Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 1, 2010

Ulysses, by James Joyce (disordered thoughts of an amateur #12)

 Chapter 12: Cyclops


Well now, I might be in two minds about this chapter, but sure enough, you don’t need to be a genius to see one-eyed narrators strange and wonderful all through.   Cyclops, it is, and were they not the creatures in Homer’s Odyssey with only the one eye?  They were giants, were they not, and given to throwin’ their weight about, and anythin’ else besides, if an’ it got in their way? And was it not Odysseus who blinded the biggest bigot of them all, Polyphemus, drunk an’ all as he was, so can we not expect a drunken barney in this chapter, followed by retribution against the victor as well?

Stuart Gilbert’s chart in my Penguin says that the ‘technic’ for this chapter is ‘gigantism’ but for my money, it’s parody, and James Joyce is a lot better at it than I am, as you can see from the above attempt.  (Well, he would be, wouldn’t he?)  This chapter is a ‘conversation’ between an un-named debt-collector and a ‘Citizen’ in Barney Kiernan’s tavern, blathering on and inflating their stories (ok, that is gigantism, sort of) while being undercut all the time by one parody after another.  Who is/are (t)he(y), and who is/are the parodist/s?  Irish nationalists and his/their mate/s in the pub? One and the same person in ironic self-deprecatory self-awareness? Who knows?  Who cares? Let the scholars sort that out…

It’s very good fun.  Like a lot of people suffering discrimination (as the Irish were in Ireland then), the debt-collector looks for someone else to discriminate against, so he’s anti-Semitic, and he likes to be able to look down on others worse off than himself.  He speaks in that Irish idiom that we all recognise so well,  and he’s a bit of a boozer (as we say here in Oz) because ‘he’s not having anything between drinks’ (p378).  He holds court in the pub,  going on and on about this and that and assuming that everyone is fascinated by his stories.  His rival for attention is The Citizen whose platform is the politics of Irish nationalism but the debt-collector pokes fun at him by weaving in anecdotes of one sort or another and jokes,usually at someone else’s expense.  We’ve all met people like that…

Stuart Gilbert’s chart says that the organ of the body for this chapter is the muscle, but wouldn’t you think it should be the eye because of all the references to blindness and weeping?  The Homeric Cyclops is signalled in the first lines with an allusion to Odysseus driving the stake through Polyphemus’s eye when the debt-collector comes in complaining about a chimneysweep who ‘near drove his gear into my eye’ (p376) ; the sub-sheriff gives Breen ‘an eye as good as a process’ (p386) and Alf – referring to an impending hanging – says ‘You should have seen long John’s eye’ (p386).  Bob Doran, ‘blind to the world’ , a condition he is often in (p385 and p407) weeps about dead Paddy Dignam, ‘the tear bloody near your eye’ (p391).  ‘A torrent of tears’ bursts ‘from the lachrymal ducts’ of the witnesses to the execution (p401) while the provostmarshall ‘brushed away a furtive tear’. (p402).  The debt-collector says he’d train the dog Garryowen with its ‘eye all bloodshot’ by giving him ‘a rousing kick now and again where it wouldn’t blind him’ (p 403).  Bloom quotes the New Testament (Matthew 7:4) to intervene in JJ and The Citizen’s argument about law and history: ‘Some people…can see the mote in others’ eyes but they can’t see the beam in their own’ and the Citizen promptly retorts with Swift’s  ‘There’s no-one as blind as the fellow that won’t see.’ (p423).

Those are just the patently obvious allusions to eyes.  More Joycean is that the debt-collector is a classic one-eyed supporter of his own opinions, complaints and judgements.   He launches into a story about a bad and doubtful debt – a tirade which is promptly interrupted by a parody of a court judgement, legalese passing judgement about some tea and some sugar which ‘shall not be pawned or pledged or sold or otherwise alienated by the said purchaser’.  Very droll.  (p377) .    His counterpart is The Citizen, with even more rabid opinions, which are parodied as well.

