lost invoking the muse runs the risk of at least confusing or at worst alienating the reader.

Minchin believes that this disconnection can be beneficial to the telling of a long poem such as an epic. Minchin says, “[T]he effect off the invocation […] is metanarrational, in that it interrupts the story to comment on, or draw attention to, some aspect of the tale or its telling” (1995.) Milton uses the metanarrational quality of the invocation of the muse to overcome the disrupting and alienating quality that accompanies such an anachronism. He uses the invocation to reiterate the Christian quality of his epic. Milton allows his narrator to explain directly that the invocation of the muse is purely metaphorical. The narrator says, “Descend from Heav’n Urania…/The meaning, not the name I call” (Milton VII.1, 5.) In this metanarrational flourish, Milton makes it clear that his epic is not intended to create some Pagan/Christian hybrid of a foundational Christian myth, but he intends to use the references to Classical myth for its richness of connotation as a metaphor for Christian truths.

Milton’s repetition of Homer’s words is used to iterate on previous imagery and to drive home important points similar to the way Homer’s repetition of rituals works within The Odyssey. Homer strictly details the rituals to be performed then shows them being performed in strict compliance to the instructions. According to Clavore:

In The Odyssey, the repetition brings back our memory of the earlier description, and gives shape thereby to the intervening narrative. In Paradise Lost, the repeated passages follow each other so quickly that nothing has had a chance to happen in between—neither for the reader, nor for Adam and Eve themselves. The return is too pat. (Clavore 31)

While the ritual and repetition that Milton’s characters perform falls flat, Milton’s narration performs successfully the ritual return to Classical tradition and myth. Homer sets the ritual and opens his epic with a call to the muse (Odyssey 1.1-12.) More than two thousand years later, Milton opens Paradise Lost with a call to the classical muse, Urania (Milton 1.1-49.) In this repetition of ritual, Milton does not return too quickly, nor is his repetition too pat. Milton fills his repetition of the invocation of the muse with Christian intention.

Milton continues to use references to Classical Myth throughout the epic as a kind of a teaching ritual that develops the Classical references into powerful Christian symbolism. Yet, Ernst Robert Curtius says, “[Milton] is […] unsuccessful […] in filling the Christian Urania with life. She remains the product of an embarrassing predicament” (Curtius 244.) According to Curtius, the Classical muse is incompatible with a distinctly Christian story like Paradise Lost. But maybe that was Milton’s point. If Urania does not come across as a real character, she must be metaphor for something else. John Himes says:

With a little careful thought it is possible in most cases to determine with certainty what moral quality each of Milton’s characters is intended to represent. The form, stature, attire, words and actions of each are always consistent with its central nature. Each is also associated with some force, agent, or phenomenon in the material world which suggests and illustrates it. (Himes 528)

Following Himes’ logic, Milton’s muse—though more of a metaphor than a full-fledged character—stands in for the spirit of God. The narrator begins the poem with an invocation of the heavenly muse. The narrator says, “Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top/of Oreb or of Sinai, didst inspire…” (Milton I.6-7.) In the book of Exodus, Horeb is referred to as the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1.) And Sinai is described a mountain of smoke and earthquakes (Exodus 19:18.) On both Horeb and Sinai, God appeared to Moses as a burning bush then again as a cloud of smoke and fire (Exodus 3:2, 19:18.) Therefore, the reference to Oreb and Sinai reconfigure the connotations of the Heavenly Muse from Greek Goddesses of inspiration into the fiery spirit of god that gave his laws to the Israelites through Mosses. In Book III., Milton changes the imagery of the muse from God’s fire to holy light. The narrator says, “Hail holy light, offspring of Heav’n first-born,/Or of th’ Eternal coeternal beam/May I express thee unblamed? Since God is light…” (Milton III.1-3.) By book III, Milton is asking God directly to inspire in him the knowledge that only God can know.

According to William Hunter, the light that is God is also just an aspect of God. Hunter writes, “I wish to urge that the collocation of the two images light-sun and stream-fountain reveals that Milton had in mind the identification of this Holy Light with the Son of God” (Hunter 589.) Hunter indicates that the light coming from the Father is the Son because the ray of light that comes from the emanation of light is both an aspect of the emanation of light and the emanation of light itself. Similarly, he explains, the Son is an emanation of the Father and the Father and the Son are one. Therefore, in Book V, the light of dawn coming in the east is the Son. Milton iterates on his image of the muse as the fire of God changing it to the light of God which is God. Therefore, the mention of Aurora (Milton V.6) is actually the Son personified in the rising light of day, and the Son announces and makes ready for the Father, like Aurora, personifying the dawn announces and makes ready for the sun, the source of the light of day. And the rosy light of the dawn similar to the light one might see coming from a flame draws back on the imagery of the spirit of God as fire.

