Daedalus and Odysseus: Two Mythic Heroes Influencing Fatherhood

One of the most memorable lines and likely one of the most quoted in James Joyce’s Ulysses can be found in the bedroom scene in “Calypso.” In that scene Molly asks Leopold to explain metempsychosis. He tells her that the word means “the transmigration of souls.” She responds by saying, “Oh rocks! […] Tell us in plain words” (52). Even though the character is admitting ignorance, that line is, perhaps, the most brilliant of all the spoken words in the novel because it is the one piece of dialogue that seems to be speaking directly to the reader. It is possible that Joyce knew that most readers of his novel would identify with Molly’s response.

In his Notes for Joyce, Don Gifford provides a quote that appears in Richard Ellman’s biography on Joyce. His words are: “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality” (xii).  One puzzle that scholars have been arguing about is how Ulysses should be read. Scholars Don Gifford, Harry Blamires and Margot Norris have all put an emphasis on the Homeric parallel in their work. Further, in her essay “A Critical History of Ulysses,” Norris notes that another critic, Harry Levin, “argues that Ulysses is best read with myth and map, that is, the Odyssey in one hand and Thom’s Dublin Directory in the other” (23). However, Hugh Kenner, warns that using the mythic parallel to understand Ulysses can be dangerous. Further, Wolfgang Iser and Daniel Swartz, two contemporary reader response theorists, prefer to analyze style because they believe there are as many non-mythic references as mythic in Ulysses.

The two most popular ways to read Ulysses are either by consulting the mythic influences or by analyzing Joyce’s experimentations in style. It has not been proven which way is best, although I believe consulting the myth may be easier for beginners. In Ulysses, the father/son theme is not immediately apparent—at least not to the novice Joyce scholar. However, when studying the structural parallels between The Odyssey and Ulysses, one comes to realize that the two stories follow the same basic pattern—the two pairs start out apart and then end up together. In the Odyssey, Telemachus and Odysseus are biologically father and son. The purpose of bringing the two together is to protect their home and Penelope, mother and wife of the pair respectively. In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom are not blood kin. Although Leopold Bloom is concerned with protecting the mother figure, the purpose of bringing Stephen and Leopold together is much more complicated in Ulysses.  One can turn to the Daedalus myth, also about a father and a son, to become more informed about the relationship between Stephen and Leopold. By consulting both the Odyssey and the Daedalus myth, new readers can discover how the father/son relationship between Leopold and Stephen can be defined in Ulysses.

Literary Review

The concept of the father/son relationship between Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus as evident by the Homeric parallel has been studied for decades by literary critics. In his book titled Ulysses, Hugh Kenner analyzes James Joyce’s novel of the same title and uses the entire third chapter to analyze Joyce’s use of the Homeric parallel. Of the father/son relationship he writes, “At this point exposition must acknowledge certain difficulties, epitomized by the fact that for nearly fifty years The Search for a Father has been a recurrent phrase in Ulysses criticism” (19). Kenner wrote his book in 1980 and then revised it for publication in 1987, making his comment nearly two decades old. The former popularity and the age of the topic make a new critic’s attempt to write about the Homeric parallel daunting. However, an attempt to broach the topic with a twist (analyzing two Greek elements instead of one) while synthesizing more recent sources may help to keep the topic fresh.

One can look back to a work published in 1948 to find out why the topic of the Homeric parallel has been so popular. In his essay “Ulysses, Order, and Myth” T.S. Eliot explains that the role Odysseus plays in the novel is structural and praises Joyce for being the first to use that sort of structure for the modern novel. His comments support the argument that Homeric structure in Ulysses is important. Further, T.S. Eliot’s essay is credible because he is the author of the famous modernist poem “The Wasteland,” a work that is also structured around myth.

Like Kenner, Brian Richardson, an author of a more recent source acknowledges the lengthy history of the topic of the Homeric parallel in Ulysses. In his article titled “Lucian’s A True Story, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Homeric Patterns in Ancient Fiction,” Richardson writes, “For fifty after the publication of Ulysses, the relation between Homer’s epic and Joyce’s novel was a central feature of Joyce criticism” (371). The topic may be old, but Richardson shows that new angles can be found when discussing classical connections to Joyce’s text. He writes, “It is surprising that this text of Lucian’s has not been discussed as an interesting parallel or even possible model for Joyce […] (375). His analysis of the connection between Ulysses and the ancient text gives a critic hope that there is still room for a discussion of classical influences on Joyce.

