Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 6, 2009

Ulysses, by James Joyce (disordered thoughts of an amateur #5)

And so to Chapter 5,  (otherwise known as The Lotus Eaters).  

(And it’s a good thing it’s a short chapter because (in idleness LOL) I left reading it to the last minute and might nearly have missed the 16th of the month deadline for Team Ulysses.)  




 It’s 10 o’clock in the morning, and Bloom’s on his way to the funeral, Joyce describing his route as if foreseeing the Bloomsday pilgrimage that now takes place every year on June 16th.  The narrative technique is, according to Carlin and Evans, narcissism, and it certainly shows the preoccupations of the self-obsessed Mr Bloom…  

If there’s colour in this chapter, it’s only implied by funereal black but the organ is obvious (the genitals) and the art is clearly botany, signalled by Bloom’s pseudonym, Henry Flower.  (Methinks this pun is not worthy of JJ.)   

Deadly Nightshade (the narcotic belladonna)

Deadly Nightshade (the narcotic belladonna)


 He tore the flower gravely from its pinhold smelt its almost no smell and placed it in his heart pocket.  Language of flowers. They like it because no one can hear.  Or a poison bouquet to strike him down.  Then, walking slowly forward, he read the letter again, murmuring here and there a word.  Angry tulips with you darling manflower punish your cactus if you don’t please poor forgetmenot how I long violets to dear roses when we soon anemone meet all naughty nightstalk wife Martha’s perfume. (p79) [2]  

 and chemistry:  

 The chemist turned back page after page.  Sandy shrivelled smell he seems to have.  Shrunken skull.  And old.  Quest for the philosopher’s stone.  The alchemists.  Drugs age you after mental excitement.  Lethargy then.  Why? Reaction.  A lifetime in a night.  Gradually changes your character.  Living all day among herbs, ointments, disinfectants.  All his alabaster lilypots.  Mortar and pestle.  Ag. Dist. Fol. Laur. Te Virid.  Smell almost cure you like the dentist’s doorbell.  Doctor whack.  He ought to physic himself a bit.  Electuary or emulsion.  The first fellow that picked a herb to cure himself had a bit of pluck. Simples.  Want to be careful.  Enough stuff here to chloroform you.  Test: turns blue litmus paper red.  Chloroform.  Overdose of laudanum.  Sleeping draughts.  Lovephiltres.  Paragoric poppysyrup bad for cough.  Clogs the pores or the phlegm.  Poisons the only cures.  Remedy where you least expect it.  Clever of nature. (p86)  

This is probably it: Ziziphus lotus, Lotus jujube, Lotus tree

This is probably it: Ziziphus lotus, Lotus jujube, Lotus tree


The sojourn with the Lotus Eaters is probably among the best-known tales from the Odyssey and the term has entered into popular culture.  It comes from Book 9 of The Odyssey where Ulysses has escaped the perils of Calypso’s island only to be driven by a storm onto the Land of the Lotus Eaters.  It turns out to be a land of drug-induced lethargy where his crew succumb to eating the plant, forget all about heading back home and  have to be bullied back into action by the hero.  Bloom’s inertia is not drug-induced but rather a consequence of his own narcissistic self…he wanders around Dublin in no hurry to get to Dignam’s funeral, pondering the places he passes and detouring to collect a letter from his fancy woman.  It can’t be any coincidence that she bears the name Martha which means ‘lady’ – though this is surely ironic since her epistolary talents suggest a marked lack of education.  

I found the scene at the church quite interesting because I had almost forgotten that Bloom is Jewish (in a relaxed kind of way).  He’s bemused by the service, watching the communicants with their ‘blind masks pass down the aisle’ (p82) and considering the potential of the pew as a ‘nice discreet place to be next some girl’. (p82) His musings on the Eucharist must surely have been seen as blasphemous by devout Irish Catholics, for he describes it as a ‘thing‘ in the priest’s hands and a ‘rum idea: eating bits of a corpse why the cannibals cotton onto it.’ (p82).  He considers the ‘aristocratic‘ implications of drinking wine instead of drinking ‘what they are used to Guiness’s porter or some temperance beverage Wheatley’s Dublin hop bitters or Cantrell and Cochrane’s ginger ale (aromatic)’.  (p83)  He likes sacred music, however:  

Some of that old sacred music is splendid.  Mercadente: seven last words [1].  Mozart’s twelfth mass: the Gloria in that.  Those old popes were keen on music, on art and statues and pictures of all kinds.  Palestrina for example too.  They had a gay old time of it while it lasted.  Healthy too chanting, regular hours, then brew liqueurs.  Benedictine. green Chartreuese. (p83)  