Milton uses the line “Now Morn her rosy steps in th’ eastern clime/Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl…” (V.1-2) to develop Homer’s “When young Dawn with her rose red fingers shone once more…” for a Christian audience. Personifying the morning strengthens the separation between author and inspiration as the morning is the one sowing the inspiration of God as pearls in the earth. Connecting Gods light from book III and the rosy light of dawn, Milton reasserts his intention to narrate from the omnipotent position of God rather than that of a fallible human author, and the reference to Homer’s stock line about the beginning of a new day becomes a powerful Christian symbol as well as a reassertion of the invocation of the muse.

The image of the pearl works both as a physical manifestation of God’s influence, and as a reference to Christian scripture. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 14.45-46.) In Milton’s depiction of earth before the fall, the pearls of God’s kingdom are given freely to all of the earth that is reached by the dawn not just the land within the garden paradise. The morning sowing the pearls of light in the earth shows that in the eyes of God all of the earth, before the fall, is perfectly made in God’s image. But earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7.6.) With this verse in mind, Milton’s mention of the morning sowing pearls hints at the possibility of man’s fall as it states that dogs and swine are not worthy of the gift of God’s kingdom. And to reinforce this interpretation of Aurora’s dawn as the promise of God’s kingdom being free to all, after the fall the image of the coming morning no longer bears the rosy imagery. The narrator says, “To resalute the world with sacred light/Leucothea waked, and with fresh dews imbalmed/The Earth” (Milton XI.134-136.) While the footnotes in the Modern Library edition of Paradise Lost describes Leucothea as a Goddess of the Dawn (Milton 367,) Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary defines her as a Greek Goddess of the sea (Lemprière 321.) In this passage, the coming of morning is accompanied by Leucothea rather than Aurora, the Goddess of the dawn. And the change in Deity bringing on the light of day signifies a change in tone consistent with the ushering in of death into the world. The morning is no longer brought along by a willing Goddess liberally sowing the pearls of the kingdom of God, but is forced up out of the ocean by the Goddess of the sea who embalms the dying earth trying to stave off its decomposition.

When the imagery associated with Aurora recurs in Book VIII, it connects God’s light with marital love. After Adam discusses his and Eve’s creation and marriage, he asks Raphael if Angels form unions as man. The narrator says, “To whom the angel with a smile that glowed/Celestial rosy red, loves proper Hue, (Milton VIII.618-619.) Then Rafael says, “Easier than air with air, if spirits embrace,/Total they mix, union of pure with pure/[…] As flesh to mix with flesh, or soul with soul” (VIII.626-627, 629.) The rosy red blush on the angle’s smile (VI.1) symbolizes the light of God within Rafael and is a recurrence of the imagery associated Aurora. As Eve is the first created female and as no female characters have been introduced in Paradise Lost other than Aurora, Leucathea, and Urania (who are clearly classical stand ins for God) and Sin (who is an allegorical personification of vice), there is no evidence to support the existence of female angels within the story of Paradise Lost. Therefore, the union of angles that is discussed would be much like the union between the father and the son. As emanations of the father, angels like air can mix soul with soul in an angelic approximation of how Adam and Eve mix flesh with flesh and soul with soul. The repetition of Adam and Eve’s union in the union of angels lends strength to the thematic importance of the union between Adam and Eve.

Even though the occurrence of Aurora at the beginning of Book V of Paradise Lost works as a rhetorical stand in for the Son of God, it is also an image that adds strength to the importance of Eve’s role in God’s plan. Much like the depiction of Eve, Aurora shows up as a beautiful woman in a pastoral setting sowing pearls in the earth everywhere the light touches (V.2.) If the pearls are the kingdom of God, there must be people to be governed over. Eve, like the image of Aurora sowing pearls, is expected to sow the seeds of the kingdom of God on earth by initiating the population of the planet. However, the ritual repetition of Classical traditions through the reference to Aurora does more than simply facilitate a multifaceted string of evolving metaphor, it also brings along all the baggage of Aurora’s place within Classical myth.

Homer’s story of Aurora embedded within Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite stands out as a classical counterpart to the story of Adam and Eve. Isabel Rivers says, “[The Gods] were moral allegories of human conduct and foreshadowings of Christian truth […] Pagan myth both adorns and reveals [these truths] […]” (Rivers 24-25.) While Himes agrees that one can come to a conclusion as to what moral quality the Classical reference represents (Himes 528,) the certainty of the conclusions begins to breakdown when discussing the story of Aurora and Tithonos. When used to do more than simply ornament the story of Paradise Lost, Homer’s rendition of the story of Aurora and Tithonos clouds the Christian message of Milton’s text in a dense fog of competing moral messages.

