Uploaded by Nick Castellucci

Tesi di Laurea 2018

Corso di laurea in Italianistica, Culture Letterarie Europee e Scienze Linguistiche
[Exile, Epiphany, and Epiclesis:
James Joyce's Uses of Dante in Life and Work]
Tesi di laurea in
[English Literature/Comparative Literature]
Relatore: Prof. Keir Douglas Elam
Correlatore: Prof. Angelo Maria Mangini
Presentata da: Nicholas Castellucci
Anno accademico
Table of Contents
Introduction ...................................................................................................... 7
1. Rebellion ..................................................................................................... 13
1.1. Politics ........................................................................................................13
1.1.1. Joyce's Attitude towards Politics......................................11
1.1.2. Charles Stuart Parnell Clerical Involvement in Politics......................................12
1.1.3. Betrayal.............................................................................14
1.1.4. Two Cities Divided...........................................................14
1.1.5. Death of an Idol/Conclusion.............................................16
1.2 The Church.........................................................................................17
1.2.1. Anti-Clerical Invectives....................................................17
1.2.2. Simony, Collusion, and the Irish.......................................21
1.2.3. Scholasticism, Order, and Apostasy..................................23
1.3. Fatherhood .............................................................................................. ... 24
1.3.1. Paternal Authority.............................................................24
1.3.2. Fraudulent Fathers............................................................25 Unexpected Encounters......................................25 Frode, the Role of the Priest, and Sodomy..........27 Father Conmee....................................................29
1.3.3. Spiritual Fathers................................................................32 Mortal Guides........................................................32 Cacciaguida...........................................................34 Joyce's Insubstantial Father.................................. 35 Bloom's Consubstantial Father...............................38
1.4. Conclusion......................................................................................40
2. Exile ............................................................................................................. 43
2.1. Physical Exile ............................................................................................. 43
2.1.1. The Voluntary Exile.....................................................43
2.1.2. Exile of a Poet ...................................................................... 46
2.1.3. Dante, Political Exile of the Risorgimento ........................... 47
2.1.4. Joyce and Nora Abroad ........................................................ 50
2.2. Spiritual Exile ............................................................................................. 53
2.2.1. Exile and the Medieval Mind/
A "Passion for Individual Integrity"........................................53
2.2.2. The Homo Viator and the Alienus.................................54
2.2.3. Stephen Dedalus, the Alienus........................................55
2.2.4. "Cunning" as "Ingegno"................................................59
2.2.5. The "Spiritual-Heroic Refrigerating Apparatus"..........60
3. Epiphany ..................................................................................................... 64
3.1. Dubliners .................................................................................................... 64
3.1.1. The Early Epiphanies.....................................................62
3.1.2. The Publication of Dubliners.........................................66
3.1.3. The Dantean Structure of Dubliners..............................67
3.1.4. Paralysis, Simony, Sodomy...........................................68
3.1.5. Gabriel Conroy, the "ignavo" .......................................70
3.1.6. "Araby," Joyce's Vita Nuova.........................................72
3.1.7. "Grace," the Sin of Flattery...........................................74
3.1.8. Conclusion.....................................................................76
3.2. "Epiphany-Hunting".......................................................................77
3.2.1. The Origin of "Stephen Hero".......................................77
3.2.2. "Epiphany Theory" in "Stephen Hero"..........................78
3.2.3. The "Vulgar" Epiphany...................................................80
3.2.4. Revelation, The Vernacular,
Sermo Umilis/Sermo Sublimis..................................................84
3.2.5. Ingegno and Epiphany....................................................88
3.2.6. Stephen, the Dubliner.....................................................92
3.2.7. Stephen's Contrapasso...................................................94
4. Epiclesis ....................................................................................................... 96
4.1. Schismatic Freedom......................................................................... .96
4.1.1. "Epicleti" and "Epikaleo"...............................................94
4.1.2. Epiclesis and Heresy: the Eucharist as Recollection......97
4.1.3. The Anagogical Interpretation of the Commedia..........100
4.1.4. Dubliners Summoned....................................................102
4.1.5. "Uneasy Orthodoxy".....................................................103
4.1.6. Conclusion....................................................................105
4.2. A Transubstantial Homecoming....................................................105
4.2.1. The Birth of Ulysses.....................................................105
4.2.2. Bloom, the Spiritual Father..........................................106
4.2.3. Bloom, the Jewish "Pagan"..........................................109
4.2.4. Bloom, the Simoniac....................................................110
4.2.5. Conclusion....................................................................113
Bibliography ................................................................................................. 117
James Joyce once said of his work: <<with me, the thought is always simple>> though the
<<means>> were <<quadrivial.>>1 In contrast to a Hemingway or a Picasso, craftsmen who,
in their later years' work, increasingly strove to eliminate superfluity in the way a Japanese
calligrapher seeks to economize his brushstrokes, Joyce's evolution as an artist took an
opposite turn as he continually refined his method such that it grew ever more circuitous and
impenetrable. Readers often meet his quadrivial means with a mixture of awe, fear, scorn,
and, at times, outright repugnance. The logorrhea of Finnegan's Wake represents his most
forbidding experiment in developing an idiolect that tested the very fiber of the English
language and substantiated, albeit quasi-solipsistically, the claims to his genius upon which he
had, from a young age, tirelessly, and often gratingly, insisted. Of course, by the time he put
himself to composing Finnegan's Wake, his genius was already an accomplished fact in the
Western pantheon of writers. To describe Ulysses as "groundbreaking" or a "masterpiece"
would almost, therefore, seem coy. Ulysses is more than a great novel; it is, of the modern era,
the novel par excellence, that work which T.S. Eliot, chary of fulsome praise, deified as <<[a
book] from which none of us can escape.>>2 And so, his greatest written achievement was
and still is, nothing less than a portal through which the aspiring writer must attempt to pass
through in order to receive that benediction which will allow them to even approach the task.
Like Dante's pilgrim passing through the cleansing fire of the lustful, the young writer must
also pass through Joyce's purgatorial wall of flame, if anything just for the sake of knowing
what language can do and where it can go.
Joyce, above all, wanted to be contended with, and finding no one his equal, had to reach
back over the span of centuries, to find a worthy mentor. For many, Shakespeare fulfills this
role for Joyce, allusions to the poet and playwright's works cropping up everywhere
throughout his prose. Indeed, Joyce devotes the greater portion of an entire chapter of
Mary T. Reynolds, Joyce and Dante: The Shaping Imagination, Princeton University Press, Guildford, 1981,
p. 64.
T.S. Eliot, Ulysses, Order and Myth in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode, Harvest Books,
London, 1975, p. 175.
Ulysses, the Scylla and Charybdis to Stephen Dedalus's oddball theory concerning Hamlet
and paternity. Many critical excavations of Joyce's oeuvre have unearthed remnants of
Shakespeare diffusely scattered throughout his sentences and by now, a comparative study of
the two wordsmiths has become a well-beaten path leading one safely into the dark wood of
Joyce's prose. It is an entry point having much to recommend itself, and yet, the
preponderance of this approach represents a certain injustice. Any student of his work would
be remiss to ignore the ubiquity of Dante in Joyce. An in-depth exploration of the two great
artists' shared literary pilgrimage involves a singularly curious and splendidly improbable
story of virtual tutelage. For Joyce, Shakespeare would serve as the wetnurse to his words
themselves, and would, much to my chagrin, win the title of his desert island companion: <<I
should hesitate between Dante and Shakespeare but not for long. The Englishman is richer
and would get my vote.>>3 Joyce was not a hesitant soul and the difficulty of the decision is
proof of the nearly peerless position which Dante occupied in Joyce's mind. Eliot famously
said of the West's two literary forefathers: <<Dante and Shakespeare divide the world
between them; there is no third.>>4 Joyce would have agreed strongly with the first sentence.
To the extent that Joyce was a writer of English, above all, Shakespeare might have nutrified
the lifeblood of his prose itself, but to the extent that Joyce was a man who believed himself
to be on a unique journey, Dante would provide the Virgilian accompaniment enabling him to
bridge the chasm between his life and work.
The great bard, father of the Italian language and eternal exile, nearly seven centuries
Joyce's senior, lived a life whose touchstones often strangely parallel the life of that meekly
theatrical and frequently moody Dubliner. Among their many similarities, Joyce and Dante
shared in common an intensely Catholic education, a deep love of reading, a knack for
detecting differences in speech and dialect and absorbing languages, a distrust of paternity, a
variably contemptuous and sentimental attitude towards one's birthplace, a persistent
conviction of being underappreciated, an almost megalomaniacal sense of independence,
acrimony towards a corrupt Church, a passing interest in medicine, and, of course, the
inescapability of their exilic fates. Some of these parallels were simple happenstance while
others were a deliberate outcome of Joyce's Dante-inflected self-ideal. By deconstructing this
Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1960, p.184.
T.S. Eliot, Dante in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode, London, 1975, p. 205.
construction, we readers of Joyce can hope to arrive at fresher understanding of his views on
the relationship between his life and work.
In the Scylla and Charybdis, Joyce has his alter-ego present an intentionally byzantine line
of reasoning in his argument that Shakespeare identifies himself not with Hamlet but with the
ghost of Hamlet's father. In defense of his theory he argues that this underlying identification
has something to do with Shakespeare's supposedly adulterous wife Ann Hathaway. Stephen's
adversary John Eglinton dismisses his theory claiming that Ann Hathaway has no import in
the discussion. The prevailing ideology among Stephen's literary acquaintances is that an
author's biography is a naively inappropriate heuristic for the study of literature, especially the
great works of literature. Stephen ends up, apparently, disavowing his theory, but the reader is
left with a feeling that while he perhaps does not wholly buy into each and every one of his
premises, he feels there to be some abiding truth beneath the surface of his argument.
Stephen, like Joyce, cannot entirely separate the life of an author from the work of an author,
considering always how biographical "fact," however much speculative in this case,
determine the recurrent tenor and themes of their creations.
There is, undoubtedly, no better example in the whole of Western literature of an author's
work and life being inseparable than Dante. Even a cursory reading of Dante forces his reader
to attempt to account for the facts of his life. Time and time again throughout the Commedia,
and even in his more "scientific" works, we are made to reflect upon Dante the man who is
and is not simultaneously Dante the pilgrim. The Commedia does not allow its reader a
Platonic space in which its poetry may be safely sanitized for purely aesthetic dissection. The
sacro poema is much too scored by the painful realities of Dante's personal narrative to lend
itself to any tidily impersonal post-modern reading. To read the Commedia is to engage
personally with Dante, it is to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with him experiencing, almost
second-by-second, what he and his guides experience as if it were happening for the first
time. It is the effect Joyce aspires to create in the voluminous account of Leopold Bloom's
Hellenic journey from morning to night. The lifetime's work of a close reading of the
Commedia, therefore, entails a close reading of the author's life itself. For Joyce, annexed to a
close reading of Dante was, therefore, the promise of freedom, a freedom to create himself as
he created his art. <<As we, or mother Dana, weave and unweave our bodies[...] so does the
artist weave and unweave his image.>>5
As the archetypal pilgrim, Dante attained the status of both the redeemed Christian
vouchsafed a unique vision of God and a symbol of the everyman, the homo viator seeking a
safe port in the storm of life. Joyce too wished to be "saved" through his genius and,
furthermore, to be recognized as such, but he also desperately wanted to be considered an
everyman of sorts. These two desires seemed diametrically opposed, but in Dante, they
achieve a remarkable synthesis. Joyce wanted to strike off on his own as much as he wanted a
grand homecoming. Unlike Dante, he was never physically compelled to leave Dublin, but in
the indifference of his fellow Dubliners to his talents made him feel unwanted, an exile. And
so he was to adopt as his own Dante's trial, striking off on his own, improvisationally
peripatetic and always at a loss for a place he could truly call his own. Though he would die
in Zurich, he would, infrequently, revisit his Dublin, but a sense of his "otherness" would stay
with him until the end.
The story of Dante and Joyce is more than just a story of influence. It is a story of
mentorship, a story of fatherhood and sonship. But it also the story of one writer's love affair
with a language, a story beginning at a young age. Dante met his Beatrice at the age of 9,
three years younger than Joyce would be when he began studying Italian. Admission to the
Belvedere College required three foreign language selections. Having had already developed
a proficiency in French and Latin, he decided on Italian as his third language. In a letter
written in 1921 to Harriet Weaver Shaw he wrote, "My father wanted me to take Greek, my
mother German, and my friends Irish. Result I took Italian."6 His first professor of Italian was
a man named Mr. Loup who taught the language to Joyce and one other student at Belvedere.
During this time, Joyce was to develop a reputation as a master linguist. An essay entitled
"The Study of Languages," in which he extolled the virtues of studying Latin, further
cemented this reputation.7 Never one to abandon a talent, Joyce continued his study of Italian
with the Bergamasco Jesuit tutor Charles Ghezzi, S.J., who inculcated in the young man a
love for Dante and other trecentisti. Additionally, he introduced Joyce to the works of
Giordano Bruno and more modern fare such as the work of Gabriele D'Annunzio. Joyce's
knowledge of Italian would aid him in the pursuit of another passion, tenor singing. Joyce had
James Joyce, Ulysses, Modern Library, New York, 1992, p. 186.
Corinna Del Greco Lobner, James Joyce and the Italian Language, <<Italica>>, LX, 1983, p. 140.
Ivi, p. 140 - 153.
a beautiful voice and honed his ability to sing with Dublin's preeminent maestro of the bel
canto, Benedetto Palmieri. His concentration on words aided him greatly in establishing
himself as an able tenor. The notion of language as music always brought to mind that direct
descendant of Latin whose progenitor heard in the vernacular, the language of the man on the
street, music.8
Joyce was also a lover of the vernacular, believing spoken language to be the one true
gateway to truth. His conversational aptitude in Italian, however much anachronistic it was
when he first arrived in Italy, would quickly evolve into fluency and, in a remarkably short
amount of time, mastery. While living in Trieste he would write articles in Italian about Irish
Politics for the local newspaper and deliver lectures on Irish history in an academic setting.
His children he named "Giorgio" and "Lucia" and, when at home, the household language was
almost always Italian. Though he was a more than capable speaker of French, his heart
belonged always to Italian. And yet, he was not so much enamored with Italy as a country nor
the Italian people in general as much as he was with the great vate who made the
transubstantiation of his spiritual exile into a physical exile possible.