Richardson’s discussion is relevant today (as is a discussion of the Homeric parallel) because the work of James Joyce is still being studied in high school and college classrooms. New students can easily get lost in layers of meaning while trying to understand what is happening in Joyce’s Ulysses. While the Homeric parallel is just one layer, it is a great place to start in the quest to find meaning in the novel. Without the Homeric parallel, students may have trouble spotting the significance of uniting Leopold and Stephen together by the end of the novel. Fortunately, text books that make the Homeric connection to Ulysses are still being assigned.

One such text is Harry Blamires’, The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses. As he explains in his introduction, his book is not meant for the specialized Joycean. Rather, he wrote his book with the purpose of providing a guide for people new to the works of Joyce. All of Blamire’s chapters begin with explaining the Homeric parallel between the Odyssey and the respective Episode of Ulysses.

Another helpful source is Don Gifford’s Notes for Joyce. Although the book is out of print, there are two existing editions,  published in 1974 and 1989, which may be available in libraries.  At the beginning of his notes for each Episode, Gifford provides a paragraph that explains the Homeric parallel. Notes for Joyce and The New Bloomsday Book are highly recommended to those readers unfamiliar with Homer’s Odyssey and/or Joyce’s Ulysses.

Margot Norris is another author/editor who inspires readers to turn to the Homeric parallel in order to understand Ulysses. She includes a two-part essay she has written in her edition of A Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the first part she summarizes the novel, following the format of the Homeric parallel. Throughout the first part she provides examples of how the scenes in the novel are similar to the scenes in the myth. In the second part of the essay, she traces the history of the criticism about Ulysses from the 1920s where readers had to get past the obscenity issues regarding the book to the debate the Hans Walter Gabler edition evoked from critic after it was published in the 1980s.

There is also a 12-page guide written by Margot Norris that appears online. In her guide, Norris provides an outline of James Joyce’s Ulysses. She includes a section for each Episode which has a paragraph explaining the Homeric Correspondence between the novel and the myth.

In Joyce, Race and Empire, Vincent Cheng is concerned mostly with the “dynamics of race, culture, colonialism, and power” (197). However, he does make one insightful connection to the Homeric parallel. In chapter seven titled “Imagining Nations,” Cheng discusses how the Citizen, a character who dominates the scene in Episode 12, represents the Cyclops in the Homeric parallel. He writes that Joyce represented “nationalistic xenophobia and chauvinistic myopia through the trope of the one-eyed Cyclops” (197). The Cyclops is one of the most memorable characters of the Odyssey. Odysseus defeats him in the myth by using both cleverness and stamina. Leopold Bloom attempts to neutralize the Citizen non-violently, using the power of words, a method that Stephen (as seen in Scylla and Charybdis, for example) also uses.

Two of the most recent and relevant sources of information on the Homeric parallel and the connections of the Daedalus myth to the text of Ulysses are written not by literary critics, but by those who found a niche analyzing myth. One such author is Joseph Campbell who wrote Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce. Campbell, a well-known expert on mythology and a fan of James Joyce, is one of the few authors who provide a recent analysis of the father/son relationship in the novel. Of particular interest is his assertion that Leopold Bloom is Stephen Dedalus’ spiritual father and that Buck Mulligan, Stephen’s roommate is Stephen’s false father. Although Campbell is referring more to Christianity than to Greek myth when he names Mulligan as the false father, it is possible to view Mulligan as the false father in regards to the Daedalus myth, because like Christianity this Greek myth features a father/son relationship.

Campbell makes strong connections to the parallel between Ulysses and The Odyssey. He provides an Episode by Episode analysis and notes how the two works have similar structures. Of the Odyssey and Ulysses Campbell writes, “The two works are similarly structured and use the same mythic motifs, and the central concern of both is male initiation into a world different from that of brutal masculine assertion” (49). It is true that in Ulysses, there is little violence. As noted previously, the battle between Leopold and the Citizen (as the Cyclops) is fought with words rather than violence.

