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To anyone out there who’s reading this book for the first time, I’d suggest you not spend too much time trying to parse Mulligan’s summary of  Stephen’s theory of Shakespeare.  I will tell you, however, it is far more concise than Stephen’s own version, which you will read in Episode 9.

When Mulligan says to Stephen “O Shade of Kinch the Elder,” the reference ties back to him saying that Stephen is the ghost of his own father a moment before, but also ties to Hamlet, and the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the first act.

We don’t know anything yet about Stephen’s father, though we will be meeting him shortly.  We do know, however, that the title of this episode is “Telemachus,” and Stephen is Joyce’s Telemachus, another famous son of an absent father.  The Odyssey structure prompts us to ask in what way Stephen is looking for a father, and here the discussion comes straight to the point.

from Aida Yared's JoyceImages.com

The phrase “Japhet in Search of a Father” requires a little more excavation.  It’s the title of a novel from 1836 by the once-enormously-popular Capt. Frederick Marryat.  And if you’d like to take a few weeks out of your life to read it, thanks to Google Books, now you can.

And of course, there’s more.  Japhet is also Japheth, the third son of Noah (after Shem and Ham. Or possibly before. Unclear whether he was oldest or youngest.).  According to Biblical legend, Japheth is the ur-ancestor of Europeans.

On the most basic level, though, Mulligan is using Hamlet and the once-familiar title of a once-familiar book to give Stephen a little of the old “Who’s Your Daddy.”

This isn’t the easiest moment in the chapter for all of the references flying, but you can best get at what’ s happening here by just spending a minute thinking generally about what it means to be a father vs. a mother (obvious biology aside), and what it means to be a ghost. These are big questions in Ulysses, especially the uncertainty of paternity (in a pre-DNA age) vs. the certainty of maternity…

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The flashback continues. Stephen is thinking about his mother, thinking about her room and objects he identifies with her, thinking about her memories, things she told him about her childhood.

Remember the context–Mulligan wants to use Stephen’s money, his wit, his ideas for his own benefit.  This is mostly just selfishness, but also grandiosity, in that Mulligan wants to use Stephen for his project to “Hellenise” the island, to bring a new classical age to this struggling Ireland that’s at a critical point in its history.  Several times through the day Stephen will hear about a new plan for Ireland, people will turn to him to talk about the future, or it’s artistic future. Where does this lead him?

Backwards–to thoughts about his mother–to the creation of a scene.  In these powerful and vivid fragments, you’re seeing Stephen Dedalus begin to stretch his wings (so to speak) and show the promise of his creativity.

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[Cf. 1922: 5:2-15; Gabler 1:67-80]Stephen has just been complaining about Haines and his nightmare. Mulligan is changing the topic, staying on his tear about “Hellenization.”

Mulligan jokingly suggests that the new art color for Irish poets is “snotgreen.”  The color green is not a trivial thing to the Irish, especially not in 1904, when the memory of the Penal Laws (which repressed Catholicism and symbols of Irish identity) would still have been present.  At this moment in history, Irish identity, and the future of Irish identity, is up for grabs.  There is a newly emerging school of scholars and artists who are turning back to the native culture of Ireland as the source of its future–people are just starting to learn the Irish language again and read ancient Irish poetry.   Mulligan is basically making fun of this.  Instead, he’s looking to ancient Greece, perhaps thinking about a new Irish classical age.  But Stephen isn’t much interested in this either.  I’ll suggest that instead of looking backward into history, Stephen is looking towards the new artistic capital of Paris.

In the second panel, Rob has drawn Mulligan and Stephen in an odd pose. Stephen seems to be surprised in mid-phrase, and Mulligan is reaching into his pocket. Specifically he “thrust his hand into Stephen’s upper pocket.” It’s an interesting moment, one that the comic allows us to show the body language for. Mulligan is intruding, being forward, in Stephen’s space. “Thalatta thalatta” means, unsurprisingly, “The sea, the sea!” It’s from Xenophon. You can look it up…

A small textual point–there’s an omission in this early draft–Mulligan says “Lend us a loan of your noserag to wipe my razor” –we left out the “your.” Also, in the Rosenbach manuscript, Mulligan’s first mention of the sea in this moment is “she is our “great” sweet mother.” That’s in Joyce’s handwriting, and it’s quite clear. It’s repeated a few lines later. But in his errata for the first edition, Joyce specified that he wanted this to be “grey” sweet mother. A nice allusion to grey-eyed Athena, Odysseus’ protector, but otherwise obscure.

And as for the Greek– “Epi Oinopa Ponton” means (according to Gifford) “upon the winedark sea,” a common epithet in Homer’s Odyssey. This is another moment when I wonder if Joyce was raising another flag to his readers… “Hey! The Odyssey! It’s important!” We know the Odyssey is important now, eighty years after it was published… but this might have been a more useful to early readers.

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Reader’s Guide for I: Telemachus

Dramatis Personae for I: Telemachus

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[cf. 1922 5.18, Gabler 1.85]

A moment ago, Mulligan was quoting Swinburne when he referred to the sea as our “great sweet mother.”  He’s modulated into George William Russell a/k/a AE, who often referred to nature as the Mighty Mother. Russell was a preeminent literary figure in turn of the century Dublin, and in 1904 he became the first person to publish a short story by Joyce–in a newspaper he edited called The Irish Homestead.  Russell has a prominent part in Episode 9–“Scylla and Charybdis”–and we’ll certainly talk more about him then.

Back here in “Telemachus”, Mulligan’s comment will lead, a moment from now, into a discussion of Stephen’s mother’s death.  There’s a lot to be said about the different roles of mothers and fathers in Joyce’s world–especially in Episode 9.  Very briefly–mothers are associated with ultimate, undeniable truth–truth beyond language.  They may be the one true thing in life (a paraphrase). Paternity, however–especially in the days before genetic testing–was uncertain.  This uncertainty creates an intolerable vacuum, that has to be cemented over with legal, verbal certainties. In “Scylla,” Stephen talks about paternity as a “legal fiction,” (and you should put as much emphasis on the fiction as on the legal here).  You should also be thinking about Hamlet again, and always!

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Reader’s Guide for I: Telemachus

Dramatis Personae for I: Telemachus

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You can buy copies of the works mentioned by clicking on the links below.