To learn from his hero was to become his hero, and by way of heros, Joyce had precious
few in his life. But those men whom he considered worthy of the title "hero" -- Parnell, Ibsen,
Shakespeare, Dante -- he upheld as Christlike. These men were rebels, but rebels of a very
certain sort, fighting for distinction as giants of indepent thought and action. With the help of
these rebels, Joyce was able to attempt to correct those parts of himself which he felt had been
perverted by the cruelly oppressive forces of <<nationality, language, and history.>> And
among these heros, that figure which shone forth most strongly was, undoubtedly, Dante. In
his attempt to see things for what they really were, always taking into account the most
seemingly minute interrelations between great religious truths and brute sensory reality, he
became something of a prophet in his own right.This is Joyce's audacity: a belief so strong in
his own genius that he would accept nothing less than becoming his heroes. In the process, he
believed he would be able to acquire something of their seerlike vision and their Socratic
gadfly-like talents for forcing people to doubt their most fundamentally held beliefs about the
nature of their realities. At the crux of it all is what Roy Gottfried calls Joyce's "misbelief," a
religious ambivalence tottering between heresy and apostasy. What Joyce believed was never
quite clear, least of all to him. But Dante's unique ability to create and apply an orthodoxy of
C. Del Greco Lobner, op. cit., 140 - 153.
his own, as religious as it was secular, would prove a valuable walking stick (or "ashplant")
for one who was willing to venture out, alone, into that dark wood. By doing so, he hoped to
truly live up to his University College sobriquet as "Dublin's Dante."9
James Robinson, Joyce's Dante: Exile, Memory, and Community, Cambridge University Press, New York,
2016, p.2
1. Rebellion
1.1. Politics
1.1.1. Joyce's Attitude towards Politics
The general critical consensus on Joyce is that he was completely indifferent to politics.
Frank Budgen, chronicler of Joyce's composition of Ulysses and fellow Zurich-based
expatriate, said of Joyce: <<on one subject he was more uncommunicative than any man I
know: the subject of politics.>>10 Yeats described Joyce as never having <<anything to do
with Irish politics, extreme or otherwise.>>11 Unlike his father who had at one point worked
as a secretary for the United Liberal Club in Dublin, Joyce never agitated in the interests of
any specific political party and although he expressed admiration for the Home Rule aims of
the Fenian Brotherhood and the Sinn Fein Party, his sympathies lacked the fervor of active
political participation. When, near the end of his life, his brother Stanislaus pressed him to
give an opinion on the Fascist uprising in Italy he responded: <<for God's sake don't talk to
me about politics. I'm not interested in politics. The only thing that interests me is style.>>12
The arch of his life and art would span the most profound technological changes and
devastating wars yet known in human history, but the epoch-defining upheavals and crises of
the century seemed to bear little upon the mind of the great writer who claimed to be
concerned principally with life <<as we see it before our eyes, men and women as we meet
them in the real world, not as we apprehend them in the world of faery.>>13 Within his
personal universe, the novelist of the quotidian and the commonplace had no room for
historical monoliths. Focusing his energies upon particularizing the universe of the everyday
required attention to the smallest and most seemingly trivial details of our inner lives. For
Joyce, the crises and upheavals of our lives were not grandly external affairs but rather
episodic interior instances, threaded seamlessly into the fabric of the starkly familiar and
Dominic Manganiello, Joyce's Politics, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames, 1980, p. 1.
James Joyce, Drama and Life in Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, ed. Kevin Barry, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 2002, p. 28.
mundane. Beneath the lens of his one good eye, everything appeared, in its ultimate form,
thrillingly ordinary. I history was the process by which the totality of human experience was
condensed and its by-product converted into easily digestible annals of names, deeds, events,
and dates, then political affiliation was nothing more than the ideological stylization of one's
attitude towards those taxonomies.
Joyce felt that <<the artist should be a passive rather than an active member of the State
having at his disposal the agency of beauty and not politics to better and save the world.>>14
When, in the 5th chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Davin pressures him to
lend his talents to the cause of Ireland's freedom by enlisting in the nationalist ranks, Stephen
No honourable and sincere man [...] has given up to you his life and his youth and
his affections from the days of Tone to those of Parnell, but you sold him to the
enemy or failed him in need or reviled him and left him for another. And you
invite me to be one of you. I’d see you damned first.15
In this passage, an adversarial young man asserts his independence from any cut-and-dried
configuration of political identity. From a young age, Joyce had always aspired to appear a
man of fierce convictions whose loyalty to himself and his vision remained untainted by party
affiliation and institutional rank. He felt himself fated to become precisely that species of
non-partisan vagabond that Cacciaguida, prophesying Dante's exile, describes as <<a party to
1.1.2. Charles Stuart Parnell/Clerical Involvement in Politics
It is tempting to think of Joyce as an aloof aesthete who deliberately ignored politics such
that he might avoid the threat of trivializing his genius by exposing it partisanship, but to
mischaracterize Joyce as entirely apolitical, however, would risk overlooking a key phase of
his artistic evolution. Despite his avowed distaste for politics, Joyce would remain throughout
his life a serious observer of political developments in Ireland, maintaining always a
sentimental bond to the figure of Charles Stuart Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 197.
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Oxford, New York, 2000, p. 158.
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, translated by James Finn Cotter, Forum Italicum, New York, 2000,
p. 499.
Party and celebrated champion of Irish independence. Throughout his career, Parnell fought
tirelessly for the rights of evicted farmhands and succeeded in creating an essentially nonviolent agrarian movement formed around the practice of boycotting and social ostracism.
Initially reservedly observant during parliamentary meetings, his political project made
himself increasingly visible and in due time he had developed the reputation of being a Celtic
maverick. At the height of his fame, the revelation of his affair with Kitty O'Shea, wife of one
of Parnell's former allies, William O'Shea would lead to his ruin.17
Joyce's earliest known work was political in nature. "Et Tu Healy," written by Joyce at the
age of 9, was an invective directed at Tim Healy, the leader of the opposition party
responsible for bringing about Parnell's demise.18 While the poem is not extant in its entirety,
a version of it appears in the Dubliners story, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" in which a
canvasser plaintively commemorates Parnell's martyrdom:
He is dead. Our Uncrowned King is dead.
Erin, mourn with grief and woe
For he lies dead whom the fell gang
Of modern hypocrites laid low.
He lies slain by the coward hounds
He raised to glory from the mire;
And Erin’s hopes and Erin’s dreams
Perish upon her monarch’s pyre.19
This denunciation of Healy and his cohorts as traitors indicates Joyce's precocious
awareness of the political situation in Ireland. For Joyce, Parnell's legacy was that of the
persecuted messiah destroyed by his own people for the sin of campaigning for their freedom.
The pessimism of the poem anticipates Stephen's famously gloomy metaphor of Ireland in A
Portrait as <<the sow that eats her own farrow.>>20 The marriage of church and state as it
existed in Ireland at the turn of the century bore a resemblance to Italy's political situation in
the early fourteenth century. Dante repeatedly grappled with questions of church and state in
a number of different Cantos of the Commedia and outlined his segregative political
philosophy in the treatise De Monarchia. Like Joyce, he opposed the Catholic Church's
involvement in temporal matters and felt that the church should limit itself to tending
exclusively to the spiritual demands of its congregation.
R. Barry O'Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell 1846 - 1891, Harper, New York, 1898, pp. 23 - 49.
Richard Ellman, James Joyce, Oxford University Press, New York-Oxford-Toronto, 1982, pp. 33 - 4.
James Joyce, Dubliners, Bantam Books, New York, 1990, p. 56.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 157.
1.1.3. Betrayal
Much like Joyce Dante was also was suspicious of factionalism and deeply obsessed with
the theme of betrayal. The image of Joyce’s cannibalized farrow has a parallel in Paradiso 25
in which Dante describes himself as an innocent "agnello" asleep peacefully in his <<bello
ovile>> all the while unaware that he is a <<nimico a lupi che li danno guerra.>>21 Whereas
Dante would experience betrayal in his adult years, Joyce's education in betrayal began at an
early age. For Joyce, Parnell was <<perhaps the most formidable man that ever led the
Irish.>>22 In his book, "The Judas Kiss," Gerry Smyth explains the momentous impact of the
Home Ruler's death on the young Joyce:
the fall of Parnell, then, instantiates a matrix of traitorous impulses and actions -- some politicalcultural, some subjective and interpersonal; and it's clear...that such a matrix was a crucial
component of the artistic vision of James Joyce.23
His own subjectivity and the <<political-cultural>> were, therefore, indissolubly linked in
Joyce's mind. For such a mind, one as sensitive to impressions as was Joyce's, the betrayal of
Parnell was the same as being himself betrayed. The anecdotal facts of his life would
continue to act as the ultimate determiner of his political identity and in the same vein as
Dante's "agnello" he would continue to think of himself as an inherently innocent victim
irreversibly prone to betrayal.
1.1.4. Two Cities Divided
In the wake of its great leader's destruction Ireland was split into two factions. The antiParnellites, backed by the clergy, quickly gained the upper hand over the demoralized Home
Rulers, subsequently initiating a state of social stasis that would eventually compel Joyce to
abandon his <<dear, dirty Dublin>>24 and search the continent for a locus amoenus within
whose embrace he might be able to fully realize his artistic potential. A political divide of this
type, one in which the prevailing ideologies of both parties overlap in many areas but cannot
be reconciled on one key clerical matter, had its parallel in the separation of the Black Guelfs
from the White Guelfs in Dante's Florence. For Joyce, the end result of his country's intestine
Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, trans. Robert Hollander, and Jean Hollander, Anchor, New York, 2007, p. 660.
J. Joyce, op. cit., ed. K. Barry, p. 316.
Gerry Smyth, 'Trust Not Appearances:' James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) in The Judas Kiss: Treason and
Betrayal in Six Modern Irish Novels, Manchester University Manchester, 2016, p. 71.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 15.
division was a state of paralysis or an interminable petrification not unlike the frozen
punishment awaiting those souls in the penultimate antenora of the Inferno.25
This state of paralysis was, in Joyce's world, a condition which the Irish people had not
only invited upon themselves but one which they had deliberately exacerbated by reaffirming
their bondage to <<two masters...an English and an Italian.>> Joyce shared with the majority
of his countrymen the opinion that England's claim to authority over Ireland was illegitimate.
The seed of tyranny had been sown as far back as 1155 when Pope Adrian IV, born Nicholas
Brakespear, history's only English Pope, issued the bull Laudabiliter that supposedly engaged
Henry II in a mission to invade Ireland.26 According to Joyce, the complicity between the
English occupiers and the papacy was age-old. <<Joyce complained that throughout history
the Papacy never leant a word of support to her most Catholic domain, yet Ireland remained
faithful to the papacy.>>27 The indignation he reserved for the English master was, therefore,
equally if not more applicable to the Italian master. The warring factions of Medieval
Florence brought about a comparable state of paralysis in Dante's polis. Architect of Dante's
misfortunes and notorious abuser of ecclesiastical power, Bonifacio VIII was, for the poet,
the quintessential archetype of the traitor, betraying both his divine office and his nation in
his hunger for power. Like the anti-Parnellites, Bonifacio VIII also colluded with a foreign
power, the French, whose ruler Charles, Count of Valois assisted him in his takeover of
Florence. With the help of France and the Black Guelfs, Bonifacio VIII ushered in a period of
internecine conflict in Florence that quickly led to Dante's exile.28 In Inferno 6, condemned
Florentine glutton Ciacco predicts the outcome of the struggle between the White and Black
Guelphs in grim terms:
E quelli a me: <<Dopo lunga tencione
verranno al sangue, e la parte selvaggia
caccerà l'altra con molta offensione.>>29
It was the Black Guelphs who cleaved closest to the credo of papal supremacy. Although
the Guelphs had, prior to the split, opposed Ghibelline support of the Holy Roman Emperor's
claims to the authoritative preeminence of the Empire in the controversy over the Papacy's
Nick Havely, Dante, Blackwell Publishing, Malden-Oxford-Victoria, 2007, pp. 23 - 31.
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 10.
N. Havely, op. cit., pp. 57 - 64.
Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, Anchor, New York, 2000, p.118.
rightful role in secular politics, the rancor stoked in them by the lawlessness of Bonifacio VIII
spurred the Ghibellines to side with their erstwhile enemies. However, no political conflict is
ever solely ideological, the violence within the divided Papist party having its roots in a
family rivalry.30 According to Dino Compagni, the feud between the Donati and Cerchi
families, leaders of the Black and White Guelph factions respectively, had arisen as the result
of a matter of an unpaid dowry owed to the Cerchi family by Corso Donati who had married
Cerchi relative Tessa Ubertini. The Donati had always envied the Cerchi for their superior
wealth, and the issue of an unhonored marriage contract was pretext enough for the families
to nurture a mutual hatred, a hatred which was not abated by the shared nomenclature of their
political parties. Both Dante and Joyce were highly aware of the vicious influence of personal
enmity and envy in politics. In the 15th Canto, Brunetto Latini describes these traits as a bred
in the bone characteristic of those Florentines whose origins were provincial:
Vecchia fama nel mondo li chiama orbi;
gent' è avara, invidiosa e superba:
dai lor costumi fa che tu ti forbi.31
Pride, envy, and greed were, according to Dante, at the heart of Florence's social
discord, the political doctrine of the two parties being ultimately undermined by the pettiness
of personal rivalry. A similar vindictiveness, mantled in excessive religiosity, was what
brought down Joyce's great leader. Parnell's extra-marital indiscretion was, for those opposed
to his influence, the perfect weapon to scuttle his entire political enterprise. op. cit.
1.1.5. Death of an Idol/Conclusion
In the last decade of his life, Dante would find his hopes of homecoming rekindled in the
figure of Henry VII of Luxembourg, the German sovereign whose short-lived career as Holy
Roman Emperor seemed to promise the reunification of the Italian peninsula. However, these
hopes would come to naught. After laying siege to the Guelf city of Siena, Enrico VII would
be taken by malaria and die before reaching his fortieth birthday.32 What little faith Dante had
in the possibility of reconciling with his countrymen and the possibility of a lasting political
change in Italy died with the death of his alto arrigo, a heaven-sent leader whose unachieved
N. Havley, op. cit., pp. 72 - 74.
D. Alighieri, op. cit., p. 280.
William M. Bowskey, Henry VII in Italy, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1962, p. 156.
Imperialist ambitions earn him a special place in Paradiso 30. The failure of his mission
Dante explains as the product of <<la cieca cupidigia che v'ammalia>> covetousness blinding
the Italian people such that they resemble the <<fantolino che muor per fame e caccia via la
balia.>>33 This simile mirrors, in reverse, the metaphor of the <<sow that eats its farrow.>> If
the Italians of Dante's time were infants who chose to starve themselves by turning away from
Arrigo's nourishing teat, then the Irish were doomed to be devoured by the nourisher herself.