Another author who specializes in the classics is R.J. Schork, a professor emeritus of classics at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He does make a brief mention of the Daedalus myth in the novel, but goes much more into detail about The Odyssey. While most of the featured authors have discussed the parallel between Ulysses and the Odyssey, Schork, whose book is titled Greek and Hellenic Culture in Joyce, provides a comprehensive overview of Greek and Hellenic influences on Joyce. Although, he discusses a variety of Greek philosophers and writers such as Aristotle and Plato that influenced Joyce, his fifth chapter titled “The Odyssey” is the most relevant to the topic of the Homeric parallel. Unlike other authors discussing the Homeric parallel, Schork seeks to uncover how Joyce’s exposure to the classics affected his presentation of The Odyssey in his novel rather than making connections between Odysseyand Ulysses. He uses the methodology of looking through Joyce’s notes and journals to find out which translation of the classic work influenced Joyce the most. Schork also reviews some of the work written on the Homeric parallel over the last 50 years.

There is at least one author that refers to the Daedalus myth. In his article, “Complexities in Ulysses,” Erwin R. Steinburg identifies Molly as Pasiphae from the Daedalus myth. He also identified her suitors as brutes. The article is short, but relevant to the topic how the myth influences Ulysses.

Pre-eminent reader-response theorist Wofgang Iser is a contemporary critic who favors other aspects of Joyce’s writing in Ulysses over the Homeric parallel.  He prefers to focus on Joyce’s ever-changing style instead of mythic influences. Iser dismisses the importance of the parallel by writing, “one should not forget, when considering the Homeric parallel, that Joyce permeated his novel with just as many Shakespearean allusions as Homeric.”(110) Iser seems to forget about Joyce’s use of parallax, a technique that allows readers to consider aspects of the book and even the characters from different viewpoints. Therefore, a reader could see Stephen, for example, as Hamlet or Telemachus or both depending on how one prefers to read the novel. Further, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is just one more allusion in Ulysses that also reflects a father/son relationship.

The Daedalus Myth

Readers can also see Stephen from the vantage point of the Daedalus myth. In college courses on Joyce, Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man is usually assigned before Ulysses, because it takes place prior to the latter novel. Ulysses, is, in part about what happens to Stephen after Portrait. The Daedalus myth connects the two novels because the two works share one main character—Stephen, whose last name, Dedalus, reflects the mythic hero, Daedalus.

For those unfamiliar with Daedalus, the myth is about an architect with the same name who designs a labyrinth for King Minos. Minos wants to contain a Minotaur, a monster that has the body of a human and the head and tail of a bull. The Minotaur is the son of Queen Pasiphae who falls in love with a white bull and wants to mate with him. She is not content until Daedalus designs a hollow wooden cow from which she could offer herself to the bull. After the queen gives birth, Daedalus is asked to create a labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. However, after Daedalus creates the ingenious design of the labyrinth, Minos holds Daedalus in Crete against his will. In order to escape, Daedalus makes wings for his son, Icarus, and for himself. Daedalus tells Icarus that the safest place to fly is between the sun and the ocean. Daedalus follows his own route, but Icarus ignores his father’s advice and soars toward the sun. The wax holding his wings together melts and Icarus dies after falling into the sea.

The Daedalus myth is not Homeric, but Schork, a specialist in classical Greek culture, provides a clue as to how students can understand the connection between Joyce’s big novel and the myth. Schork writes, “In the Homeric world, names are always significant” (87).  In Portrait and Ulysses, Stephen’s last name reflects the Homeric tradition because it, Dedalus, reflects the name of Daedalus. Referring to the Daedalus myth, Schork writes, “Joyce, of course, was well aware of the basic details of Minoan mythology, as is demonstrated by Stephen’s surname in Portrait and Ulysses” (3). The significance of Stephen’s surname is a sign that the Daedalus myth can be consulted to find meaning in both novels, but especially in Ulysses, which is much more difficult to understand than Portrait.

Students can at least achieve a basic level of understanding of the novel by examining the father/son relationship, which is a major theme in both the myth and the novel. Spotting the father/son theme in the myth makes it easier to identify and analyze the theme in Ulysses—a theme that may be difficult for students to recognize because of the ever-changing narrative style and the layers of significant meaning that can be found in the text of Joyce.

In the myth, the relationship between Daedalus and Icarus does not reflect an ideal father/son bond. Their relationship is strained as they attempt to escape Crete together with wings made by Daedalus. Although Daedalus encourages Icarus to follow a certain path, Icarus ignores his advice and suffers the consequences. Although, Icarus is mostly to blame for his death, it is evident that Daedalus is an unsuccessful mentor to his son.

