We’ve talked already about Stephen as “Daedalus”, master builder and whatnot, but Rob’s drawing brings home that Stephen is in a labyrinth.
Despite Stephen’s Greek name, however, here Mulligan is thinking of a trip to Greece and Stephen is focused on the present moment and an unwelcome guest.
Would Stephen go to Athens if Mulligan’s aunt were to pay? No. That’s why Mulligan calls him “jejune” or immature. He wouldn’t take advantage of misplaced generosity in the name of a good trip.
Mulligan points the way to the association with his riffing on Stephen’s “absurd” Greek name. Why is Mulligan talking about the Greeks, anyway? I’m sure part of what’s going on is Joyce signalling to the reader that we are both in Homer’s Greece and and in Joyce’s Ireland at the same time. Mulligan’s interest in Greek also marks his superior education, and for a few brave interpreters, suggests that he may be gay.
Stephen is an artist, and he’s looking for direction. For many Dublin artists, the logical place to go was London–that’s where the publishers and readers were, that was where the roots of English literature were planted, that was where the money was. In 1904, with a great Celtic awakening in full swing in Ireland, many artists were looking instead to the island’s native culture–think of John Millington Synge, or of Miss Ivors’ cutting remarks to Gabriel Conroy in “The Dead.” Mulligan proposes a third way–looking to the traditions of the ancient world, and past the less-culturally-stimulating history of the Roman empire to the world of the Greeks.
Many articles have and will continue to be written on this subject, but for now, let me put in a small placeholder to indicate that that the concept of the classical world was very important for all kinds of “modern” artists–advances in archaeology in the late nineteenth century made that world suddenly far more real, and many artists of the period looked to the classical world for a purity and humanism in art that would get them past what was seen as the decadence and chauvinism of the late Victorian period. This trend is the very place Ulysses comes from, after all. [Tho’ on this, another brief note–Joyce himself did not know much ancient or modern Greek. He sure knew his Latin, though!]
One would expect that Stephen would be more sympathetic to Mulligan’s invitation, then. But Mulligan’s invitation, we will see, is utterly insincere. And also, Telemachus doesn’t go back to Troy to find his father…