For Joyce, there would be latter-day Parnell. Pettiness, greed, religious hypocrisy, and an
inveterate instinct to self-destroy precluded the Irish people from enjoying another great
leader. Parnell's traitors were the very same mediocrities who Joyce portrays as having
infamously cast the net that bound him. Manganiello writes, <<for Joyce, the artist and
politician seemed doom to share the same fate in an Ireland "where Christ and Caesar are
hand and glove.">>34
Art and politics were inextricably bound in his mind. Joyce, ultimately, saw all politics in
the reflection given by the <<cracked lookingglass of a servant.>>35 This is the image
Stephen in Ulysses employs to symbolize Irish art, but the image just as easily applies to
Joyce's view of Irish politics and politics in general. Rather than ameliorating social issues,
politicians further fragmented societies by driving wedges between people. In the case of
Ireland, the politicians had reasserted their subaltern status to their oppressors for the sake of
immediate gain. With the shattering of his hopes for a free and independent Ireland, the
young writer's belief in the power of collective political change was shattered. Only by
drawing on the example set by another fiercely solitary poet-prophet would he be able to
become a true <<party to himself.>>
1.2 The Church
1.2.1. Anticlerical Invectives
The divisive trauma of Parnell's death is expertly captured in the Christmas Dinner scene
of A Portrait's first chapter. In honor of his growing older, a young Stephen is permitted to sit
at the adult table for the first time in his life. He soon finds his holiday spirit punctured when
a political quarrel breaks out between his father, Simon and the Dedalus children's governess,
D. Alighieri, op. cit., p. 801.
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 18.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 7.
Dante Riordan. The governess maintains that Parnell was an adulterous sinner and is, on that
charge, unfit to save the Irish people. Mrs. Riordan feels the Church was completely justified
in disowning Parnell while Stephen's father, despite his Catholicism, feels that Parnell's
infidelity was merely a pretext used by colonialist sympathizers, mostly Protestants, to end
the Home Ruler's political agenda. The core of the political debate is the corruption of the
clergy and the disagreement indelibly impressing upon young Stephen's mind an idea of the
hypocrisy and baseness of those clerics and politicians who sell the souls of their people for
the sake of profit. Vitriolic condemnations of ecclesiastical corruption are also a recurrent
feature of the Commedia.
Our pilgrim Dante, in Inferno 19, exhibits a similarly virulence towards Niccolò III, one of
the many simoniacal popes whose contrapasso has him stacked upside-down in a manylayered series of simoniacs, the topmost of whom is subjected to suffer a dance of flames, a
parody of Pentecostal fire, upon his bare heels. Dante finds the sin of simony, the buying and
selling of ecclesiastical office or entitlements, particularly offensive and the disgust he feels
at the sight of these corrupt Popes causes him to risk profaning the Church itself:
E se non fosse ch'ancor lo mi vieta
a reverenza de le somme chiavi
che tu tenesti ne la vita lieta,
io userei parole ancor più gravi;
ché la vostra avarizia il mondo attrista,
calcando i buoni e sollevando i pravi.36
When discussing those clergymen who sought to destroy his great leader, Simon Dedalus
also risks profanation: <<Sons of bitches! ...When he was down they turned on him to betray
him and rend him like rats in a sewer. Lowlived dogs! And they look it. By Christ, they look
it.>>37 His rage swelling to the point of outright blasphemy, Stephen's father decries the
unholy alliance of religion and politics, adding fatalistically, <<we are an unfortunate
priestridden race and always were and always will be till the end of the chapter... —A
priestridden Godforsaken race!>>38
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 350.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 34.
Ivi, p. 39.
Mrs. Riordan upbraids him for his foul language and the night ends with a tearful Simon
lamenting the loss of his <<dead king>> while Stephen looks upon him <<terrorstricken.>>39
After vowing to refrain from using worse language, Dante seemingly contradicts himself by
deploying a word of his own coinage: <<puttaneggiar>>40 to describe the simoniacal practices of
the Church. Later in the poem, in Purgatorio XXXIII, Dante proves even more audacious. He
speaks of the Church as a <<puttana sciolta>>41 and likens it to the harlot of the apocalypse.
(Purg. XXXIII) Joyce was also recorded of having described the Church as a <<whore>> in
conversation with the director of the Berlitz School in Pola, Alessandro Francini Bruni.42 To him,
whoring oneself, in any context, was to engage in simony. Simony was, in Joyce's mind, not
merely a clerical sin but one that could also be equated with <<falsity of purpose>>43 in general.
In his essay, <<Day of the Rabblement>> Joyce took to task those exponents of the literary
community who compromised their art for the sake of fame and fortune.44 As his brother
Stanislaus put it, falsity of purpose was for Joyce, <<the literary sin against the Holy Ghost.>>45
Ever fond of discussing art in liturgical terms, Joyce worried that his own aesthetic religion might
not be immune to the disease of simony. He feared that without proper vigilance he too might
succumb to the temptation of whoring his vision for profit.
1.2.2 Simony, Collusion, and the Irish
Simony was not simply a phenomenon confined to the illicit practices of the Church, but a
viral element of the Irish character. In his "Dubliners" stories, Joyce portrays the many facets of
his fellow Dubliners' disposition (and by that token, the national character as a whole) through a
variety of symbolically charged sketches of daily life. In "Grace" a story satirically modeled on
the Commedia's tripartite structure, tells the tale of four friends who attempt to revive and reform
the drunkard, Tom Kernan. At a certain point in the story, Tom's friends enter into a discussion on
papal infallibility in which they praise the superiority of the Irish Catholic Church as the most
pious in all of Christendom. In this story, Joyce caricatures the woefully retrograde attitude of his
countrymen who <<in the full tide of rationalist positivism and equal democratic rights for
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 41.
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit. p. 350.
Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, translated by Robert Hollander, Jean Hollander, Anchor, New York, 2003, p.
Alessandro Francini Bruni, Joyce Intimo Spogliato in Piazza, ed. Franco Marucci, Ibiskos Editrice Risolo,
Empoli, 2012, p. 245.
Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother's Keeper: James Joyce's Early Years, ed. Richard Ellman, Da Capo Press,
Cambridge, 2003, p. 104.
J. Joyce, op. cit., ed. K. Barry, p. 50.
S. Joyce, op. cit., p. 104.
everybody...[proclaim] the dogma of the infallibility of the head of the Church and also that
of the Immaculate Conception.>>46 The source of Ireland's paralysis, its drunkenness, its
pettiness was, therefore, the instinct for mendacity that the Church instilled in its
congregation. Unable to face themselves, the Irish people looked to the Church to act as what
Father Purdon in his sermon at the end of "Grace" describes as a <<spiritual accountant>>
who exists to <<open the books>> of his flock.47 In speaking of religion in these terms he
<<deforms the theological concept of 'grace' by equating it with good deeds in a commercial
The leeching influence of simony was, therefore, in Joyce's mind, the means by which the
Irish people were lured into a condition of subservience. By wedding Mammon and Christ,
the Irish Church had violated its most cherished principles. "Grace" was meant to be the last
story in the Dubliners collection and Joyce's final pronouncement on the irredeemably
corrupted state of his city. The cult of commerce lampooned by the story was a phenomenon
which attributed to the insidious influence of the British occupiers. Manganiello writes
<<Joyce suspected, moreover, that the Catholic hierarchy in England was secretly opposed to
Irish independence, because the creation of an independent Irish parliament would diminish
the political power and influence of English Catholics under British parliament.>>49
The papacy's tradition of collusion had many historic precedents. In Dante's time,
collusion between France and the Vatican eventually led to the relocation of the papacy from
Rome to Avignon under the command of Boniface's successor, Clement V who was indebted
to Philip the Fair of France to whom he owed his election.50 For Dante, the establishment of
the Avignon papacy was the most unthinkable act of simony. Such an act merits Clement V a
place in the bolgia of the simoniacs where he is prophesied by Niccolò III to eventually
replace him as the latest in the series of condemned popes. Whereas Dante, addressing
Niccolò personally, possessed a force of conviction strong enough to aim his blows directly at
the corrupt figures in question, Joyce allows his prose to do the work of criticizing the
Church. No figure so grand as the Pope himself is given form in any of Joyce's productions,
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 142.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 118.
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 197.
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 140.
N. Havely, op. cit., p. 37.
but rather only minor city-dwelling vicars of the papacy are called upon to play the part of his
1.2.3. Scholasticism, Order, and Apostasy
He would maintain, more or less, the same political and anticlerical convictions throughout
his life, but his work would always belie a certain ambivalence when it came to open
denunciation of the Christian religion, an attitude very unlike that of his brother Stanislaus
who was an avowed atheist and far more anticlerical. Noted biographer of Joyce, Richard
Ellman writes <<his brother Stanislaus's outward rebellion, which took the form of rudeness
to his masters at Belvedere and defiance at home -- his atheism worn like a crusader's cross -did not enlist James's sympathy.>>51 Joyce might not have called himself a believer but he
would always, in his work, take pains to convert <<the temple to new uses instead of trying to
knock it down, regarding it as a superior kind of human folly and one which, interpreted by a
secular artist, contained obscured bits of truth.>>52
And so no charge of falsity of purpose could be leveled at Joyce when he urged his
brother to mellow his campaign of opposition. When pressed by Morris L. Ernst to answer the
question of whether he was truly an apostate he responded, <<That's for the Church to
say.>>53 And when asked by Frank Budgen to explain the Catholic themes in his work he
clarified that <<for the sake of precision and to get the correct contour on me, you ought to
allude to me as a Jesuit.>>54 His Jesuit education had structured his mind to accommodate an
encyclopedia of catechistic taxonomies and it was only with great effort that he succeeded in
preserving his reverence for scholasticism as a supreme human achievement while developing
a personal ethos outside the bounds of Papal authority. Ellman puts it best, saying
Joyce saw the intellectual structure of scholasticism as one of the monuments of
civilization, a noble product of the human mind -- beautiful not merely in its
intricacy and subtlety but also an embodiment of an elevated moral and ethical
conception in life.55
R. Ellman, op. cit, p. 67.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 27.
M.T., Reynolds, op. cit., p. 17.
Dante was also a believer in order and, however bitterly critical and hostile to a corrupt
Papacy <<[he] still accepted and exalted the Church as an institution divinely created and
inspired.>>56 The importance of scholasticism for Joyce was, therefore, the visionary impetus
with which it elaborated its ideals. His Jesuit studies had fueled the fire of his imagination by
imposing upon it a latticework of classifications. Purposing to move freely within this
latticework while not being subjugated to the supernatural authority from which it supposedly
derived, he felt that <<Christianity had subtly evolved in his mind from a religion into a
system of metaphors, which as metaphors could claim his fierce allegiance.>>57 To be the
true father of his race he would have to become not only party to himself, but also priest and
father as well. This then would be the establishment of the Joycean tabernacle.
1.3. Fatherhood
1.3.1. Paternal Authority
In the Scylla and Charybdis chapter of Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus expounds, in the
presence of his literary compeers, his unorthodox theory that Shakespeare identified himself
with the ghost of Hamlet's father rather than Hamlet himself. At a certain point the
conversation veers towards the subject of the Church and theme of fatherhood:
Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a
mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On
that mystery and not on the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to
the mob of Europe the church is founded and founded irremovably because
founded, like the world, macro- and micro-cosm, upon the void. Upon incertitude,
upon unlikelihood. Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only
true thing in life. Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that
any son should love him or he any son?58
Stephen's theory is met with scorn and derision by his peers, some of his more subtle
points being discounted on the charge that biography should have no bearing on literary
analysis. But the genius of Stephen's theory consists in its meanderings and the portal
provided by Shakespeare allows him to reach beyond his fellow litterateurs whose viewpoints
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 17.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 68.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 199.
are narrowly confined to a received notion of art for art's sake. The <<legal fiction>> of
<<paternity>> is the theme that emerges most saliently from his discourse. For Stephen,
paternity is, unlike, maternal love, a construction. Composites of paternity recurring
frequently throughout Joyce's work under many guises: the pater familias, the cleric, the
remote ancestor, etc. If fatherhood was indeed a literary construction with legal implications,
then becoming a father for oneself was an artistic task that involved the creation of an identity
subject only to the law of one's individual conscience. To throw paternal authority into
question was to throw the foundation of the Church itself into question. It is to that end that
Joyce feels it meet to identify the fictive fathers constituting the fictive authority to which his
will refused to bend.
Joyce's relationship with his own father was strained. He alternated between admiring
his father's joie de vivre and detesting his habits of drunkenness and his proclivity for moneymaking schemes. Of his own father, Dante makes no mention. We know he was a
moneylender and therefore a usurer. It is easy to imagine such a man ending up in the fourth
circle of the Inferno where the avaricious push massive weights with their chests, but not
even a poet as bold as Dante had the gall put his own father in hell. His silence in regards to
Alighiero di Bellincione is, thus, a testament to the lack of regard he bore towards his parent.
Only in the realm of his imagination could Dante and Joyce find the appropriate surrogates
for their feckless fathers.
1.3.2. Fraudulent Fathers Unexpected Encounters
In Inferno 15, Dante crosses paths with an old friend and father figure, Brunetto Latini
who is condemned to reside in the girone reserved for those who have perpetrated acts of
violence against God. A sodomite, Brunetto must run in circles endlessly with his fellow
sinners. Author of the didactic poem Tresor, Brunetto was tutor to Dante during the latter's
youth and might have given him an informal education in the arts of versification.59 What sort
of curriculum Brunetto used is unclear as is the specifics of his sin, but Dante's admiration for
his tutor and fellow exile is unquestionable. In this Canto, its tone celebratory and hopeful,
N. Havley, op. ed., p. 130.
Dante puts uncommonly little emphasis on the nature of the sin punished. His encounter with
Brunetto occurs while he observes the perambulating procession of which he is a part. At a
certain point, Dante notices one among the group watching him with the squinted eyes of a
tailor attempting to thread a needle. The man suddenly seizes him by his skirt and expresses
his amazement at encountering his formal pupil in the world of the dead:
Così adocchiato da cotal famiglia,
fui conosciuto da un, che mi prese
per lo lembo e gridò: <<Qual maraviglia!>>.
E io, quando ’l suo braccio a me distese,
ficcaï li occhi per lo cotto aspetto,
sì che ’l viso abbrusciato non difese
la conoscenza süa al mio ’ntelletto;
e chinando la mano a la sua faccia,
rispuosi: <<Siete voi qui, ser Brunetto?>>60
So moved is he to be reunited with his beloved teacher that Dante pays him the most
tender tribute imaginable, using words warmer then those he reserves for Virgil or many of
the souls in paradise:
ché ’n la mente m’è fitta, e or m’accora,
la cara e buona imagine paterna
di voi quando nel mondo ad ora ad ora 84
m’insegnavate come l’uom s’etterna:
e quant’io l’abbia in grado, mentr’io vivo
convien che ne la mia lingua si scerna.61
As Brunetto describes the harsh reality awaiting the poet, Dante portrays his former tutor
as highly worthy of filial affection. His tutor's own ordeal as exile makes him sympathetic to
Dante's plight and his account of the pilgrim's future is a precursor to Cacciaguida's prophecy
in Paradiso 17. It is the reality of Brunetto's punishment that gives the Canto its unique
power. Dante's compassion for this man who, in his estimation, is <<di costoro quelli che
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 278.