The novel deviates from the myth because unlike Icarus, Stephen, in the role of a son, does not die. Actually, Stephen’s destiny is not revealed in the novel. Readers can only ponder the possibilities. At least one possibility for Stephen is negative. For example, with the unsuitable companion of Buck Mulligan, whom Campbell calls “a false father,” Stephen is in some danger. (57) One can recognize Mulligan’s unsuitable influence of Stephen by referring to the Daedalus myth. In Telemachus, Mulligan looks out onto to the sea and declares, “Epi oinopa ponton! Ah. Dedalus. The Greeks! I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look” (4-5). According to Don Gifford who compiled the helpful Notes for Joyce, the Latin phrase Mulligan utters means “over the wine-dark sea,” an epithet that recurs throughout The Odyssey” (7). Further, Thalatta, as Gifford defines it, means “sea” (7). It is obvious here that Mulligan glorifies the water. Further, it is revealed later in the Episode that Mulligan even rescued a man from the sea, which gives a reader the idea that Mulligan does not fear it.

Stephen, however, has an aversion to water, which Mulligan chides him for when he tells Haines, “The unclean bard makes a point of washing once a month” (Joyce, 13). Why does Stephen have an aversion to water? If one looks at the question from the perspective of the Daedalus myth, then Stephen can be put into the role of Icarus, who drowns in the sea after flying too close to the sun because his wings melted. Thus, it is quite obvious why he has an aversion to the water—he fears that he will drown in it. It is ironic that though Mulligan once saved a man from drowning, he tries to direct Stephen towards the sea by first gazing at it, then by bathing. Though Stephen does gaze upon the sea, he avoids the bath. (Stephen’s aversion to water may indicate his refusal to be baptized in a Christian ritual.) In this scene, Joyce is clearly dropping hints that Mulligan is not a good influence upon Stephen. As a false father, Mulligan’s influence is potentially harmful.

If he finds a suitable father, Stephen can actually experience metempsychosis (as explained in “Calypso”) and transmigrate from an Icarus experiencing a tragic fate to a Daedalus, an ingenious artist with the ability to stay safe. Although Stephen’s biological father, Simon, appears in various Episodes such as “Hades” and “Sirens,” there is little evidence of a father/son relationship between him and Stephen in the novel. Further, there is evidence in Ulysses that Simon is not a suitable father for Stephen.

By examining the father/so relationship as portrayed in the Daedalus myth and in terms of Simon’s character, one can see that Simon is incapable of being a successful mentor to Stephen. In Ulysses, Joyce portrays Simon as a man who prefers to drink, sing and hang out with friends instead of taking care of his family.  Simon Dedalus, a widower, who recently lost his wife, does not support his fifteen children—either emotionally or financially.

Even though another major character in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, calls Simon, “a well known highly respected citizen,” he said it mostly to convince the watchmen, as depicted in “Circe,” that Stephen should be allowed to leave a precarious situation without facing any repercussions (Joyce, 494). Earlier, in “Lestrygonians,” Leopold notes that one of Simon’s sister’s, Dilly, looks impoverished. “Good Lord, that poor child’s dress is in flitters. Underfed she looks too” (Joyce, 125). It is quite evident that Dilly appears the way she does because Simon is not capable of taking care of his children. Further, Dilly tells Stephen that the family sold some of his books out of necessity and at the time of this revelation, she is buying a cheap, used French book to supplement her own education.

It is also Dilly who appeals to Simon for money for the family in “Wandering Rocks.” Blamires sums up the interaction between daughter and father by writing, “[Simon] mocks her stance, urging her to stand erect. […] Dilly manages to get a shilling out of him, though he curses his children drunkenly in handing it over” (Joyce, 100). The scene does not end there, however. She asks for more money from Simon, but is only successful in getting an additional two pence by being persistent. In my opinion, the scene here reveals that Simon, unlike Leopold who provides Stephen with Epps cocoa, a snack, and advice (in Ithaca), is unwilling and perhaps a bit unable to provide enough to keep his large family comfortably fed, clothed and educated. One can make the assumption that if Simon could not provide his children with the basic necessities of food and clothing, than he also cannot help Stephen avoid the fate of Icarus and become a successful artist like Daedalus.