In Homer’s Hymn to Aphrodite, he tells of the tragic love affair between Eos, the Greek counterpart to the Roman Aurora, and Tithonos. Aphrodite says:

In much the same way was Tithonos abducted by Eos [the Dawn Goddess], she of the

golden embroidery.

He too belonged to your family line, looking like the immortal ones.

Then she went with a request to the Son of Kronos [Zeus], him of the dark clouds,

asking that he [Tithonos] become immortal and live for all days to come. (Aphrodite 218-221)

Because of the numerous similarities and differences between the story of Adam and Eve and myth of Aurora and Tithonos, the connection of the two myths causes a dizzying array of interpretative possibilities. In Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton, David Quint says, “Narrative emplotment requires a middle constituted by repetition that, because of the dual nature of repetition itself, may short-circuit and collapse upon itself rather than proceed to a desired ending […]” (Quint 51.) The echoes of the story of Aurora and Tithonos within the text of Paradise Lost cause repeating and conflicting implications that do short-circuit and collapse in on themselves. A discussion of these competing implications exemplifies the referential distortion that is created by this short-circuited repetition.

Aurora’s story mirrors that of Eve’s story reversing the roles played by Adam and Eve. Aurora is a goddess, and while she falls in love with Tithonos and takes care of him, she holds him against his will. Eve, on the other hand, is subordinate to Adam. He was created first, and she was created from a part his rib. However, Eve does hold some power over Adam similar to the way Aurora holds power over Tithonos. Milton’s narrator uses references to powerful mythical creatures to describe the power of Eve’s beauty over all those who see her. Eve is described as a wood-nymph, a goddess feigned (Milton V.381), and goddesslike (VII.59.) While Aurora literally is a Goddess, Eve maintains a heavenly air about herself that holds Adam in her spell. Adam says:

All higher knowledge in her presence falls

Degraded, wisdom in discourse with her

Loses discount’nanced, and like folly shows;

Authority and reason on her wait,

As one intended first, not after made […]. (VIII.549-555)

Despite Adam’s superior role in the chain of being, Eve is able to assert her superior charms and live together with him as equals.

The echoes of the imbalanced relationship between Aurora and Tithonos reinforce Eve’s insecurity that leads to her being seduced by the serpent’s lies. Eve fears that Adam will begin to feel burdened by Eve’s inferior position that way that Aurora feels burdened by Tithonos. Aphrodite says, “[S]he nourished him, keeping him in her palace,/with grain and ambrosia. And she gave him beautiful clothes” (Aphrodite 231-232.) As Aurora is completely superior to Tithonos, their relationship develops from lovers into caretaker and dependent. In fact, Aurora becomes so overwhelmed with the amount of work required to take care of Tithonos that the love is lost from their relationship. Aphrodite says, “But when the first strands of gray hair started growing/from his beautiful head and his noble chin,/then the Lady Eos stopped coming to his bed” (228-230.) The signs of ageing on Tithonos’ head are an unavoidable reminder of Tithonos’ inability to bring anything meaningful into their relationship.

The Story of Aurora also prefigures the temptations faced by Eve while she is seduced by the serpent to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and Aurora’s story rehearses Eve’s fall. After Eve eats the fruit, the narrator says, Eve has “expectation high/Of knowledge, nor was Godhead from her thought” (Milton IX.789-790.) The narrator speaks the temptations that ultimately convince Eve to disobey God’s injunction against eating the fruit. Eve says, “[R]ender me more equal, and perhaps […]/Superior; for inferior who is free” (IX.823, 825.) In fact, the reason that Eve had worked separate from Adam was because she had wanted to prove herself equal to Adam (IX.285-287.) Yet, the fact that Adam gives in and allows her to leave when Adam, as the authority figure, deems it unwise is proof of her equality. Just the same, when fantasizing about the possibility of becoming a God, Eve says:

But to Adam in what sort

Shall I appear? Shall I to him make known

As yet my change, and give him to partake

Full happiness with me, or rather not,

To keep the odds of knowledge in my power

Without copartner? (IX.816-821)

As demonstrated by the story of Aurora, if Eve were to step so far above Adam as to be a God in love with a mortal, she would end up in the role of a caretaker causing her charge to wither and die as a result of the overabundance of care she would be able to give. Aphrodite says, “[S]he put him in her chamber, and she closed the shining doors over him./From there his voice pours out—it seems never to end—and he has no strength at all,/the kind he used to have in his limbs when they could still bend” (Aphrodite 236-238.) Tithonos’ immortality is an allegorical representation of Aurora’s smothering love, and it is her doting on him and providing everything for him that weakens him.