Ivi, p. 280.
vince, non colui che perde>>, seems to eclipse the gravity of his sin without exonerating him
from his sentence.62 Frode, the Role of the Priest, and Sodomy
In Joyce's Ireland the parish priest was considered a father to the community, tending
to his congregation's spiritual and material needs, but Wells is hardly that. Mary T Reynolds
says that seminarian's bad faith marks him, therefore, <<as a simoniac, a fradulent father.>>63
(MTR) Fraud or <<frode>> is, of course, in Dante's universe the most grave of sins. To
deceive for the purpose of personal gain is, for the poet, the vilest debasement of God's great
gift of reason. For Joyce, fraud first manifests itself as a word inextricably associated with the
He went on repeating to himself a line from Dante for no other reason except that it contained the
angry dissyllable <<frode.>> Surely, he thought, I have as much right to use the word [i.e. frode,
trans., fraude] as Dante...The spirits of the patriotic and religious enthusiasts seemed to him fit to
inhabit the fraudulent circles where hidden in hives of immaculate ice they might work their bodies
to a due pitch of frenzy. The spirits of the tame sodalists, unsullied and undeserving, he would
petrify among a ring of Jesuits in the circle of the foolish and grotesque virginities and ascend
above them[...]64
The reference to the antenora of ice as a fitting destination for his <<fraudulent fathers>>
is proof of the severity of Joyce's contempt towards these deceivers. In A Portrait, Joyce
gives a more textured account of his attraction towards the priesthood and his subsequent
apostasy. Yet only in this earlier version of the bildungsroman is the reader given a figural
manifestation of the fradulent father Joyce once risked becoming. In Stephen Hero, Joyce as
Stephen, is not lacking in compassion for these fraudulent fathers, but by no means is he able
to accord Wells the same admiration that Dante expresses for Brunetto. In A Portrait, Joyce
describes both the lure and the existential threat of the priesthood in dramatic detail. That he
might effectively <<damn>> himself by joining the ranks of the seminarians is a governing
fear for Stephen. After Father Arnall's excruciatingly detailed hellfire sermon, young Stephen
finds himself in a state of mortal terror and decides he has no choice but to confess his acts of
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 284
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 44
James Joyce, Stephen Hero, New Directions Publishing, New York, 1963, p. 56
fornication. Soon after the confession, he feels a newfound sense of relief that quickly
evolves into the desire to become a priest. In the fourth chapter of the novel, he lays out the
uniquely gnostic powers of the divine office:
He listened in reverent silence now to the priest’s appeal and through the words
he heard even more distinctly a voice bidding him approach, offering him secret
knowledge and secret power. He would know then what was the sin of Simon
Magus and what the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there was no
forgiveness. He would know obscure things, hidden from others, from those who
were conceived and born children of wrath. He would know the sins, the sinful
longings and sinful thoughts and sinful acts, of others, hearing them murmured into
his ears in the confessional under the shame of a darkened chapel by the lips of
women and of girls; but rendered immune mysteriously at his ordination by the
imposition of hands, his soul would pass again uncontaminated to the white peace
of the altar. No touch of sin would linger upon the hands with which he would
elevate and break the host; no touch of sin would linger on his lips in prayer to
make him eat and drink damnation to himself not discerning the body of the Lord.
He would hold his secret knowledge and secret power, being as sinless as the
innocent, and he would be a priest for ever according to the order of
In the priestly vocation, Stephen perceives the unique opportunity to become a father
without concupiscently sullying his soul in the process. The clergy holds out for him the
possibility of becoming his own father and, therefore, the possibility of occupying an elevated
station in life far above the sinful mob. The component of celibacy as a counteragent to the
sin of fornication speaks to Brunetto's sin of sodomy. Brunetto is not a clergyman and as
stated prior, the exact nature of his act of sodomy is unknown to us. The implication is that
Brunetto was a homosexual and for Dante such a sin, although not as apparently poisonous as
other sins, remains a sin nonetheless. For Joyce, the unintended consequence of taking a vow
of celibacy is to become not a sodomite but one who has removed himself from the
ambiguities and anxieties of sexuality, this being a sin inasmuch as it is a rejection of reality.
A quest for purity is, therefore, a denial of life and, for Joyce, the sodomite is someone who
attempts to give birth to themselves in mad bid for purity. To know the mystery of Simon
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 114.
Magus's sin is to commit that very same sin. Thus it is his recognition of the falsity of
purpose underlying his flirtation with the priesthood which will ultimately deter him from
pursuing this goal.
Near the end of the novel he questions his dean of studies' commitment to the holy
trinity. The dean of studies is an Englishman and his character is, therein, a hybrid of Ireland's
two oppressors: the Vatican and the British Empire. He describes the man in a distrusting but
sympathetic tone:
His courtesy of manner rang a little false and Stephen looked at the English
convert with the same eyes as the elder brother in the parable may have turned on
the prodigal. A humble follower in the wake of clamorous conversions, a poor
Englishman in Ireland, he seemed to have entered on the stage of jesuit history
when that strange play of intrigue and suffering and envy and struggle and
indignity had been all but given through—a latecomer, a tardy spirit. From what
had he set out? ...had Lord Christ touched him and bidden him follow, like that
disciple who had sat at the receipt of custom, as he sat by the door of some
zincroofed chapel, yawning and telling over his church pence?66
In this passage, a teenaged Stephen assumes the role of older brother to a grown man. His
tongue-in-cheek pity for the <<poor Englishman in Ireland>> ironically evokes Dante's pity
for Brunetto. He gives the dean of studies the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his faith,
but the subtext of his tone seems to suggest that Stephen does not believe that true faith, a
personal commitment to the holy trinity, can maintain itself beneath the theatrics of ritual.
The <<vain pomps>> of the priesthood are enough to discredit it. Hence, it is the soutane
itself and all the mummery that comes with it that a young Stephen finds appalling. The Dean
of Studies is a would-be Saint Matthew who has not fully repented, but straddles the line
between the earthly and the transcendent. Father Conmee
In Ulysses Joyce uses a similar clerical father figure, Father Conmee, to epitomize the
pomp and hypocrisy of the Irish clergy. A respected parish priest in Dublin, Father Conmee is
a finalized version of Wells, a simoniacal cleric who cares more about accolades than the
laws of liturgy itself. The respect paid to priests like Father Conmee was owing to the
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 136.
enormous influence the Jesuits had in Ireland. For many Irish, the only route to education lied
with the Jesuits and this sect <<saw their functions[...]as the education and social training of a
Catholic elite that would be prepared to exercise power on equal terms with the Protestant Anglo-Irish
ruling caste, and to take the reins when Irish independence was achieved.>>67
Their agenda was, in essence, a political one. Clerics like Wells and Conmee were, on
that head, too willing to sell their religious principles for status and power. Joyce, playing
Dante, condemns Conmee to be punished in the Circe chapter of Ulysses. It is this appearance
amid the phantasmagoria of the Nighttown episode that will activate allusive parallels to the
city of Dis in Inferno 10, where heretics and epicureans are encased in flaming coffins.
Among those condemned in the Canto, Dante encounters Farinata degli Uberti, the prideful
Ghibelline condottiero, and Cavalcante de Cavalcanti, father of Dante's friend and fellow
poet, Guido Cavalcanti. Joyce sentences Father Conmee and another priest, Father Dolan, to a
punishment similar to that of the Epicureans, having the two priests rise from casket-like
containers in a manner similar to Farinata and Cavalcante. Why is Conmee, clearly anything
but an Epicurean, condemned? The answer is suggested in an earlier chapter of Ulysses, The
Wandering Rocks, in which the reader follows Father Conmee's walk through northern
Dublin while the itinerary of the Viceregal's calvacade mirrors his progression. The parodic
element of the Viceregal's parallel itinerary accentuates the worldliness of this parish priest
whose private thoughts Joyce lays bare for his readers.
Conmee is Father Superior of his Jesuit House, a coveted position among the clergy, and
a man of great influence both within his order and in the daily political affairs of Dublin. The
purpose of his journey on June 16th is to visit a school where he hopes to recommend a place
for Patrick Aloysius Dignam whose father was buried earlier that day. As revealed by his
interior monologue this ostensive act of charity is actually motivated by what he stands to
gain by obliging the boy. Conmee has joined forces with Martin Cunningham, a minor
politician at the local seat of the British Government, who promises to help people Conmee's
congregation at a "mission" service in which special collections are made. Beyond this more
immediate goal, lies the higher ambition of the establishment of an Irish Catholic ruling class.
As with the character of Father Purdon in Grace, Joyce puts local politicians and parish
priests on display rather than the great personages, clerical or otherwise, who figure in the
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 54.
Commedia. For both Joyce and Dante <<evil is a complicated matter, not easily recognized,
often attractive, and even mingled with good.>>68 Conmee's venality is easy enough to
overlook because it is so deftly woven into the fabric of his daily life. His hypocrisy is such
that he can read aloud to himself an admonition against involving oneself in worldly matters
while knowing full well he is about to use his powers to influence a worldly matter. On paper
the help he gives to the Dignam boy might read as a simple instance of being <<father to the
fatherless>>69 but, in truth, the motivations behind the act are hardly altruistic. His place in
the Circe episode is, therefore, a comment on his willingness to violate his own principles.
Conmee does not live up to the standards he has set for himself and although he is not
technically a heretic, he is a fraudulent father and his willingness to exercise his influence in
matters temporal, define him as something of an epicurean, one who, despite the content of
his sermons, lives as if the soul were impermanent, and thereby, as commodifiable as any
material thing.
Wells and Conmee are both simoniacal in their tendencies and resemble, in Joyce's mind,
that <<disciple who had sat at the receipt of custom, as he sat by the door of some zincroofed
chapel, yawning and telling over his church pence...>>. Though, he does not view them as
inherently evil, he cannot believe them to be motivated merely by good intentions. His
affection for them does not diminish the gravity of the violation they commit in inserting
themselves into the temporal patterns of everyday life. As the champion of the quotidian,
however, Joyce does not work himself into the same frenzies of anger when addressing these
characters who cannot help but lapse into a preoccupation with mortal concerns. Whereas
Dante was a committed Catholic who reacted to simony as a violation of his own soul's
doctrine, Joyce, consistently vague on where he stood spiritually in relation to the church,
seems to treat these clerics as if he is simply holding them spiritually accountable to the
standards of their very own doctrine.
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 60.
Ivi, p. 59.
1.3.3. Spiritual Fathers Mortal Guides
Joyce said of his poetic guide, <<I love Dante almost as much as I love the bible. He is my
spiritual food. The rest is ballast.>>70 This condition of inspirational indebtedness to Dante is
common to many of Joyce's peers. T.S. Eliot famously stated, <<Dante and Shakespeare
divide the world between them; there is no third.>>71 Dante had thus solidified himself as the
God of western literature among the modernist poets and Joyce was hardly unique in his
veneration of the great deity. But the presence of Dante in Joyce's fiction is unique. Mentions
of Dante in Joyce are often playful and even subversive. In A Portrait, one of Stephen's diary
entries refers to the uncanny device of his <<spiritual heroic refrigerating apparatus, invented
and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri >>72 (AP). In Finnegan's Wake, Dante is
referred to as the <<divine comic Denti Alligator>>73 (FW). If Dante is Joyce's Virgil, then
he is a Virgil with whom Joyce presumes a certain jocose familiarity. His reverence for his
poetic father does not imply the same timid deference shown by Dante to Virgil. Joyce's
comic reworking of Dante's most well known tercets, those which have become clichés in
Western literature, shows the novelist at his most puckishly irreverent. For example, in the
Calypso chapter of Ulysses Bloom's stream of consciousness includes the line, <<O please,
Mr. Policeman, I'm lost in the wood>>74 an obvious reference to the opening lines of the
Inferno. In the Hades chapter, Bloom, reflecting on Patrick Dignam's funeral, says <<Out of
the fryingpan of life into the fire of purgatory,>>75 a cartoonish take on Purgatorio 26's
<<foco[...] che [...] affina.>>76 Some of Dante's most enduring images, the refining fire of
purgatory and the dark wood of sin, are thus give the bathetic Joycean treatment, finding their
way into the thoughts of an common-ish man given to mundane aphorism. If fatherhood is
indeed a fiction, then Joyce's fictive poetic father is not above being ribbed.
Dante's Virgil, on the other hand, never appears as a figure of fun in the Commedia.
However, Dante's esteem for his stolid guide does not entail infallibility on Virgil's part
Ivi, p. 118.
T.S. Eliot, op. cit., ed. Frank Kermode, p. 205.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 298.
James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake, Viking Press, New York, 1999, p. 440.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 57.
Ivi, p. 107.
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 582.
though his didactic authority often exhibits a narrowly pagan understanding of divinity.
Virgil's exclusion from the redemptive power of Christ's resurrection means that his
explanations of divine phenomena are often faulty or incomplete. For example, in the 12th
Canto of the Inferno, after having reached the banks of the seventh circle, the circle reserved
for the violent, Dante asks Virgil to explain the presence of the shattered rocks preceding the
boiling lake of blood.77 Virgil's understanding of the cause of the shattered rocks
shows a correct temporal and physical understanding (he, after all, actually
witnessed these phenomena 53 years after he arrived in Limbo). However, his use
of the Greek poet and philosopher Empedocles (ca. 492-430 B.C.) as authority
shows his ingrained pagan way of accounting for one of Christianity's greatest
miracles, Christ's ransoming of souls committed to hell.78
He continues to explain the event in Empedoclean terms, completely benighted as to the
true significance of Christ's sacrifice. Thus, Virgil cannot be trusted entirely, not because he is
duplicitous but because he can see only so far into the structure of the afterlife as his pagan
reasoning will permit. Dante scholarship has traditionally identified Virgil as an allegory of
reason, but the American Dante Scholar Robert Hollander has contested this longstanding
assumption by portraying the various ways his pagan misconceptions and errors betray this
allegorical reading. For Hollander, Dante's Virgil is not an allegorical figure at all, but a real
life personage. In his essay, <<Dante's Virgil: The Light that Failed>> Hollander argues that
Virgil's role in the Commedia is not, as is frequently stated, that of an embodiment of reason
written into the poem to contrast Dante the pilgrim's intuitional presence, but rather a tragic
figure eternally condemned because of the untimeliness of his birth. In addition to Virgil's
naturalistic interpretation of the earthquake following Christ's death, Hollander cites various
instances in which Virgil misunderstands or allows himself to be bamboozled by Malacoda
and his devils in the Circle of the barrators.79 In these moments, Virgil reveals himself to be
more mortal than allegorical. Hollander concludes that Dante could have only considered
Virgil a brilliant mind who, despite the enduring influence of his writings upon the Medieval
mind, is a sort of <<failed prophet.>>80 Even in his Aeneid Virgil proves fallacious.