One character in the novel does have the potential to be a suitable father figure. During the course of Ulysses, Stephen forms a father/son relationship with Leopold, whom Campbell identifies as Stephen’s spiritual father. Campbell writes that “[Stephen] has to find his spiritual father (or as we now say, his guru), one who will show him, not so much by pedagogical instruction as by example, what the aim and direction in his life is going to be” (50). It should be noted that Stephen does have an aim in life. It is obvious by the title of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that Stephen wants to be an artist. Further, the quote by Mulligan about Stephen being “an unclean bard” gives a hint that Stephen has established an identity as a writer (Joyce, 13). The strength of Stephen’s identity is evident by the notion that he is not led astray by suggestions by both an Italian Almidano Artifoni (in Wandering Rocks) and Leopold (in Eumeaus) of pursuing a singing career. Stephen’s problem is that he needs to find a safe path in order to accomplish his goal of becoming an artist. Of all characters in the novel, Leopold is the most likely to at least attempt to help guide Stephen towards that path. If what Campbell says is true about the two being initiated into “a world different from that of brutal masculine assertion,” than the path is likely to be non-violent and relatively safe—a path that uses words instead of fists and/or weapons. (49)

One can turn back to the Daedalus myth to find supporting evidence of Leopold’s identity as Stephen’s spiritual father. The last journal entry that Stephen makes at the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, reads, “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead” (253). Stephen’s dialogue here seems like a benediction and reflects his fear about what lies ahead for him. Stephen is appealing to a father for guidance and direction. The question is: towards whom is Stephen directing his prayer? When analyzing the text of Ulysses Leopold emerges as the possible recipient.

Evidence of Leopold being “an old artificer” can be found in a scene in “Wandering Rocks,” where Lenehan, a brutish, masculine character, tells a companion known only as M’Coy, a story about a carriage ride that he had ten years ago. He rode with Leopold, a man named Chris Callinan, and Molly, who sat next to Lenehan. While Leopold points out the stars to Callinan, Lenehan takes the opportunity to feel up Molly’s breasts under the cover of a rug. Lenehan laughs at his own story, but notices that his companion, M’Coy is not so amused. To counter the story, Lenehan quickly adds “there’s a touch of the artist about old Bloom” (Joyce, 99). The comment of Leopold having “a touch of the artist” about him seems to hint that although he is only 38, Leopold is the “old artificer” that Stephen appeals to at the end of Portrait (though it should be noted that Stephen is addressing an unidentified father when making his appeal.)

Throughout the novel, it is apparent that Leopold has a rather artistic way of looking at life. A good example of Leopold’s artistic viewpoints can be found in “Calypso” where he starts to see only gray, stark images while running errands at 8 a.m. To counter the effects of his depressing perceptions, Leopold consciously stops his negative musings. In Ulysses, Leopold says, “Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow’s exercises” (Joyce, 50). He then starts focusing on positive things such as tea and Molly’s flesh. Before long he’s noticing “Quick warm sunlight running from Berkely road” in the form of a girl with golden hair. (Joyce, 50) Besides being able to transform negative thoughts to positive ones, Leopold, like an artist, is keenly aware as to what is going on around him. At the end of the novel he realizes that Stephen, in the company of Buck Mulligan and other unsuitable friends, might get into some trouble by the end of the night. Upon this realization, Leopold decides to keep an eye on Stephen to make sure he stays out of trouble.

The discussion of the Daedalus myth ends here because as one can see, unlike Daedalus who is unsuccessful in his attempt to keep Icarus safe, Leopold helps to keep Stephen out of trouble. In “Circe” Stephen breaks a light in the brothel while experiencing a delusional moment of grief and guilt. Leopold lessens the madam’s anger towards Stephen by paying for the damaged light. He also escorts him away from a confrontational moment with another brothel patron, and as noted earlier, convinces the police not to arrest Stephen. Leopold takes charge of a drunken Stephen and ends up taking him to the Bloom home. In “Ithaca,” Bloom attempts to guide Stephen towards a safer path than the one he his currently taking by advising him (though it is not clear whether Stephen follows this advice) to move away from Haines and Mulligan. If Stephen follows the route that Leopold suggests, then he has a possibility of becoming a successful artist like Daedalus rather than a tragic one like Icarus.