To enjoy parody, of course, you have to be familiar with the subject in order to recognise it.  My guess is that the following comes from Irish myth, for although Google soon told me that Michan is a parish in ireland, I scoured the index of my Penguin Early Irish Myths and Sagas (1981) for the allusions without success:

In Inisfail the fair there lies a land, the land of holy Michan.  There rises a watchtower beheld of men afar.  There sleep the mighty dead as in life they slept, warriors and princes of high reknown.  A pleasant land it is in sooth of murmuring waters, fishful streams (p379).

Those fishful streams are full of a great list of fish, and then there is a list of trees, and another list of things that maidens play with, not to mention a list of places that heroes come from and yet more lists of the vegies, the herds and the sounds of the animals that they bring in homage:

and there is ever heard a trampling, cackling, roaring, lowing, bleating, bellowing, rumbling, grunting, champing, chewing, of sheep and pigs and heavyhooved kine from pasturelands of Lush and Rush and Carrickmines and from the streamy vales of Thomond, from McGillicuddy’s reeks the inaccessible and lordly Shannon the unfathomable….(p380)

This reminds me of those lists in Homer. (I am also currently reading my most excellent new Robert Fagles The Iliad (1990), and have not long finished chapter 2, The Gathering of the Armies, which is mostly a whopping long list of all the units led by the Achaeans.  Now that I’m reading this much better translation than the one I have from my undergraduate days, I couldn’t  resist ordering Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey as well.  Expect erudite references to Joyce’s structural source in future posts.  Well, I shall try.  How does one show a self-deprecating smile online?

The comedy gets better and better.  The debt-collector tells us how The Citizen roughs up his mongrel dog Garryowen and Joyce treats us to a hilarious parody of The Citizen as Homeric hero:

broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freely freckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero … the widewinged nostrils, from which bristles of the same tawny hue projected, were of such capaciousness that within their cavernous obscurity the fieldlark might easily have lodged her nest.  (p382)

This hero wears a belt ‘graven with rude yet striking art the tribal images of many Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity’ – and the list of these ‘heroes’ goes on for an entire page and includes everyone from the English tea merchant Sir Thomas Lipton to the Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, and the Woman Who Didn’t.  There’s Beethoven, Dante, Lady Godiva, Goliath, the last of the Mohicans and even Gutenberg!   Even the mangy dog is heroic:

 ‘a savage animal of the canine tribe whose stertorous gasps announced that he was sunk in uneasy slumber, a supposition confirmed by hoarse growls and spasmodic movements which his master repressed from time to time by tranquilising blows of a mighty cudgel rudely fashioned out of paleolithic stone. (p384)

The Citizen rants on about the dominance of British births, deaths and marriages in The Irish Independent (p384) and, in comes Alf Bergan, trying to alert drunken Bob Doran that Denis Breen and his wife are in the pub.  Breen, you may remember from Chapter 8 (Lestrygonians) was the pathetic butt of jokes because of his libel suit against the perpetrator of the postcard with the enigmatic UP on it.  The reason for his indignation is obscure, but probably has something to do with impotence, and it’s the subject of much hilarity.  Alf, in the telling of his story, mentions seeing dead Paddy Dignam, leading to much mockery and an absurdist parody of spiritualism (p389).  Bloom, who’s been ‘prowling around’ outside since page 387 comes in on p391, asking for Martin Cunningham, but he won’t have a drink, thank you, though he will have a cigar…

Alf shares a letter from one H. Rumbold to the sheriff, offering to be hangman for a forthcoming execution, and then the conversation meanders on to a discussion about capital punishment in which Bloom explains the scientific reasons for a certain natural phenomenon which occurs to men after hanging (which I will coyly not name for fear of attracting even more of that yucky spam which Akismet so brilliantly deletes from my blog dashboard).  Then there’s a lot of blarney about Irish nationalism and drink being the curse of Ireland.  There’s also an allusion to the ‘shoneens’ who ‘can’t speak their own language’, which recalls Haines the Englishman mocking the milkwoman back in chapter 1 because she couldn’t understand him when he spoke Gaelic to her.  The dog gets a bowl of water, but Bloom refuses another drink, explaining (much to the debt-collector’s confusion) that he’s looking for Martin Cunningham so that he can tell him about the problem with Paddy Dignam’s insurance…