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 218.
Ivi, p. 230.
Robert Hollander, Dante's Virgil: A Light that Failed, <<Lectura Dantis>>, IV, 1989, pp. 3 - 30.
Hollander writes, <<Dante's Virgil seems to me to have been considered a failure both in
his tragic Aeneid...with its uncertain view of the future of the empire, a view that is countered
by Dante's imperial Comedy.>>81 And so Dante's Commedia exists, in part, to correct the
shortcomings of the vision contained in The Aeneid and capitalize on the inherent tragedy of
Virgil's placement in Hell. Cacciaguida
In order to find a suitable father figure, Dante will have to direct his focus upon an epoch
closer in time to his own. Enter Cacciaguida, a crusader of whom we have pitifully little
historical information. Cacciaguida appears at the midpoint of paradise, where the warriors of
the faith live in the form of a crucifix composed of millions of sparks of light. The old
crusader detaches himself from the aggregate and addresses Dante in Latin, <<O sanguis
meus.>>82 Recognition of their shared blood overcomes the poet with joy. He responds to his
great-great grandfather timorously. Cacciaguida confirms his relationship to Dante by saying
that he is his <<root>>83 and the proceeds to reminisce about Florence's halcyon days when
nobility of spirit and birth reigned supreme. Women were chaste, wives were dutiful, and
taste in dress was sober. Cacciaguida explains how the causes of Florence's corruption can be
traced back to the miscegenation of these families with non-natives due to the redefining of
the city's boundaries. Then comes the most important part of the three Cantos dedicated to
Cacciaguida. The crusader ties the theme of Florence's corruption to the fate that will befall
Dante. He says that though he will suffer the treachery of not only his fellow Florentines but
also his fellow exiles, he will find friends and saviors in the form of munificent lords,
Cangrande della Scala in particular. The sorrow of <<lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui
scale>>84 will be almost too much to bear at times, but only by pursuing truth through his
poetry will he be able to reach his seat in heaven. Dante bravely accepts his fate and vows to
remain a <<ben tetragono ai colpi di ventura.>>85 Cacciaguida ends his speech by saying
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 400.
Ivi p. 401.
Ivi p. 445.
Ivi p. 441.
although Dante's words might end up hurting others' feelings, posterity will be sure to reward
him for his genius.
After Virgil and Beatrice, Cacciaguida is the character in the Commedia given the most
space to speak. An entire three and half Cantos are dedicated to Dante's encounter with this
ancient ancestor, father of his great-grandfather Alighiero I (who appears in the first terrace of
the prideful in the mountain of Purgatory). Cacciaguida is not just any crusader but one who
was knighted by the Emperor himself. Unlike Joyce, who had no sympathy for martial causes
in the name of religion, the vate considers distinction in the fight for Christianity to be among
the greatest of human virtues, second only to sainthood itself. Dante's encounter with
Cacciaguida invites parallels with Aeneas' encounter with his own father, Anchises in the
Aeneid. Cacciaguida addresses Dante using the Latin expression, <<O sanguis meus,>>
echoing Anchises' exhortation to Julius Caesar to lay aside his sword that he might bring
peace to Rome. Cacciaguida's Latin introduction, the only tercet of the Commedia entirely in
Latin, signals his authority and links him to another authority who is long departed but hardly
forgotten, Virgil. Cacciaguida's evocation of the Aeneid thus links him with Virgil and
deepens the significance Dante's divine mission.
Having obtained the validation of a consanguineous crusader for the faith, Dante becomes
ever more worthy of his mission. Beatrice, St. Bernard, and finally the face-to-face vision of
God himself will provide the final mandate for his mission, but it is at this important juncture,
during his meeting with Cacciaguida, that Dante will have the exact details of his banishment
spelled out for him. Dante's fate becomes, for the first time in the poem, not a matter of
allegorical suggestion or subtle allusion, but a fait accompli, an actuality, the specifics of
which are lifted directly from biographical fact. Joyce's Insubstantial Father
Joyce will draw freely from this portion of the Commedia in the Circe episode of Ulysses,
but before we investigate the multifarious reworking of the Commedia contained in that
episode, it is imperative that we take a look at Joyce's relationship with his biological father.
How does the figure of John Joyce bear upon his son's definition of paternity as a <<legal
fiction>>? Richard Ellman describes John Joyce as a <<reckless, talented man, convinced
that he was the victim of circumstances, never at a loss for a retort, fearfully sentimental and
acid by turns, drinking, spending, talking, singing [who] became identified in his son James's
mind with something like the life-force itself.>>86 In A Portrait, Stephen describes his father
as having been at various points in his life
a medical student, an oarsmen, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting policeman, a
small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a storyteller, somebody's
secretary, something in a distillery, a tax-gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a
praiser of his own past.87
Ellman states that although Joyce <<reciprocated his affection and remembered his
jokes>>88 most of his ten children bore a great deal of animosity towards him. In A Portrait
Stephen claims he has, in his heart, disowned his father, <<but James himself had no doubt
that he was in every way his father's son.>>89 The atmosphere of the Joyce home was
patriarchal. The needs and wants of his sons were prioritized over those of his daughters who
found him to be a domineering, unpredictable character, alternately comic and irascible.
Among his many children, James was his favorite. Reliance on his myriad but undeveloped
talents proved unsustainable, and John frequently found himself and his family in dire straits
financially. In addition to his wit and grandiloquence, James would inherit John's
improvidence and would be harrowed by financial troubles for much of his life. Alcoholism
also ran in the family. His father's frequent drinking bouts had, in his early adolescence,
deterred him from becoming a drinker himself, but the student culture of Paris would weaken
his resolution and over the course of his life he would, episodically, yield to his alcoholic
tendencies. Also like his father, his desire to impress and perform would win him many
friends. Owing to these friendships, he would obtain what his father was never able to
achieve: recognition as a true genius.
In A Portrait, the image of Joyce's father that emerges in the character of Simon
Dedalus is that of a self-adulating manqué. Stephen's realization of his father's true nature
occurs in the second chapter of the novel in which father and son take a trip to Simon's
hometown of Cork. While they trek about the town, Simon, nipping at his flask, weepily
reminisces about his childhood and lost friends, egoistically advising Stephen to cultivate the
same charisma and charm that have propelled him through life. They visit the anatomy school
where Simon was once a medical student. During this visit Stephen happens to see the word
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 23.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 204.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 114.
<<foetus>> scrawled in a desk. This discovery plunges the boy into a dark world of
pubescent sexual shame. Oblivious to his son's internal crisis, his father brings him to a pub
where old acquaintances regale them with tales of his Simon's flirtations and drunken
adventures. The effect of his father's sentimentality upon the angst-ridden young man
amplifies his anguish and the final impact of the scene on Stephen's consciousness is
embittering enough to convince him that his youth is dead. That following morning, Stephen's
newly formed image of his father as a failed narcissist is punctuated by the man's postdrinking tremors:
They had set out early in the morning from Newcombe’s coffeehouse, where Mr
Dedalus’ cup had rattled noisily against its saucer, and Stephen had tried to cover
that shameful sign of his father’s drinking bout of the night before by moving his
chair and coughing. One humiliation had succeeded another—the false smiles of
the market sellers, the curvetings and oglings of the barmaids with whom his father
flirted, the compliments and encouraging words of his father’s friends. They had
told him that he had a great look of his grandfather and Mr Dedalus had agreed that
he was an ugly likeness.90
The <<ugly likeness>> connecting Stephen and Simon is just that, nothing more, a
"likeness." Whatever qualities of charisma or tendencies towards vice John Joyce had
transmitted to his son did not, thereby, define their relationship as "consubstantial." Likeness
alone was not enough to fill the void upon which the fiction of paternity was founded.
<<Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son?>> Stephen asks
his reader. The consubstantial father must be a figure whose kinship with Stephen passes
beyond mere likeness. In order to reach this consubstantial father, Joyce must, therefore,
invent a spiritual father, one who will envelop his very being -- one who is neither a mere
blood relative, nor a clergyman, nor a martyred political hero. In Karen Lawrence's essay,
"Paternity, The Legal Fiction," she explains just what sort of father Stephen is looking for:
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 79.
once dispossessing his real father, Stephen can trade filiality for fatherhood and
biological paternity for literary paternity; being no more a son, he can imagine
himself a father creator like Shakespeare whom he calls "the father of all his
Dante might just as easily fulfill that role of <<father of his race>> for Stephen. Bloom's Consubstantial Father
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Ulysses might instantly conclude from this
discussion that Joyce's spiritual father is, obviously, Leopold Bloom. Bloom's role as spiritual
father will be addressed later in this thesis, but for the purposes of the present topic, it is
worth taking a look at Joyce's combinative rendition of two disparate portions of the
Commedia. The result of this rendition is Lipoti Virag, the grandfather of Stephen's spiritual
father who makes a brief appearance in the hallucinatory Circe episode of Ulysses. Not long
after Father Dolan and Conmee's cameos as heresiarchs in this same episode, Bloom calls
forth from his subconscious another monstrous figure, his <<basilicogrammate>> grandfather
who is introduced <<[chuting] rapidly down through the chimney flue>>92 in a manner
recalling Dante's <<per la lista radial trascorse/ che parve foco dietro ad alabastro>>93 that is,
the speed with which Cacciaguida descends from the scintilla-composed crucifix. Virag, like
Cacciaguida, is a warrior, but is more of a tribal chieftain than a crusader. In stark contrast
with Cacciaguida, manifested as featureless glint of light, Virag is an outlandishly dressed
<<birdchief, bluestreaked and feathered in war panoply with his assegai.>>94 Virag's arrival
takes place not in the ethereal heaven of the faithful warriors but in an entirely different
atmosphere, the music-room of a brothel in Dublin's redlight district. The Virag portion of the
chapter, which takes up six pages, seems to be triggered by Bloom's paternal feelings towards
Stephen. Bloom still mourns the loss of his son, Rudy who died before the age of one, and his
affection for his newfound acquaintance conjures from the depths of his imagination this
remote ancestor who, in a sense, promises protection from the infernal realm in which he now
finds himself. Virag, his Jewish Hungarian ancestor, holds in his hand a book which one
Karen Lawrence, Paternity, the Legal Fiction in Joyce's Ulysses: The Larger Perspective, ed. Robert D.
Newman and Weldon Thorton, University of Delaware Press, 1987, pp. 95.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 481.
D. Alighieri, op. cit., trans. Robert and Jean Hollander, p. 386.
J. Joyce, op. cit, p. 515.
might assume to be the Torah. <<For all these knotty points see the seventeenth book>>95 he
says, referring, in Mary T. Reynolds's opinion, to the 17th Canto of Paradiso.
Virag then undergoes a variety of horrific transformations. Some of the features he
assumes are inspired by Dante's band of demons, the Malabranche, who supervise the circle
of the barrators. Virag's contortions recall the arching of the devil in Inferno 21's back:
<<head askew Virag arches his back, with hunched wing shoulders>>96 and the manner in
which he sticks out his tongue is similar to the salute that the Malabranche give their leader,
Malacoda, <<ma prima avea ciascun la lingua stretta/coi denti, verso il duca, per cenno>>97.
The animalistic quality of Dante's condemned is simulated by Virag's <<weasal teeth>> and
the <<pig's whisper>> in which he speaks98. At one point he <<raises his mooncalf nozzle
and howls>>99. Reynolds says of Bloom's ancestor, <<Virag is not simply a caricature of
Cacciaguida. His grotesquerie is all his own and operates within the dimensions of a larger
expressive pattern that Joyce found in both the Inferno and Paradiso.>>100
Joyce's pastiche of various elements of diverse Cantos of the Commedia, this melding
together of Dante's heaven and Dante's hell is evidence of his unique take on the plasticity
inherent in the great poet's method. For Joyce, the Commedia is prime for foraging. Where
many of his contemporaries found in Dante a moral blueprint with which they could construct
an architectonic poetic universe of their own, Joyce, already mentally steeped in Jesuitism
and therefore, uninterested in recovering a system of values from his poetic hero, plunders the
Commedia for its most senuously charged imagery. The grafting of the bestial properties
typical to the Inferno onto a Cacciaguida-esque creation such as Virag exemplifies Joyce's
inclination to level or undermine the hierarchical structure of the Dantean afterlife. Unlike
Cacciaguida who appears to the pilgrim in realm of pure light, Virag is a creature of the
shadows. Whereas Cacciaguida's beatitude, the reward for his martial excellence in the cause
of the Christian faith, is marked by his very form itself, a single spark of light, the warlike
associations of Bloom's ancestor are given an ignoble visual correlative in his tribal garb. In
the distinction is compassed two opposing views of violence. For Dante, violence is justified
if it advances the interests of God's will; Joyce, on the contrary, a staunch pacifist,
Ivi, p. 484.
Ivi, p. 488.
D. Alighieri, op. cit., trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, p.390.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 482.
Ivi., p. 489.
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 75.
understands violence as inevitably primitive and destructive irrespective of whatever higher
cause impels it. As warriors, Cacciaguida and Virag are typified by the coarseness of their
speech, but whereas Cacciaguida makes use of this coarseness to emphasize the cruelty and
solitude which will soon typify Dante's fate, Virag's coarseness gives vent to sexually explicit
imagery. In addition to being a warrior, Virag is a self-proclaimed doctor and author of
"Fundamentals of Sexology or Love Passion." In the course of his prophecy, Cacciaguida
gives voice to Dante's innermost emotional states, acting in a similar but fundamentally
different vein than Cacciaguida when he attempts to articulate Bloom's most pent-up and
unrealized sexual desires. For example, he notices Bloom's fetish for undergarments and
women in <<male habiliments.>>101 In "Deviant Modernism: Sexual and Textual Errancy in
T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust," Colleen Lamos writes, <<although the signs of
sexual deviance are clustered around Bloom, he is protected by his ignorance, for the
meaning of those signs is left to the sex experts and to his confessors.>>102
Both ancestors are, therefore, avatars of the imagination and midwives to the unspoken. By
aiding Dante in his endeavor to speak the truth, Cacciaguida succeeds in ennobling his greatgreat grandson's quest. However, The Jewish Hungarian warrior-sexologist, in contrast, is not
able to reach Bloom, failing in his effort to fully denude him of the protective layers
enveloping libidinal fantasies. Lamos writes <<Bloom is compelled to admit his lusts, but he
does not name them.>>103
1.4. Conclusion
Joyce's appropriation of Dantean elements in the depiction of his spiritual father's spiritual
father amounts to an act of expropriation. By decontextualizing and recontextualizing these
elements, he succeeds in generating an atmosphere where the remote becomes present and the
present becomes remote. The moral cohesive of the original structure is removed and what is
left is a world defined by relativity. The institution of the Church loses its authority and with
it, flung into the void, goes fatherhood itself. Dante's distant crusader forefather is a callback
to a more stable time; he is a symbol of order, discipline, and pious simplicity. Dante's legacy
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 487.