The Importance of the Odyssey

It is recommended that a new reader attempt to use parallax, a technique of looking at the same object from a different point of view, in order to not only see the father/son relationship as represented in the Daedalus myth, but in the Odyssey as well. One huge difference between the Odyssey and Ulysses is that the journey of the two characters in the Odyssey took years while Leopold and Stephen’s journey took place during one day, Thursday, June 16, 1904. However, the pattern and purpose of the relationships between the sons and the fathers remains the same. In order to demonstrate the pattern, it is necessary to provide a brief overview of the Odyssey.

According to an entry in Wikipedia, the Odyssey is an 11,300 page Greek epic poem written by Homer (1). In comparison, Ulysses, approximately 644 pages, is relatively compact. Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, loses his way at sea when coming home triumphant from the Trojan War. Joseph Campbell describes Odysseus as “a much traveled man who had every kind of experience” (51). His description of Odysseus is apt because Odysseus has countless adventures while trying to find his way home during a several year journey. Seven of his lost years are spent as a captive of Calypso, a beautiful nymph. He escapes from her with the help of Athena and Zeus, but his journey home is treacherous. He is blown off course by an angry god, encounters and escapes from deadly creatures such as the Cyclops, Lestrygonians (giant cannibals), and Sirens (beautiful, but deadly singers), and traverses the passage between Scylla and Charybdis, where a six- headed monster lives.

Meanwhile, everyone in Ithaca assumes that Odysseus is dead. Suitors surround his wife Penelope. Athena, daughter of Zeus, tells Telemachus, son of Odysseus, to find his father. He sets out to find him, but is summoned by Athena before he accomplishes the task. Athena warns him that Penelope’s suitors are planning to ambush him. Telemachus evades the ambush. Then Athena sends Telemachus to the farm of Eumeaus, a swineherd, where he is reunited with Odysseus. Together, they plan to usurp the suitors and restore order to their home. They defeat the suitors and the relationship between Penelope and Odysseus is restored.

In plain words Campbell writes, “Joyce’s model for Ulysses is the Odyssey”(49). His words are difficult to argue against because it is quite obvious that Joyce structured his novel around the Greek Classic. According to Campbell, Ulysses is divided into three sections, which loosely correspond to the three divisions of Homer. The first division of Ulysses is known as “Telemachiad.” These Episodes (1-3) are about Stephen, who loosely parallels the character of Telemachus.” Part II, titled “The Wanderings of Ulysses” (Episodes 4-15), is the biggest. The primary focus of the second division is on Leopold, although Stephen is featured in some of the Episodes. The focus is entirely on Stephen in “Scylla and Charybdis.”  The first two chapters of the third division titled “The Homecoming” (Episodes 16-18) feature the two male characters interacting. The last chapter, titled Penelope, is devoted entirely to Molly.

The structures of the two works are comparable. Campbell provides the arrangement of the Odyssey, which is where the similarity to Ulysses is most obvious. He writes,“ In the Odyssey, Books I-IV recount the adventures of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus; Books V-XIV recount the adventures of Odysseus; and Books XV-XXIV recount the combined adventures of Telemachus and Odysseus” (49).

A pattern emerges when comparing the structures of the three divisions in each work. Stephen, like Telemachus, starts out on his own, on a journey to find a father. The focus of the two stories is then shifted to Leopold and Odysseus who are both lost and separated from their respective families. Leopold is lost because his baby son died years ago and did not regain intimacy with his wife after the death. Ulysses is lost because he angered a goddess on the way home from a war. Both, in effect, are separated from their wives. Finally in the third part, like their mythic counterparts, Stephen and Leopold are together. Further, at the end of his journey, Odysseus wins back Penelope with a bow and arrow and by recognizing their bed. Molly’s last word, yes, the last word of the novel, suggests that Leopold, like Odysseus, wins back his wife.

As in the Odyssey, there are suitors ready to threaten the home life of the male characters in Ulysses. For example, in Ulysses, the suitors are Buck Mulligan, who is a threat to Stephen and his mother figure of Ireland, and Blazes Boylan, who threatens Leopold’s home by having an affair with Molly. In terms of suitors, Stephen, unlike Telemachus, does not directly intervene with their actions. For example, it is Leopold that tells him at the end of the novel, in “Ithaca,” that Buck Mulligan is not an ideal roommate and companion. Further, Stephen, unlike Telemachus, does not have to warn Leopold about Blazes Boylan. Leopold discovers the threat on his own when he finds Boylan’s letter addressed to his wife in “Calypso.”