I got a bit confused here, because Bloom is disappointed to learn that Nannan, running for the mayorality, has set off for London with William Field M.P. to represent the cattle traders over the measures to contain foot-and-mouth disease.  Is Nannan a nickname for Martin?  Anyway, Bloom recovers enough to join in the yakkety-yak about Irish sport, and the debt collector becomes quite peeved by Bloom’s loquacity (p410), which, we learn, was occasionally accompanied by the Irish Caruso-Garibaldi … in superlative form. (p411).

J.J. (who seems to be Jack O’Molloy, a young lawyer) comes in and joins the mockery about Breen, which Bloom tries to moderate (p416).  The Citizen rants on about Irish trade, the perfidies of the British navy, the potato famine, and French betrayals, and he questions the, um, proclivities of ‘Edward the Peacemaker’ (Edward VII).  He questions Bloom’s right to call himself Irish too (p430) but that’s nothing compared to what happens when the horse Throwaway – that horse that Bantam Lyons thought Bloom had tipped him to win in Chapter 5 (the Lotus Eaters) – wins the race at 20 to 1 (p422).  Bloom has stepped out on his quest for Martin Cunningham and in his absence Lenehan puts two-and-two together to conclude that Bloom has slyly gone to pick up his winnings (p435) and obviously isn’t going to shout the bar as any good Irishman would.  The commentary is vituperative: Martin, who hasn’t gone to London at all, comes in looking for Bloom, only to hear that ‘It’d be an act of God to take a hold of a fellow like that and throw him in the bloody sea.’ (p439) Bloom, still not aware of the extent of the crowd’s hostility comes back, and there’s bedlam.  The Citizen loses it entirely and chases Bloom out of the tavern to the cheers of the mob and ‘the bloody mongrel after it with his lugs for all he was bloody well worth’ (p448). Who rescued him with ‘furious driving’ in the ‘chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven‘ ? I don’t know, surely not Blazes – We’ll have to read on to find out!


Cyclops is a rather long chapter, 73 pages in my edition, and this post is getting way too long too.  I’m not going to indulge myself by exploring all the parodies that amused me so much.  Rather, in case you haven’t got one of those annotations of Ulysses that have kept the publishing industry busy for so long, (and I wish I had one!) I’ll just alert you to the ones that I could identify.

Robert Emmett’s execution (Source: Wikipedia)