He’s a lecherous old fellow, Mr B, and I don’t like the implications of his attitude towards women:  

Mr Bloom gazed across the road at the outsider drawn up before the door of the Grosvenor. The porter hoisted the valise up on the well.  She stood still, waiting, while the man, husband, brother, like her, searched his pockets for change.  Stylish kind of coat with that roll collar, warm for a day like this, looks like blanketcloth.  Careless stand of her with her hands in those patch pockets.  Like that haughty creature at the polo match.  Women all for caste till you touch the spot.  Handsome is as handsome does.  Reserved about to yield.  The honourable Mrs and Brutus is an honourable man,  Possess her once take the starch out of her. (p75)  

I’m not quite so sure that I’m fond of Leo now…  

Update 1.1.2010:   

This is the chapter where Bantam Lyons thinks that Bloom’s careless words ‘I was just going to throw it away’   are a tip for the Gold Cup at Ascot for a horse called Throwaway.  Bloom is referring to his newspaper, which Bantam wants to appropriate to study the form guide.  Rather than get into a conversation with Lyons, Bloom says he’s finished with the paper, but as he’s about to leave the chemist’s:  

Bantam Lyons doubted an instant, leering: then thrust the outspread sheets back on Mr Bloom’s arms.   

 – I’ll risk he said, Here, thanks.  

He sped off towards Conway’s corner [i.e. to the betting shop].  (p87 in my old 1979 Penguin and p106 in the 2000 Penguin reprint).   

This is a mistake which costs Bloom dearly, later on in Chapter 12, Cyclops. (See link at the bottom of this post).  

[1]  Giuseppe Saverio Mercadante, Composer of The Seven Last Words, for soloists, chorus, 2 violas, cello & double-bass: No 5.  

[2] In case you missed them, Wandering Ox explains the erotic allusions: Tulips: dangerous pleasures; manflower: an obvious pun; cactus: not only the phallus but also touch-me-not; forget-me-not: as the name suggests and also true love; violets: modesty; roses: love and beauty; anemone: frailty, anticipation; nightstalk: in addition to the phallic pun, nightshade; falsehood.  

Page references here are to my battered old copy of the Penguin Ulysses, 1979 ISBN 014003000x (which uses the 1960 Bodley Head edition, which was the 10th edition and has different page numbers to its predecessors.)  

Links to my disordered thoughts for other chapters are below. NB Page references to anything before Chapter 11 are to my 1979 Penguin, and after that are to my Penguin 2000 reprint.  

  • Intro  
  • Chapters 1,2,3  (Telemachus, Nestor, Proteus)
  • Chapter 4   (Calypso)
  • Chapter 5   (The Lotus Eaters)
  • Chapter 6   (Hades)
  • Chapter 7   (Aeolus)
  • Chapter 8   (Lestrygonians)
  • Chapter 9    (Scylla and Charybdis) 
  • Chapter 10  (Wandering Rocks) 
  • Chapter 11  (Sirens)
  • Chapter 12  (Cyclops)
  • Chapter 13   (Nausicaa)
  • Chapter 14   (Oxen of the Sun)
  • Chapter 15   (Circe)
  • Chapter 16   (Eumaeus)
  • Chapter 17   (Ithaca)
  • Chapter 18   (Penelope)

  • Responses

    1. Feeling sooooooo guilty. Bought the annotated reference guide so I could understand all the allusions but got side-tracked by Gothic Book Challenge and am right into Ann Radcliffe.

      Will try harder.


      • Oh those challenges, Steph, aren’t they seductive! I have taken on far too many this year and am going to be struggling to do my 6 for the Classics challenge…


    2. I read “Ulysees” about 20 years ago, loved it. As I remember, it took me about 5 weeks to get through the 930 pages of my edition. Still that’s a lot of time considering it is only one day in the life of Leo Bloom. I’m sure you will find many spots in the book where you will think Leo B. is a “lecherous old man”, but he’s talking stream of consciousness, so he says exactly what he’s thinking. Would you rather have Leo B. be dishonest in what he is thinking?


      • Sure, Tony, I can see that Joyce is doing a splendid job of rendering the male psyche via stream of consciousness, but I have to say that every time I encounter it in literature, (most recently in Tsolkias The Slap) I find myself wondering about the men in my real life…


    3. […] to Bantam Lyons’ fortuitous misinterpretation of a ‘throwaway’ line by Bloom in Chapter 5, he interrupts to ask him for another tip: the horse ‘Throwaway’ had been a winner. A […]


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