There are many different ways to enter the labyrinth of Joyce’s text and, challenging bastard that he was, Joyce often left many well-intended but ultimately false breadcrumb trails for us to foolishly follow while he sat safely in the the shade of a forest elm laughing at our academic and misguided assurances of correct navigation. He was, at the end of the day, a genius-prankster, a terribly devious minister of his own sense of modernism, who never missed out on the opportunity to lead pilgrims astray. Hell, he longed for that opportunity and set about finding more and more ways to reach it in the new and uncharted waters of “a fully modern novel.”
If you know anything about Ulysses, you might know that it bears a strong family resemblance to Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce transposes elements of the ancient story to one day in the life of Dublin, a warm June day in 1904. Telemachus is the son of Odysseus (that’s Ulysses to you, if you’re Roman), and when you meet him, he is desperate to do something about the horde of suitors that is waiting to marry his mother and despoiling his home. He doesn’t remember his father, who’s been gone for a very long time.
But if you just pick up Joyce’s novel, you have no idea that the first episode is called “Telemachus.” [Nor, for that matter, do you know that it’s June 16, 1904, 8:00 a.m., or a Thursday. It takes hundreds of pages to figure this out. But we bring it to you on a platter!]
The word “Telemachus” appears nowhere in the book. Joyce had Homeric titles for all of the 18 episodes, however, and he used them regularly when talking about the book with his friends. In 1920, he created a “schema” for his friend (and writer and critic) Carlo Linati, which would quickly become the first of many tools for reading the book.