Colleen Lamos, Deviant Modernism: Sexual and Textual Errancy in T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Marcel
Proust, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, p. 155.
is rooted in this figure (<<O fronda mia in che io compiacemmi/pur aspettando, io fui la tua
radice.>>104) With him, he is able to correct the failings of his own father and solder his
identity to a force that is both ancient and noble, a force built on both the majesty of empire
and the endurance of Christendom. At the opposite end of the moral spectrum exists Virag, a
boundlessly mutable, infinitely multivalent sexual chimera whose very appearance causes
terror. From him, Bloom receives no words of reassurance, no grand vision of a simpler,
gentler time, only a macabrely kaleidoscopic vista into his own latent sexual fears. One might
imagine that Bloom's Virag is preceded by another Virag and that Virag by another ad
infinitum. He is not, like Cacciaguida, an ethical signpost, but one of an endless succession of
monsters from the past. <<History[...] is a nightmare from which I am trying awake>>105
Stephen somberly tells his school's headmaster, Mr. Deasy in the Nestor. In Joyce, the trinity
of fatherhood, history, and the Church is spewed from the same void and the whole elaborate
apparatus of Western civilization incessantly scrapes to justify the claims of authority
attached to each. In rejecting these institutions, not wholesale but systematically and with
much trepidation, Joyce throws into question Dante's entire moral edifice. By using Dante's
own vocabulary and tropes, Joyce collapses the distinctions constitutive of this moral edifice
and in doing so he creates a carapace of skepticism within which he is able to safely navigate
that ecclesiastical-paternal network of symbols.
Karen Lawrence encapsulates the conclusion to Joyce's dispossession of his many fathers,
saying, <<the mystical estate of fatherhood preempts the role of the mother and leaves the
artist self-sufficient, free to create his world.>>106 Only by way of the written word itself
could Joyce act out his exodus from the void of fatherhood. Joyce saw in language, in logos, a
worthy substitute for his fraudulent and insubstantial fathers. Through logos he hoped to
obtain consubstantiality with a higher paternal soul, but if the idea itself was fictive, then only
in the realm of fiction could a spiritual father assume a definite form. Joyce would have
mostly likely agreed with Derrida's assertion that <<the father is not generator or procreator
in any "real" sense prior to or outside all relation to language.>>107 If language had
established fatherhood then language could be used to deconstruct it, being effectively, a
D. Alighieri, op. cit. trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander p.392.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 34.
K. Lawrence, ed. R.D. Newman and W. Thorton, op. cit., p. 98.
Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981,
p. 149.
means to subvert the arbitrary powers represented by fatherhood and thereby demolish the
barriers of Church and history that stood in his way. Such a task would mean a careful
dismemberment of everything he knew, himself above all. The Church had once seemed to
hold out the promise of allowing one to become one's own father, but the priesthood's
hypocrisy was too much for Joyce to bear. To be a priest meant to be a sort of politician and a
sexless one at that. Political self-interest and papal corruption were all part and parcel of the
same diseased system. It was this system that had put an end to the one man who might have
proven a savior for his people. It was this system that had convinced Joyce he was an exile in
his own country. <<My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity -- home,
the recognised virtues, classes of life, and religious doctrines>>108 Joyce wrote to his
companion Nora in August of 1904.
Stephen Dedalus most formidably declares his resolution to escape these trammels in his
political conversation with Lynch on the steps of their college's library:
I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which
I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church:
and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as
wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use, silence,
exile and cunning.109
And it is with these tools of <<silence, exile, and cunning>> that Joyce will craft the wings
of his flight from Dublin.
D. Manganiello, op. cit., p. 218.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 291.
2. Exile
2.1. Physical Exile
2.1.1 The Voluntary Exile
In his famous correspondence with his British editor, Grant Richards, Joyce came to the
conclusion that he could not <<write without offending people.>>110 Like Dante, he hoped to
redeem his soul and believed that in doing so, he would redeem the soul of his people. The
task of redeeming the Irish people rested then on the shoulders of one who remained a true
disciple of his own genius, and to express himself without reservation would mean
welcoming the risk of causing offense, for only by holding a mirror up to his city and its
inhabitants would he be able to accomplish his aim of creating a conscience for his race. He
once said, <<I always write about Dublin because if I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get
to the heart of all cities of the world.>>111
Dublin was an embryo in need of gestation. From its growth would emerge a freethinking,
unfettered individual who embodied the greatest qualities of the Celtic spirit. From its growth
would emerge James Joyce. And so, to gain the proper vantage point from which he could
write about Dublin, he had no choice but to leave Ireland. In an editorial written for the
Triestine newspaper, Piccolo della Sera, Joyce wrote:
When the Irishman is found outside of Ireland in another environment, he very
often becomes a respected man. The economic and intellectual conditions that
prevail in his own country do not permit the development of individuality. No one
who has any self-respect stays in Ireland, but flees afar as though from a country
that has undergone the visitation of an angered Jove.112
Exile was, therefore, absolutely necessary. Although Dublin was to furnish the fodder for
his art, it was an environment antipathetic to the act of creation. To go abroad would mean
putting a wide enough berth between himself and his subject. It would mean putting together
James Joyce, Letters of James Joyce, ed. Stuart Gilbert, Viking Press, New York, 1957, p. 61.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 205.
J. Joyce, ed. K. Barry, op. cit, p. 123.
the shards of the <<cracked lookingglass>>. All he needed to leave the island guiltlessly was
the imprimatur of his great mentor, Dante. Dante was in Joyce's time the heroic exile par
excellence. Many had drawn from the imaginative pool that is the Dantean corpus, but only a
man of Joyce's arrogance would have been so brazen as to model his life upon that of the
exile. How it came into his head to use Dante, not just his work, but his historical persona as a
vehicle of exodus is now worth investigating.
The germ of Joyce's notion of a heroic exile can be identified in a 1904 letter he wrote
to Yeats's colleague, the impresario, Lady Gregory:
I am leaving Dublin [...] I shall try myself against the powers of the world. All
things are inconstant except the faith in the soul, which changes all things and fills
their inconstancy with light. And though I seem to have been driven out of my
country here as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine.113
This letter was written shortly prior to his ultimately unsuccessful attempt at studying
medicine in Paris and is the earliest example of Joyce assuming the role of self-imposed exile.
The grandiose tone of the letter is expressive of the heroic associations exile possessed in
Joyce's mind, associations which will be even further glorified in his adoption of a Dantean
persona. By participating in the exilic dialogue underpinning the Commedia, Joyce is able to
infuse his own life with the rhetorical and Biblically connotative power of the exilic hero. The
creative process behind the exile-in-progress is what James Robinson describes as <<Joyce's
need to modulate and shape -- to rhetorically fashion -- his absence from Dublin [...]>>114. A
growing self-awareness of the rhetorical nature of his exile is evident in a line written in a
letter to his brother Stanislaus in 1905: <<I have come to accept my present situation as a
voluntary exile -- is it not so?>>115. Robinson interprets this question as indicating Joyce's
<<double perspective>> on his exile status: <<It is a doubleness that seems to resonate with
Dante's 'uneasy orthodoxy,' anticipating as it does two diametrically opposed possibilities of
J. Joyce, ed. S. Gilbert, op. cit., p. 53.
James Robinson, op. cit., p. 2.
James Joyce, Selected Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellman, Faber and Faber, London, 1975, p. 56.
interpretation.>>116 In this question, Joyce reveals himself to be aware of the contradiction
inherent in his self-proclaimed title of voluntary exile. Rather than trying to resolve the
contradiction, he welcomes its rhetorical potentiality. His christening of himself as a
<<voluntary exile>> is the author's first great act of self-conception. For Joyce, to understand
oneself is to write oneself into being. In the same way he purposed to unwrite the institutions
that imprisoned him and his people, would he write himself into being as one who wills
himself into being and remains, nevertheless, a victim of circumstances
So pervasive was Joyce's consciousness of language that life itself seemed to belong to
words. But at no point did Joyce aspire to enclose himself within an ivory tower of language,
an exile to the human community in its totality. Somewhere, he believed, there was a
community that would welcome him as one of their own. In the 1904 essay which would
eventually give birth to the novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce writes about
the conflict of community:
Isolation, he had once written, is the first principle of artistic economy but
traditional and individual relations were at that time pressing their claims and selfcommunion had been but shyly welcomed.117
The protagonist's ambivalence in this passage is expressive of Joyce's fear of utter
alienation. He understood that no great art could be created in a vacuum. Hence, the
reinvention of the self that exile afforded him was not tantamount to total isolation but
brought with it a freedom from the obligations of family, government, and religion. His exile
was a clear statement that he refused to compromise his genius for the sake of a comfortable
Still the question remained, how could one call oneself an exile without having been
formally banished from a community? The only way to answer this question properly is to
explore the various junctures and disjunctures that make kindred and contradistinguish Dante
and Joyce's respective modes of exile. In order to understand how and why Joyce chose Dante
to fulfill this role for him, it is essential that we take a look at the various iterations of the then
contemporary Dantean exilic persona that Joyce would have encountered in his readings.
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 39.
Ivi, p. 37.
2.1.2. Exile of a Poet
Dante's exile occurred when he was at the height of his political career. An instrumental
participant in the local government of Florence, he owed his position of influence to
membership in the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries. His rise in the ranks of the
government eventually secured him a seat as one of seven <<priors>> or head magistrates of
Florence. His election to the priorato occurred in 1300, the fateful year in which his pilgrim
alter-ego would embark on his journey through the afterworld. Pope Boniface VIII's
expansionist agenda had caused a rift between the White and Black factions of the pro-papal
Guelphs and the Pope's increasing involvement in Florentine politics only aggravated the
already tense political situation in the city. In 1301, Dante might have been present among an
ambassadorial party sent to Rome on a mission to harmonize relations with the Pope. But
Dante and the Whites' attempts to curtail papal power proved unavailing. In November of
1301, the exiled Corso Donati, leader of the Blacks, entered Florence and carried out a
successful coup d’état of the government. The White Guelph regime was subsequently
eliminated. Dante's whereabouts during this time are uncertain, but what is certain, however,
is the date and the pronouncer of his sentence of exile. On January 27 1301, Dante and three
fellow Whites were charged with political corruption by the new podestà of the city, Cante
dei Gabrielli di Gubbio, and sentenced to two years of exile from the city. If found within the
vicinity of Florence's territories, they were to be burned alive. Soon after the sentence was
passed, the White Guelph and Ghibelline exiles met in the town of Gargonza between Siena
and Arezzo. Together they strategized the possibility of a return to Florence. The ostracized
allies would continue to plot their way back into Florence's embrace, but without any positive
result. Dante would retain intermittent contact with his fellow exiles up until their disastrous
defeat at the hands of the Florentine army in 1304. The ignominious defeat at La Lastra was
the last straw for the vate and soon after the battle he quitted for good <<la compagnia
malvagia e scempia,>> striking off on his own, a solitary wanderer dependent on the charity
of sympathetic lords, nursing all the while a quiet hope that he might one day be able to return
to the city he loved. In 1322, Dante died in Ravenna, where his remains are interred to this
N. Havely, op. cit., p. 32 - 56.
In the course of his torturous wanderings, Dante produced his greatest works: the
Commedia, De Monarchia, Il Convivio, and De Vulgari Eloquentia. A true party to himself,
he must have known somewhere in his heart that his exile would glorify him to posterity and
provide for countless artists and thinkers a heuristic through which they could interpret their
own sense of alienation. Dante's mythical stature was established almost immediately after his
death, the breadth and genius of the Commedia inspiring various scholars and writers such as
Benvenuto da Imola and Boccaccio to write commentaries (Boccaccio's was to remain
unfinished) to the poem. With his Trattatello in Laude di Dante, Boccaccio was the first
biographer of Dante and the first to imbue Dante's image with the heroic qualities that would
later cement his prophetic position atop the pyramid of the Western canon.119
2.1.3 Dante, Political Exile of the Risorgimento
Centuries after his death, Dante's exilic persona would be reworked to valorize the
nationalist agendas of writers such as Ugo Foscolo and Giuseppe Mazzini. Robinson writes,
<<In its simplest form, the Risorgimento myth of exile held that the birth of the unified
Kingdom of Italy would be brought about through the agency of its exiled patriots...>>120.
Exile was, therefore, not only a badge of honor amongst Italy's nationalist intelligentsia, but
almost a sine qua non for revolutionary aspirations in Italy. The most obvious candidate for
the model of exilic nobility was Dante. The development of these writers' political
philosophies would thus be nourished by the anecdotal realities of Dante's life. Through the
work of figures like Foscolo and Mazzini, the popular perception of Dante would also
undergo a profound transformation. Separation from one's homeland was seen, in the
Risorgimento myth, as meritorious, but it is in the rite of homecoming that exile is given a
special meaning. Those patriots whose duty it was to exile themselves for a time and then
make their triumphant return home would, thus, in a sense, make up for Dante's unjust
Many of the great romantic English poets of the 19th century would also be inspired by the
Risorgimento myth. Byron and Shelley both drew inspiration from Dante, the latter for
Ivi, p. 45.
example using Dante <<to further his own liberal, atheistic project[...]>>121 Shelley was one
of several authors who were able to ignore the more inconveniently orthodox aspects of
Dante's belief-system and to quote Joyce, fashion himself a sort of <<Dante without the
unfortunate prejudices>>122. Byron also subscribed to the Risorgimento ideal of Dante as a
political hero, writing a poem called "The Prophecy of Dante":
For mine is not a nature to be bent
⁠By tyrannous faction, and the brawling crowd,
⁠And though the long, long conflict hath been spent
In vain,—and never more, save when the cloud
⁠Which overhangs the Apennine my mind's eye
⁠Pierces to fancy Florence, once so proud
Of me, can I return, though but to die,⁠
⁠Unto my native soil,—they have not yet
⁠Quenched the old exile's spirit, stern and high.123
The fact of Dante's exile emerges in this poem as the key component of his virtuous
It has been said that Byron's lionizing figuration of Dante did the most to shape the image
of the exile in the English speaking world. However, Dante Gabriel Rossetti is, arguably, the
most definitively influential student of Dante's legacy in the Anglosphere. The British-Italian
poet-painter contributed highly to the Risorgimento myth of Dante in his poetry and art. His
poem, "Dante at Verona" is emblematic of the Risorgimento take on the poet:
So the day came, after a space,
When Dante felt assured that there
Sunshine must lie sicklier
Even than in any other place,
Save only Florence. When that day
Had come, he rose and went his way.124
Ivi, p. 46.
J. Joyce, ed. K. Barry, op. cit., p. 73.
George Gordon Byron, Poetical Works, ed. Frederick Page, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1970, p. 31 42
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Collected Poetry and Prose, ed. Jerome McCann, New Haven-London, Yale
University Press, 2003, p. 25 -30.