The comparison between the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Aurora and Tithonos helps to demonstrate that the healthy relationship between Adam and Eve is based on more than just Eve’s beauty despite how much it may overwhelm Adam. Adam and Eve have a fellowship based on rational delight where Aurora’s relationship with Tithonos is based off Tithonos’ beauty and Aurora’s sense of duty. Nowhere in Aphrodite’s story of Aurora is Tithonos consulted about the questions that decide his fate. He is abducted and placed in Aurora’s palace as if he is an object. While in the palace, he is fed and clothed as if he is an animal, and one could imagine that if he is asked, he might have a similar request as Adam has when he asks God for a companion. Adam says:

Thou hast provided all things: but with me

I see not who partakes. In solitude

What happiness, who can enjoy alone,

Or all enjoying, what contentment find? (Milton VIII.363-366)

Of course this conversation never occurred between Aurora and Tithonos as he was never anything more than a beautiful trinket to be enjoyed while it was new than locked away in a vault when it has lost its lustrous shine. Therefore, a conversation like this one must have occurred between Zeus and Aurora. The scene must have been much like watching Aurora asking Zeus for her plaything to be made into a real boy.

For Aurora the huge chasm in the chain of being between mortal and immortal Goddess would make her relationship with Tithonos particularly unfulfilling. Tithonos’ mental capacity would appear to Aurora as if he were an infant in the body of a God. Aphrodite says, “[S]he put him in her chamber, and she closed the shining doors over him./From there his voice pours out—it seems never to end—and he has no strength at all […]” (Aphrodite 236-237.) In these lines, Tithonos becomes like an infant. He cannot move or take care of himself, and while his voice remains, there is no recognition in the text of what he says. For all intents and purposes Tithonos can only be heard and not understood because like a fed up mother with an infant child that won’t stop crying, Aurora closes Tithonos up in her room hoping that the door will muffle the sound just enough for her to get some peace. Therefore, Tithonos’ ability give fellowship and rational delight is hampered by Aurora’s inability to understand his words and give proper care for his needs.

Aurora’s paradise weakens both Tithonos’ body and mind causing him to wither into a freakish version of a human child. According to James Rovira, “Activities sustaining the human body sustain the human mind, the seat of reason, thus turning “corporeal” food into “incorporeal” thought, the physical sustaining the spiritual, the rational. Milton didn’t present the corporeal and incorporeal facets of human existence as completely separate but as part of a larger, organic whole” (Rovira 90.) Milton’s organic whole shows the interconnectedness of mind and body. Thus, when Aurora takes Tithonos away from everyday struggle not only does she weaken his body from lack of required exercise but she also weakens his mind. The body contains the mind much like the mind contains the spiritual connection to God. And this weakened spiritual connection to God is shown by Aurora’s increasing isolation from Tithonos. The story of Tithonos and Aurora, warn of the possible weakening of the spiritual connection between Adam and Eve and God that could be brought on by a perpetual life of ease in the Garden of Eden

Instead of submitting to life on its own terms, Aurora and Eve take rash measures to live within an equal partnership with their spouses. Aurora attempts to raise Tithonos up as an equal to herself, and Eve attempts to raise herself up to an equal to Adam. Aphrodite says that Aurora’s mistake was asking Zeus simply for Tithonos to gain immortality when she should have asked for eternal youth (Aphrodite 223-224.) Yet, Aphrodite finds herself in love with a mortal man and instead of having him granted immortality and eternal youth, she opts to except life on its own terms and allow her lover to live and die as a mortal (239, 244-245.) Aphrodite’s choice to let nature work itself out through its own means is backed up by Raphael’s conjecture on the ascension from man to angel. In conference with Adam and Eve, Raphael says that if they obey God they will eventually be raised up to angles. He says:

And from these corporal nutriments perhaps

Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit,


If ye be found obedient, and retain

Unalterably firm [Gods] love entire […]. (Milton V.496-497, 501-502)

While Aphrodite’s actions on their own seem to show that movement up from one’s station in life is impossible, Raphael’s conjecture overturns this belief and shows that differences of rank can be overcome by long suffering and obedience.