However, the switching up of roles as to who informs who of the suitors is only a minor difference. The pattern of bringing the male figures together defines the purpose of the father/son relationships and makes the Homeric parallel significant enough for readers of Ulysses to examine. The pattern of Ulyssessuggests the purpose of bringing Stephen and Leopold together is to protect the mother from inappropriate suitors. The one chapter featuring Molly, is titled “Penelope,” in honor of the mother figure in the Odyssey. However, there are two representations of the archetypal mother in Ulysses. One is Molly, and the other is Ireland.

Ireland is symbolized by the old milk woman who makes a delivery to Stephen, Haines, and Mulligan. Joyce describes her as “A wandering crone, lowly form an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer, their common cuckquean, a messenger from the secret morning” (12). Campbell recognizes Haines, the Englishman as the conqueror whose country has been in charge of Ireland for centuries, and Mulligan, whom he called “the Anglicized Irishman” as the betrayer who let him (England) into the home (Joyce, 60). One can identify Ireland’s suitors as the Englishman Haines and Mulligan, the “Anglicized Irishmen” (Joyce, 60).  The old woman does not understand Haines’ attempt at Gaelic, but does seem to appreciate Mulligan. After she expresses her admiration of Mulligan as a medical student, Stephen sourly notes that “She bows her head to a voice that speaks to her somewhat loudly, her bonesetter her medicineman: me she slights” (12). It is clear here that the mother figure is favoring one of her suitors, Mulligan the betrayer, over her son, Stephen. Ironically, Mulligan pays the mother (though not enough) for what she has to offer (milk, an offering mothers give to children not suitors!) while the child, Stephen, does not have any money to offer her. It is clear here that in order to help his mother (Ireland), Stephen, like Telemachus, must go out and find his father.

It is important to point out that unlike Odysseus (who is an extraordinary man) and his son Telemachus, Leopold and Stephen are ordinary people interacting with other ordinary people rather than the gods and goddesses of the Odyssey. Thus said, to save the mother of Leopold’s Bloom domestic home, Molly (Penelope), Stephen is loosely in the role of Telemachus and Leopold is loosely in the role of Odysseus. In those roles, Stephen and Leopold are preserving the Bloom family. It is evident that it is crucial for Telemachus and Odysseus to preserve Odysseus’ place as Penelope’s husband and ruler of his home. Likewise it is important for Leopold to protect his place as Molly’s husband and ruler of his home. As head of the Bloom household, Leopold is more likely to maintain order in his home. It is possible that by uniting Stephen and Leopold as father and son and by reuniting Molly and Leopold, that Joyce is making the assertion that the preservation of families is important to preserving Ireland. However, whether he intended to make such a statement is another uncertain possibility in the realm of Ulysses.

Words of Caution

In the first paragraph of this paper a quote by Joyce suggests that he intends for professors (and perhaps graduate students) to argue about different aspects of Ulysses. This could not be truer regarding the Homeric parallel, which is a topic that has been discussed for ages. Hugh Kenner’s wariness of the parallel stands out amongst the critics studied for this project. In “The Uses of Homer,” Hugh Kenner maintains that one must be careful when analyzing the Homeric parallel. He writes, “[…] It is easy to make large mistakes, and not surprising that a bold man like Harry Blamires has made some little ones, incident to his useful effort to supply a 260-page narrative paraphrase of the entire book” (19). It is quite apparent that Kenner’s words serve as a sort of warning—especially to beginners turning to authors such as Blamires, whom Kenner says makes “little mistakes.”  Kenner writes, “the parallel is a dangerous guide to what is happening” (19).

He might be right. It is important to know that there are differences between the two works. Stephen is not a carbon copy of the character Telemachus and Leopold certainly is not a carbon copy of the character Odysseus. The journeys of the two pairs, though they have a similar purpose and pattern, have significant differences. For example, Leopold sees a young woman on a beach in “Nausicaa” and is inspired to masturbate. In the Odyssey, Naussica is Phaeacian princess who helps Odysseus after he washed ashore on her homeland. Anyone believing that Naussica inspires Odysseus to masturbate would be mistaken and perhaps very embarrassed as a result. The only similarity between the two works in regards to “Nausicaa,” as Norris points out, is that they both have the theme of a young woman meeting an older man on the beach.