  • A fawning newspaper report of Robert Emmett’s execution, starring the aforementioned Rumbold and attended by a vice-regal houseparty which includes among others the Grandjoker Vladinmire Pokethankerscheff Mynheer Trik can Trumps and Nationalgymnasiummuseumsanatoriumandsuspensoriumordinary-privatedocentgeneralhistoryspecialprofessordoctor Kriegfried Ueberallhemein.  There is a right royal Cyclopean dustup with an assortment of weapons including an Aussie boomerang(!) in this parody.  (Robert Emmett was hung, drawn and quartered in a Dublin street by the British government, for his part in the  1803 uprising). (p397-8).
  • A medical journal explaining (a-hem) natural phenomena occurring after hangings (p394)
  • A theatre critic’s review about a ‘marvellous exhibition of cynanthropy which ‘bears a striking resemblance …to the ranns of ancient Celtic bards’ (BTW Cynanthropy, thanks Wikipedia, is a mental condition in which one imagines oneself as a dog) (p403)
  • A child’s ‘reader’ (or primer) and then a report from Hansard, parodying question time in parliament, on the topic of foot-and-mouth disease (p409).
  • The Minutes of a Masonic Lodge, recording a ‘most interesting discussion … on the revival of ancient Gaelic sports and the importance of physical culture‘ (p410)
  • Sports journalism about the boxing match that Blazes Boylan seems to have ‘fixed’ , to win a hundred pounds in the betting (p413)
  • A law report, citing an appeal about the probate of ‘the late lamented Jacob Halliday’ (presumably a precedent for Paddy Dignam’s case) and the trial of a swindler offering ‘passage to Canada for twenty bob’ (p418).
  • The social pages of a newspaper, parodying a report of a most silvicultural wedding – with one of those Homeric lists of bridal attendants bearing the names of multitudinous trees (such as Miss Holly Hazeleyes); ‘a playful crossfire’ of arboreal products in place of confetti, and a honeymoon in the Black Forest. (p424)  Later, on p433, there’s a parody of similar sort of report about a diplomatic visit of the ‘chief cotton magnates‘ and another one about a farewell to a royal visitor,  ‘Nagyasagos uram Lipoti Virag…for the distant clime of …[the] Meadow of Murmuring Waters’ on p445.
  • The Apostles Creed, parodied to show the folly of Irish recruits who believe in the promises of the British navy (p427)
  • A gallery catalogue describing a ‘muchtreasured and intricately embroidered ancient Irish facecloth’, to describe a hankie used to wipe up spit (p430-1)
  • Valentine’s Day cards?? Or is it a sort of blessing? (p433)
  • Gadzooks, there’s a a medieval traveller’s tale! (p436-7)
  • An account of a religious festival, a procession of all the saints and sinners bearing assorted symbols and sacrificial items including (yes!) ‘eyes on a dish’ (underlining is mine p441)
  • A retelling of the Odyssey, with Moby Dick as a ‘milkwhite dolphin’ thrown in for good measure? (p443)
  • Bloom’s eviction from the pub retold as a newspaper report of an earthquake (p447) .

There is also repeated use of the biblical ‘lo!’ to announce the arrival of  two characters in the pub: the ‘godlike messenger…radiant as the eye of heaven’ (Alf Bergen, p 385); and a comely hero of white face’  (Jack o’Molloy, p414). It’s also used for Bloom’s miraculous escape from the wrath of The Citizen (p449) parodying the Ascension of Christ.

 The commentaries I looked at (Novel Guide and Carlin and Evans ) make much of Bloom as outsider in this chapter.  The Citizen obviously loathes Jews in general and Bloom in particular, sneering that the Irish should never have let ‘strangers’ in (p420), but while Bloom studiously ignores the talk that goes on not very subtly behind his back, the others mock his seriousness, his lack of hostility to the non-Irish, and his unwillingness to shout them a drink.  The Novel Guide has this to say, and it’s worth visiting the site to see the specific examples on which the summary relies:

This is perhaps the strongest episode for revealing the startling anti-semitic and misogynist prejudices of the crowd and the fairness of the outsider, Bloom. In every instant [sic]] Bloom reveals a capacity to consider different points of view, and goes as far as to say love is what is important.

 Bloom’s position on the margins is reinforced, however, by his ability to see two sides to an argument. Further to this, his masculinity is doubted by his fellow men as he has been seen buying baby food, for example. Bloom’s ability to appreciate traditional feminine and masculine forms of behavior is regarded by these men as questionable. In their eyes, he appears to be what the citizen accuses Breen of being: ‘neither fish nor flesh’. Because Bloom refuses to be tied to stereotypical masculine behavior, he is regarded by his fellow men as androgynous and worth killing. He refuses to fit the stereotype, and it is clear that Bloom is being used as a means to criticize the type of macho male which unquestioningly accepts nationalism, Catholicism, and the lower status of women. (Novel Guide).

PS I hope I haven’t mucked up anybody’s bookmarks or hyperlinks, but I’ve renumbered my ‘disordered thoughts’ to match the chapter numbers they refer to.

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.



  1. This has nothing to do with Joyce or Ulysses (which, good on you for tackling in public) but the moment I saw the picture at the top of your post, with its pole, I thought of this:


  2. What a hoot! Thanks for the link, Deane:)


  3. I’m very impressed with the depth of your reflections here Lisa. I dipped out, but may rouse the energy to get going again, thanks to your interesting Posts.


  4. Thank you, Steph, it would be lovely if you did because, being so widely read, you would be able to share insights about a lot of things I’ve missed.


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