The story of Aurora and Tithonos shares many of the same characteristics of Homer’s story of Odysseus on Calypso’s island, and, therefore, the story of Adam and Eve bears resemblance to Homer’s story as well. In the story of Odysseus and Calypso, the idea of paradise is refigured as a type of prison: Tithonos is abducted by Aurora, held in her palace and eventually locked away in her chamber; Odysseus is shipwrecked on Calypso’s island and is not allowed to leave even though it is in her power to allow him to leave; And Adam and Eve are held by God within the bounds of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. While the story of Adam and Eve differs in the fact that they are not held against their will, they are held under threat of death.

While it is hard to know what Tithonos is thinking due to his point of view being ignored in the story as told by Aphrodite, it can be assumed by his unending and unanswered cries that he wishes to return to his life outside of paradise. In the Odyssey, Homer lets Odysseus act out the longing to escape paradise that Tithonos is never allowed to show. Homer’s narrator says:

[Hermes] found [Odysseus] there on the headland, siting, still,

weeping, his eyes never dry his sweet life flowing away

with the tears he wept for his foiled journey home […]

But all the days he’d sit on the rocks and beaches,

wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish,

gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears. (Odyssey V.167-169, 173-175)

Adam’s longing for more than what paradise has to offer is not quite as obvious as outright weeping. After God parades the animals past Adam so they can receive their names, Adam Says, “[I]n these/I found not what methought I wanted […] (Milton V.354-355.) Even though it turns out that what Adam feels deprived of is a mate and God provides Eve for him, Adam’s desire for more than what a direct relationship to God and life in paradise has to offer shows that paradise is not fulfilling in and of itself. Adam goes on to say:

Which must be mutual, in proportion due

Giv’n and received; but in disparity


[S]oon prove

Tedious alike […].” (V.385-386, 388-389)

Adam’s complaint about the unequal relationship between him and the animals will eventually hold true between him and Eve. While it is true that Eve has qualities that make up for her being of lower rank than Adam, Eve’s inferiority is pointed out several times within the text.

The connection between Aurora and Tithonos and Adam and Eve emphasizes the difficulty finding happiness in paradise. The possibility of unhappiness in paradise should not be particularly surprising as according to Quint, “[Human Freedom] must be contingent in order to be free. This contingency makes the way constantly difficult, rather than ready and easy, for man and women to stand in godliness […]” (Quint 300.) Therefore, the inclusion of Aurora as a Classical reference foreshadows the loss of paradise as Adam and Eve could not have maintained a fulfilling and happy life without the struggle and unhappiness that comes from life outside of the Garden of Eden.

Milton’s Classical reference to Aurora and all the other Classical connections that come along with it do help add texture to the story of Paradise Lost, but at the same time the constant back and forth of Classical and Christian references creates a disorienting reading experience. The large number of Classical references contained within a story that takes place at the beginning of time creates a temporal distortion yanking the reader back and forth through time as well as in and out of Christian and Classical thought. The level of disorientation achieved, at times, matches those as found in books like Don DeLillo’s White Noise, or Jorge Borges’ Labyrinths. Whether or not Milton intended such an innovation, Paradise Lost looks back at the beginning of time using the literary techniques of a future time.

Works Cited

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

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Translated by Willard R. Trask, Princeton University Press, 1973.

“Epithet.” New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, Jan. 1993, pp. 378–379. EBSCOhost,

Himes, John Andrew, and University of Virginia. Milton’s Angels. Generic NL Freebook Publisher, 1997.

Homer. Hymn to Aphrodite. Translated by Gregory Nagy, Hymn to Aphrodite,

—–. The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Penguin, 1997.

Hunter, William Jr. “The Meaning of ‘Holy Light’ in Paradise Lost III.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 74, no. 7, 1959, pp. 589–592. JSTOR,

Lemprière, John, 1765?-1824. Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary of Proper Names Mentioned in Ancient Authors Writ Large: With a Chronological Table. Routledge & K. Paul, 1984. EBSCOhost,

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Edited by Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Minchin, Elizabeth. “The Poet Appeals to His Muse: Homeric Invocations in the Context of Epic Performance.” Classical Journal, vol. 91, no. 1, Oct. 1995, pp. 25–33. EBSCOhost,

Rivers, Isabel. “Chapter 2: The Pagan Gods.” Classical & Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry, Taylor & Francis Ltd / Books, 1994, pp. 21–33. EBSCOhost,

Rovira, James. “Gathering the Scattered Body of Milton’s Areopagitica.” Renascence, vol. 57, no. 2, Winter 2005, pp. 87–102. EBSCOhost,

Quint, David. Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton. Princeton University Press, 1992.

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.