Still, it is important to note that Blamire’s book, with its emphasis on the Homeric parallel, is a good place to start when peeling away the layers of meaning existing in Joyce’s text. If a student reads Blamires’ guide, they will learn far more about Ulysses than if they skip it. My biggest warning concerning Blamires is to be wary of his chapter on “Wandering Rocks.” He writes, “The Homeric basis for this elaborate experiment in virtuosity is slight” (93). It is recommended that readers turn more to Norris than Blamires when seeking insight on “Wandering Rocks.”  In her synopsis appearing online, she writes, “The Wandering Rocks” were just that—rocks that collided with a will to crush ships between them. Odysseus avoids them entirely, but here Joyce welcomes a not-so-randomly arranged “clashing” of characters and themes in seemingly chance encounters on the Dublin streets at midafternoon of Bloomsday” (7). The aforementioned scene (pages 12-13) with Lenehan laughing at Leopold for not realizing that he felt Molly up during the carriage ride appears during “Wandering Rocks.” One can see Lenehan as a “rock” that could crush Leopold’s psyche easily by revealing Molly’s openness towards other men. Fortunately in “Wandering Rocks” Leopold, like Odysseus, avoids Lenehan and all the other threatening “rocks” in Dublin.

The best approach when using the Homeric parallel is to cross reference the works of well known authors such as Gifford, Norris, and Blamires, and Campbell who all provide a credible synopsis of the Ulysses in terms to how it relates to the Homeric parallel. There will be a few differences between various works dealing with the Homeric parallel. However, there will also be enough similarities amongst all the works to provide adequate guidance to a reader.


In conclusion, Ulysses is one of the most complex novels in literature to analyze. Joyce offers layers of meaning in his novel—layers in which beginners can get lost. One of the most obvious layers, and a good place for beginners to start, is the layer of Greek influence. The first Greek influence discussed in this paper is the Daedalus myth. Stephen’s last name, Dedalus, suggests a connection to the myth. By consulting the myth, a reader can realize that Simon Dedalus, Stephen’s biological father fails to influence his son in the role of father and mentor. Leopold Bloom, in the role of what Campbell calls the “spiritual father,” emerges as the one who will most likely help Stephen avoid a similar fate as Icarus, and stay on a safe trajectory during the process of becoming an artist.

The most obvious Greek influence is the Homeric parallel, an aspect of the novel that has been studied by scholars for about as long as the novel has existed. It is quite apparent that Joyce structured his novel after the Greek myth the Odyssey. The structure helps a reader to identify the shared pattern of the story line which depends on the two male characters starting out on the journey apart and then ending up together. Readers can also identify the purpose of bringing the two male characters together (protecting the mother figure) by referring to the Homeric parallel.

Renowned Joyce scholar Hugh Kenner warns that using the parallel can be a dangerous method to use in regards to understanding the novel. It is important to remember that the novel is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. Acknowledging differences between the two works and cross referencing respected authors such as Harry Blamires, Margot Norris and Don Gifford, who provide Homeric parallels for every Episode of Ulysses, can help readers avoid being misled by the parallel.

Works Cited

Blamires, Harry. The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses.
London and New York: Routledge. 1996.

Campbell, Joseph. Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James 
Joyce. Novato, California: New World Library. 2003. 47-191.

Cheng, Vincent J. Joyce, Race, and Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press:
1995. 185-218.

Gifford, Don. Notes for Joyce. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1974.

Iser, Wolfgang. “Patterns of  Communication Joyce’s Ulysses.” Companion to James
Joyce’s Ulysses. Ed. Norris, Margot. Bedford Books: Boston and New York. 1998. 108-127.

Joyce, James. Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man with an Introduction by
Hugh Kenner. New York: New American Library. 1991.

Joyce, James. Ulysses. New York: Vantage Books. Hans Walter Gabler, ed. 1986.

Kenner, Hugh. Ulysses. The John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London.
1987.  19-30.

Norris Margot.  “A Critical History of Ulysses.” Companion to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Ed. Norris, Margot. Bedford Books: Boston and New York. 1998. 21-47.

“Odyssey.” Wikipedia. 14 Dec. 2005.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey.

Richardson, Brian. “Make it Old: Lucian’s A True Story, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Homeric
Patterns in Ancient Fiction.” Comparative Literature. 37.4 (2000): 371-383.

Schork, R.J. Greek and Hellenic Culture in Joyce. University Press of Florida:
Gainesville. 1998. 82-134.