Joyce's copy of the Vita Nuova was illustrated by Rossetti, its style lending a PreRaphaelite overlay to his conception of Dante as heroic exile. In Joyce's edition of the Vita
Nuova were included two introductory essays by Antonio Agresti in which he describes
Rossetti's first hypothetical encounters with the figure of Dante, evoking a vignette of the
young poet-painter overhearing his father's friends' political conversations and consequently
forming an idea of Dante as heroic political exile.125 These essays must have informed Joyce's
understanding of Dante. The apolitical, universalist figuration of the vate would ultimately
exert more influence on Joyce, but in the course of his sojourn in Trieste, the political
characterization of the exile would also play a decisive role in the novelist's self-conception.
In separating out Dante the exile from Dante the poet -- in effect using Dante
'against literature' -- the Risorgimento established a dialectic pendulum that
inevitably swung back the other way, and came close to knocking down the
patriotic statue of the poet in the process.126
The Risorgimento revival of Dante was symptomatic of the nationalist cult of
Medievalism. Maurizio Isabella, in his essay, "Exile and Nationalism: The Case of the
Risorgimento," says that intellectuals like Mazzini and Foscolo saw the middle ages as a
<<great age of political freedom, independence, and economic growth, in which Italian cities
led European civilization.>>127
Opposed to the medieval romanticism of the nationalists were the vociani, so-called
because of their connection with the Florentine literary magazine La Voce. The vociani were
believers in social progress and abhorred the <<cult of the past, which, in their eyes was
encouraged by traditional scholarly and academic centers.>>128
The Trieste that Joyce would have known was a city crucially situated at a cultural
crossroads. Slavic, Italian, and Austrian, Trieste was a major bone of contention between the
irredentist nationalists, who saw the city as rightfully Italian, and the vociani who celebrated
it for its cultural eclecticism. For both camps Dante remained, first and foremost, a political
exile; however, it was the vociani who fought to protect Dante from what it perceived to be a
stiflingly orthodox and culturally hegemonic view of the poet. The vociani strove, therefore,
J. Robinson, op. cit., pp. 51 - 52.
Maurizio Isabella, Exile and Nationalism: The Case of the Risorgimento, <<European History Quarterly>>,
XXXVI, 2006, p. 498.
Andrea Ciccarelli, Dante and Italian Culture from the Risorgimento to World War I, <<Dante Studies, with
the Annual Report of the Dante Society>>, CXIX, 2001, p. 138.
to generate a secular version of their heroic exile whose aims were antithetical to the Church
and nationalism.129
2.1.4 Joyce and Nora Abroad
This was the social milieu in which Joyce became immersed and, as Robinson points out,
the political-cultural tensions within this milieu must have made him feel <<strangely at
home.>>130 Befriending irredentists, vociani, and futurists alike, he quickly detected
similarities between the Irish independence movement and the irredentist agenda. The issue
of Irish independence appealed to the local Triestines and he would perfect his written Italian
by penning a series of editorials for local newspapers in which he discussed the political
situation in Ireland. Distance from Dublin softened his resistance to all things Irish and in a
lecture delivered at the Università Popolare, "Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages," he
eulogizes the enduring genius of the Irish spirit by referencing the homage paid by Dante to
an Irish magician in Inferno 20131:
Quel'altro, che ne' fianchi è così poco,
Michele Scotto fu, che veramente
Delle magiche frode seppe il gioco132
The exilic ideal which Dante embodied was thus transmitted to Joyce through the matrix
of the cultural-political situation of the Istrian peninsula. Parallels with the political climate
back home framed his interpretation of his <<voluntary exile>> and as a response to this
newfound understanding, his childhood hero and behavioral model would be enlarged, not
only by the exilic configurations of Byron, Agresti, and Rossetti, but also by the various
vociani and irredentists with whom he came into contact. Rossetti and Byron's narratives
would influence his perception of the exile as poet while the irredentists and vociani would
bring his private guide into the public political sphere.
What then was the final catalyst of Joyce's departure from that capital of paralysis? From
what source did he derive the courage to turn his dream of voluntary exile into a reality? And
after his exposure to the political and cultural realities of Pola, Trieste, and later Rome, how
J. Robinson, op. cit., pp. 52 - 53.
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 53.
J. Joyce, ed. K. Barry, op. cit., p. 108.
D. Alighieri, op. cit. trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander p.540.
would he recover and reinvent his personal spiritual guide such that the meaning and purpose
of his exile might surpass the whims that had initially inspired it?
In 1904, Joyce was finally fed up with his <<dear, dirty Dublin.>>133 He had found love in
a simple, unliterary young woman, Nora Barnacle who had no understanding of his art but
adored him all the same and it was perhaps the entrance of love into his life that emboldened
him to attempt, for the second time, to find himself abroad. His effort at studying medicine in
Paris had been abortive, but it had, at least, earned him a number of friends. Staking his hopes
on the charity of those friends, he and Nora pooled what little money they had and together
set out for Paris, but not before stopping in London with the intention of prevailing upon his
friend Yeats' connections for a job. Unfortunately, none of these connections could offer him
anything by way of remuneration. The couple then set out for Paris where a doctor friend was
kind enough to give them a hot meal and lend Joyce sixty francs. Discouraged but undeterred,
they decided on Zurich. Once arrived in the city, Joyce went immediately to the Berlitz
School where he called on the director to ask after a possible vacancy. The director there
informed him that there were not any vacancies but, after a succession of mishaps and
missteps involving the Berlitz School in Vienna, Joyce was able to secure a position as an
English teacher at the Berlitz School in Pola.134 There he met Alessandro Francini, director of
the school. The Florentine paints an amusing portrait of Joyce who, with his bizarrely
antiquated Italian, appeared as anomalous a figure as one could imagine:
Joyce parlava allora uno strano italiano. Stracco convien meglio dire che strano,
un italiano ciompo pieno di trafitte e scrofole che se fosse facile immaginare
qualche cosa di simile direi che pareva la lingua unigenita figlia deforme di una
balia opulenta accoppiata con un manfano di vecchio ciucciato e infistolato. Era, in
ogni caso, una lingua morta che veniva a unirsi alla babele delle lingue vive [...]135
When Francini corrected Joyce for using the medieval word for sister, sirocchia, instead of
the modern sorella, he responded, <<I learned my Italian from Dante and Dino
[Compagni].>>136 Joyce would go on to learn modern Italian from Francini. His progress in
the language was so rapid that the Florentine would later recount:
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 15.
R. Ellman, op. cit., pp. 189 - 201.
A. F. Bruni, ed. F. Marucci, op. cit., p. 37.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 193.
In one year he learned so well that I had to put brakes to his linguistic enthusiasm to leave
time for my own program and keep from being pushed too far into the dark labryinth of
linguistic curiosities and improprieties137
Joyce, however, was not fond of Pola, aspersing the city as <<a back-of-God-speedplace>> and a <<naval Siberia.>>138 But he and Nora would not stay there for long. The
discovery of an espionage ring prompted the government to expel all foreigners from the city
and so the lovers packed their bags to leave for the windy port-town of Trieste. Once in
Trieste, Joyce made acquaintance with Almidano Artifoni, director of the Berlitz School, who
offered him an English teaching job at an advance of forty-five crowns a month. For the next
decade, he and Nora would, on and off, call this city their home. Now that he had gained the
distance from Dublin he had so craved and was able to, inconsistently, support himself and
Nora financially, he could test his exilic hypothesis to see if it would truly afford him the
space he needed to imagine and create.139
Joyce's talent for assimilation engendered both respect and perplexity among the Triestines
and the recognition he garnered as an intellect through his lectures and newspaper articles
helped to expand his social circle. The wide range of company he kept -- irridentists, vociani,
writers, poets, professors, and artists --- may have, superficially, fulfilled his need for
community, but it did not detract from the appeal of exile.
For Joyce, the reality of being an exile meant more than simply being an expatriate. While
the role of the political exile was a significant vesture of his persona, it was another exilic
symbol, one rooted in the sum of his experiences, that most attracted him. In her landmark
study of Joyce's life and works, "The Exile of James Joyce," Hélène Cixous writes that his
condition of exile in Trieste became <<no longer simply a separation from a world which he
finds intolerable and which will not tolerate him but [...] an absolute exile, mindful of its
origins.>>140 This <<absolute>> exile was one that predicated itself upon an impenetrable
subjectivity, the kernel of this absolute exile being the knowledge of a self which is within a
world yet which has such an acute awareness of so being that it experiences at the same time
E.H. Mikhail, James Joyce: Interviews and Recollections, The Macmillan Press, London, 1990, p. 51.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 192.
Ivi., pp. 193 - 201.
Hélène Cixous, The Exile of James Joyce, trans. Sally A.J. Purcell, John Calder Limited, Charlottesville,
1976, p. 241.
a feeling of not-belonging. Not merely physical, exile then became a categorical condition of
Joyce's soul.
2.2. Spiritual Exile
2.2.1 Exile and the Medieval Mind/A <<Passion for Individual Integrity>>
Reverberations of absolute exile also occur in Dante's characterization of the psychological
impact of social alienation upon the individual, but for him, separation is a state of existence
born of an incongruity between the individual and the larger cosmic whole of which he forms
a part. It is not an absolute existential condition. In the Convivio, Dante, hearkening back to
Aristotle's Politics, clarifies the exact consequences of exile on the medieval mind, writing:
e però dice il Filosofo, che 'l'uomo naturale è compagnevole animale.' E siccome
un uomo a sua sufficienza richiede compagnia domestica di famiglia; così una casa
a sua sufficienza richiede una vicinanza, altrimenti molti diffetti sosterrebbe, che
sarebbero impedimento di felicità. E perrochè una vicinanza non può a sè in tutto
satisfare, conviene a satisfacimento di quella essere la città141
Banishment from the city meant banishment from the human community itself. The citystate, being the highest form of human aggregation, was therefore, the social embodiment of
the human soul itself. To be alienated from this human community would mean a complete
fragmentation of subjective identity. In the 17th Canto of Paradiso, Cacciaguida illustrates in
the most vividly sensory language, this state of disunity and disorientation:
Tu proverai sì come sa di sale,
Lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e 'l salir per l'altrui scale
The urgency of Dante's suffering -- emphasized by his meal of too-salty bread and the
tedium of ascent and descent in unfamiliar surroundings -- must have been all the more
striking to the medieval mind whose inclusion in the continuum leading from the individual
to God himself was primarily mediated by inclusion in the life of the city-state.
Joyce's taste for transposing Dante's higher registers to the realm of sublunary concerns is
evident in the first chapter of Ulysses in which Stephen alludes to Cacciaguida's prophecy
Dante Alighieri, Il Convivio, ed. Francesco Flamini, G.C. Sansoni, Florence, 1921.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 445.
after considering the possibility that his housemate, Buck Mulligan may evict him from
Martello tower. <<Now I eat his salt bread>>143 he thinks. Like Joyce, Stephen, freshly
returned from his first journey abroad in Paris, is as much an exile at home as he is away; his
state of absolute exile cannot be mitigated by physical separation for the fact of his exile is
psychologically grounded. Joyce's reenactment of Dante's exile was, therefore, a
psychological reenactment and his tendency to identify himself with those figures he
worshipped -- Parnell, Byron, Dante -- stemmed from a desire to enter into their precise
subjective experience of life and somehow thereby capture these heroes' <<passion for
individual integrity.>>144 A studied, sensitive imitation of Dante's struggle for unity in the
face of fragmenting dislocation would ensure him the <<individual>> artistic integrity he
sought. By feigning to enter into Dante's very mind-state, Joyce furthers the significance of
exile, casting beyond Rossetti, Byron, and the Irridentists' political understanding of Dante's
influence without losing sight of the political significance of his martyred hero. As an artist,
spiritual exile was, both at home and abroad, Joyce's cross to bear.
2.2.2 The Homo Viator and the Alienus
In Dante's time, the spiritual exile was not without precedent and was most potently
symbolized in the figure of the homo viator, or spiritual wayfarer. In his essay, "Homo
Viator: Medieval Ideas on Alienation and Order," Gerhard B. Ladner defines the two
conceptions of <<estrangement>> which typified medieval spirituality. Referring to St.
Gregory's Moralia, a commentary on the Book of Job, Ladner writes, <<the fallen angel is the
alienus, the alien or stranger, par excellence -- no doubt because he was considered to be the
first among beings to be alienated from God.>>145 On the other side of the coin is the viator
or the peregrinus, the traveller or pilgrim. Whereas the alienus is estranged from God for his
lack of pious love, man as homo viator, is estranged from worldly things, which are
themselves evanescent. <<The earth is to the just man what the bed in an inn is to the
viator...he will rest in it bodily, but mentally he is already somewhere else.>>146 Ladner
claims the distinction between these two types of estrangement to hinge on the symbolic
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 20.
H. Cixous, trans. S.A.J. Purcell, op. cit., p. 304.
Gerhart B. Ladner, Homo Viator: Mediaeval Ideas on Alienation and Order, <<Speculum>>, XLII, 1967,
p. 234.
Ivi, p. 235.
importance of Christ's sacrifice: through Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, man is
transformed from alienus to homo viator. Thus one's life in this world is a peregrinatio, a
pilgrimage by way of which man returns to his rightful home in heaven. Dante follows just
such a path in his Commedia and in the creation of his pilgrim alter-ego he <<explores the
potential of the exilic journey to act as a kind of meta-narrative through which a range of
complex spiritual, psychological, and poetic concerns could be encountered>>147.
Of all of his works, the Commedia centers itself most prominently on the figure of the
homo viator, but the origin of the spiritual wayfarer can be traced back to the Vita Nuova.
Like Joyce, Dante alludes to a state of absolute exile prior to the event of his actual exile. In
the Vita Nuova, the protagonist's first pivotal moment of separation from his community
occurs after the amorous looks which he had meant to be directed at his beloved Beatrice are
misinterpreted as being intended for a young woman who happens to be sitting between them.
Wounded by this apparent snub, Beatrice later refuses to exchange Dante's greeting after
encountering him in the street. Her devastating refusal to acknowledge him causes Dante to
withdraw from all human society and bathe the earth <<d'amarissime lagrime.>>148
Alienation from the community within the community is the chief factor in the evolution of
Dante's existence as homo viator. It is only later, when he receives his sentence of exile and
finds himself physically separated from his community, that his state of spiritual exile will be
matched by physical exile.
2.2.3. Stephen Dedalus, the Alienus
In A Portrait, a young Stephen, attempting to localize himself in the universe, comes to his
first realization of isolation:
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 56.
Dante Alighieri, The New Life/La Vita Nuova: A Dual-Language Book, trans. Stanley Appelbaum, Dover,
Mineola, 2006, p. 18.
He turned the flyleaf of his geography and read what he had written there:
himself, his name, and where he was.
Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
County Kildare
The World
The Universe149
This hierarchy represents Stephen's first exercise in self-conception. At the heart of the
exercise is alienation, and it is in this act of initiating the <<process of writing his
identity>>150 that he identifies the germ of his spiritual exile. A Portrait is, in essence, a
chronicle of the successive phases of a burgeoning self-awareness that lead the young man
towards self-definition. This procession of revelations, all occurring within him but always
incited by an encounter with an unattainable object imposing itself on the narrator from
without ultimately inspires his vow of becoming alive to <<the reality of [his]
experience>>151 which as he will gradually discover, one of absolute spiritual exile.
Of the three weapons with which Stephen purposes to effect his liberating act selfdefinition, <<silence, exile, and cunning>>152, <<silence>> is the most primitive. To liberate
his soul artistic means requires that he apply himself to the writing of his identity and to write
one's identity means having to withdraw from common discourse. Of the many parallels
between A Portrait and the Vita Nuova, the most salient involves this act of writing one's
identity. In both books, the reader is introduced to a young man whose endeavor to find his
place in a discommoding community is unsuccessful and, subsequently, decides he write
himself into the world instead.
In Vita Nuova, Dante, increasingly aware of his destiny as viator, employs an ingenious
tactic of silence when pressed by his friends to reveal the identity of the lady in his latest
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 13.
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 61.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 214.
Ivi, p. 183.
poem. Availing himself of this tactic he writes, <<e quando mi domandavano: Per cui t'ha
così distrutto questo Amore? ed io sorridendo li guardava, e nulla dicea loro.>>153 By
forsaking speech, Dante allows his silence to be <<read>> by his peers, achieving a textualontological symbiosis whereby the performance of silence, smiling and coy as it is, lends
further meaning and mystery to his poem while the poem itself stands for the silent figure's
innermost identity and, therein, the reason for his silence.154 Silence is a tactic by which he
draws his audience ever deeper into the reality of his spiritual estrangement and uses their
curiosity as tool with which he writes his subjective self moment by moment. Peregrinatio,
the spiritual journey, therefore, begins with silence, self-alienation being a necessary
precursor to absolute exile.
In A Portrait, Stephen's phases of self-awareness cause him to play frequently with the
concept of the alienus. His establishment of himself as alienus, born of an understanding of
his isolation, is aided by his silence and throughout A Portrait, Stephen continues to
poetically develop this silence. After delivering to his friend Lynch a recondite disquisition
on Thomistic aesthetics, Stephen notices his love interest sitting on the library steps. Joyce
writes, <<Stephen took his place silently on the step below the group of students, heedless of
the rain which fell fast, turning his eyes towards her from time to time.>>155 His reaction to
her presence is determined by the same methodic silence used by Dante when he encounters
Beatrice among a group of other ladies. Stephen's repeated glances recall Dante and Beatrice's
glances during their first encounter, but it is the element of silence in this scene that is most
markedly Dantean. Separation from his beloved represents his separation from his
community, but unlike Dante's refusal to speak, his legible silence goes unread. While Dante's
behavior consistently elicits reactions, Stephen's acting out of his idol's silent withdrawal
always seem to go largely unacknowledged.
The most overtly Dantean portion of A Portrait is perhaps the "villanelle scene" which
contains Stephen's first attempt to write a poem. The description of Stephen's creative process
has no direct parallel in the Vita Nuova but the inclusion of the villanelle in the context of the
larger narrative is a direct imitation of Dante's bildungsroman. The villanelle scene comes
immediately after Stephen's encounter on the library steps. Safely at home in his room, the
D. Alighier, trans. S. Appelbaum, op. cit., p. 8.
J. Robinson, op. cit., pp. 61 - 63.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 281.
young artist decides to write a poem inspired by the sight of his beloved. The first three lines
are the most relevant to the theme of the alienus:
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Lure of the fallen seraphim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.156
The reference to Lucifer is a reference to that singular Biblical paradigm of the alienus, the
fallen angel who represents the fall of humankind itself. The emotional turmoil stirred in him
by the sight of his beloved has threatened to destroy his individual integrity and after
composing the villanelle, Stephen anxiously imagines her reaction to the poem were she to
read it:
If he sent her the verses? They would be read out at breakfast amid the tapping of
eggshells. Folly indeed! Her brothers would laugh and try to wrest the page from
each other with their strong hard fingers. The suave priest, her uncle, seated in his
armchair, would hold the page at arm’s length, read it smiling and approve of the
literary form.157
The visions animating Dante's poetic compositions in the Vita Nuova are also essential the
narrative progression. One episode in the book portrays Dante on a trip to the countryside, a
sort of mini-exile, during which he writes a poem that depicts Love <<in abito legger di
peregrino>>158 Love-as-pilgrim being a common medieval variation on the homo viator
trope. As testament to the vision, Dante writes a sonnet <<Cavalcando l'altr'ier per un
camino>>159 the Christian imagery of which implies the redemptive quality of his state of
exile, prefiguring the encouraging tone which will characterize Brunetto and Cacciaguida's
prophesies of exile in the Commedia. Spiritual exile will, therefore, bestow upon Dante, the
homo viator, a raiment of salvation that will guarantee his entrance into heaven. For Joyce, on
the other hand, exile is, the condition of being an alienus. As such it brings his protagonist
into closer communion with Satan than it does with Christ. Stephen sees the transference of
his emotional state in verse as the dispersal of a sort of diabolical contagion. If the
composition of his villanelle is the consummation of his "legible silence" than the very act of
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 65.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 188.
D. Alighieri, trans. S. Appelbaum, op. cit., p. 16.
engaging in Dante's poetic symbiosis of silence and text does not lead to his liberation but,
conversely, results in a violation of his beloved's being:
He began to feel that he had wronged her. A sense of her innocence moved him
almost to pity her, an innocence he had never understood till he had come to the
knowledge of it through sin, an innocence which she too had not understood while
she was innocent or before the strange humiliation of her nature had first come
upon her.160
But it is all in his head. The poem is never read by Stephen's paramour. Stephen's
assumption of Dante's instrument of legible silence is a self-crafting fantasy which never
receives the validation of an actively engaged public. His silence cannot be, as it is for Dante,
a preliminary condition to approaching the threshold of a larger Christian universe. The
taxonomy through which he hopes to ascend from himself as particular to the universe as a
whole will, therefore, have to wait until he crosses paths with his spiritual father in Ulysses.
Only then will his conversion from alienus, the cast out angel, to homo viator, come to
2.2.4. "Cunning" as "Ingegno"
The third implement in Stephen's armamentarium is "cunning." Surely Joyce would not
have overlooked the Dantean resonances of this third term. A tidy compliment to Stephen's
silence and exile can be found in a word used in the opening of Purgatorio:
Per correr miglior acqua alza le vele
Omai la navicella del mio ingegno
Che lasciar dietro a sè mar si crudele.161
"Ingegno" has a number of definitions in the Commedia. "Ingegno" in Inferno 26 is
Ulysses' hubristic intellect which leads him to go beyond the divinely instated bounds of
human activity <<per seguir virtute e canoscenza>>162. Although the disproportionate
inflation of personal ingegno is the cause of Ulysses' damnation, the ingegno is not, for Dante
an inherently negative faculty and used correctly, that is, in accordance with the metric of
divinely derived reason, it can be a virtue. Mario Trovato writes of Purgatorio's opening:
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 188.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 4.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 478.
<<Ingegno is understood by Dante as the instinctive ability to evaluate and choose a a
suitable inventive material and transform it into artistic images.>>163 Trovato continues:
<<however [ingegno] must...submit [its choice of material]...to the court of ratio, the final
judgment of which takes into account the suggestions given by experience, memory and
culture.>>164 The difference between Dante's little bark of ingegno and Ulysses' hulking ship
is a question, therefore, of proportion and direction. Proper choice of material prevents the
artist from charting their course too far afield of the limitations imposed by God on his
creation. The <<mar si crudele>> is the wide and desolate expanse of Ulysses' fruitless
voyage towards absolute knowledge, while the smooth course that Dante's <<navicella>>
pursues will lead its captain towards a soul-benefiting knowledge. Ingegno is synonymous
with Stephen's cunning, but at this point in the novel, Stephen's theories are as yet untested,
and so does his untried notion of cunning leave him on a precipice between Ulyssean hubris
and Dantean prudence. To follow the path of Ulysses is to incur a similar fate, i.e. a fall
analogous to that which Satan suffered. Whether or not the creation of himself in his art will
lead to salvation or damnation is yet to be determined. Also yet to be determined is the
material appropriate to his cunning. In the next section, the exact application of Stephen's
ingegno will be further explored in the context of his Thomistic theory of aesthetics.
2.2.5. The "Spiritual-Heroic Refrigerating Apparatus"
Having defined his three tools, Stephen will go on to explain how they form a unitary
mechanism. James Robinson writes:
In presenting 'silence, exile, and cunning' as the arsenal of Stephen's liberation,
Joyce emphasises Dante's continuing presence in the Portrait, underscoring the
movement from subjective alienation drawn from the Vita Nuova, towards the
'heroic' mode of Stephen's posited departure into an exile from where, in what
represents a restatement of the Risorgimento myth[...] he will 'forge[...] the
uncreated conscience of my race.'165
The object of these three tools' simultaneous usage is impishly hidden in a detail in one of
Stephen's diary entries near the end of the novel. The entry is written soon after another
Mario Trovato, The Semantic Value of "Ingegno" and Dante's "Ulysses" in the Light of the "Metalogicon",
<<Modern Philology>>, LXXXIV, 1987, p. 261.
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 76.
encounter with his beloved and his change in tone and voice (from third person to first)
augments his final phase of self-awareness:
April 15. Met her today point blank in Grafton Street. The crowd brought us
together. We both stopped. She asked me why I never came, said she had heard all
sorts of stories about me. This was only to gain time. Asked me was I writing
poems? About whom? I asked her. This confused her more and I felt sorry and
mean. Turned off that valve at once and opened the spiritual-heroic refrigerating
apparatus, invented and patented in all countries by Dante Alighieri. Talked
rapidly of myself and my plans. In the midst of it unluckily I made a sudden
gesture of a revolutionary nature. I must have looked like a fellow throwing a
handful of peas into the air. People began to look at us. She shook hands a moment
after and, in going away, said she hoped I would do what I said.166
The reference to the <<spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus>> contained on the last
page of the novel, is jarring. No explanation of its meaning is given, and readers of Ulysses
will interpret it as an overture to the countless riddles seeded throughout A Portrait's sequel.
The expression is out of keeping with the sumptuous and seemingly unironic consistency of A
Portrait's prose up until this point. Derek Attridge in his assessment of Stephen's
psychological growth from the end of A Portrait into Ulysses notes the anticipatory shift in
tone of his diary entry, stating:
When we meet Stephen again in Ulysses, Joyce's new technique of interior
monologue [...]gives us access to a mental world that possesses a linguistic and
cultural richness (and humor) well beyond anything in the earlier novel.167
Humor, so conspicuously absent from A Portrait, is a central feature, one might say even
the very motor, of Ulysses, and the first instance of Joyce's brand of humor, so selfconsciously literary and allusive, is this strange, self-effacing line written in Stephen's diary
entry. Stephen is, at this point, still racked by the same anxieties concerning the threat of
poetic contagion his imperfect compositions contain but the difference between his postvillanelle attitude and the one present in this passage is that now Stephen is finally allowed to
speak for himself, and having been granted the power of selfhood, of being enclosed in an "I"
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 289.
Derek Attridge, Joyce Effects: On Language, Theory, and History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,
2000, p. 77.
he reveals, in a moment of metacognitive irony, that he is aware of Dante's presence in his
work and life qua mechanical "apparatus." Simultaneously, he reveals himself to be aware of
the sparseness of his poetic output up until this point. By the end of A Portrait, Stephen can
hardly call himself a successful epigone let alone an artist. But the question remains, just what
is this <<spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus>> and how does it work?
The hyphenated duality of the apparatus' function is evidence of Joyce's consciousness
of the two exilic traditions which have been variously used to exploit the Dante myth by both
political thinkers and artists alike. By combining the spiritual exile of Dante the homo viator
with the Risorgimento political exile of Dante the hero, Joyce expertly encapsulates
<<Stephen's idea of Dante as the inventor of a mode of alienation which operates through
both a 'spiritual' and a 'heroic' aspect>>168 and that when set in motion offers him a <<model
for his self-preserving, exilic mode of emotional alienation.>>169 Robinson goes on to say of
Stephen that he:
presents Dante as originating a mode of alienation that can be instrumentally
applied in order to achieve a desired result: a liberating separation into the 'selfcommunion' that, if 'buy shyly welcomed' in the 1904 'Portrait of an Artist' essay ,
now seems to be wholly embraced.170
What Joyce seems to be saying is that in his youth his tendency to internalize the
subjective experiences of his heroes caused him to imagine that the process by which Dante
saves his soul and remedies the affliction of his exile is a process that can be used to fashion
ones' estrangement from their community into a <<heroic-spiritual>> ideal of exile. However,
Dante's poetry is not mechanistic, but essentially remedial; it is an organic response to an
unwelcomed set of circumstances rather than a technological instrument with which the
would-be artist might stylize and thereby sanctify his emotional states.
By introducing the <<spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus>> Joyce casts doubt on both
the politic and spiritual conceptions of the Dantean persona. More significantly, he strips his
youthful self of the vainglorious pretensions of the <<self-fashioning mode of alienation>>. It
is as if Joyce came to realize that, in his youth, he had channeled his energies into creating an
artistic persona before actually verifying whether he was, in fact, an artist. The dream of exile
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 77.
Ivi. p. 78.
Ivi. p. 79.
on which he had hung his hopes of spiritual rebirth then seemed foolish, when in 1907, a few
years into his exile, he set himself to revising his earlier work Stephen Hero and realized that
the <<spiritual-heroic apparatus>> had not produced the desired result. But that is not to say
it produced no results at all. The distance he had put between himself and Dublin had
rewarded him with a sense of community that corresponded neither to Trieste as a whole nor
his circle of fellow intellectuals, but rather a <<form of intertextual community>>171
connecting him with his literary forebears. In that sense, his reference to Dante's <<spiritualheroic apparatus>> is a declaration of his intent to surmount the self-imposed circumstances
of his exile by donating to the "republic of letters" a literary offering that would affirm his
membership in that theoretical community. What the apparatus would produce was an
unbroken lookingglass, one that would reveal in its reflection the true <<conscience of [his]
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 80.
3. Epiphany
3.1. Dubliners
3.1.1. The Early Epiphanies
Intimations of exile are present in A Portrait as early as the first page of the novel which
opens with a scene simulating the way a child assembles together the various objects in their
world. They are objects lacking in discreteness and definition and what results from Stephen's
juxtaposition of these objects is a series of impressions which cannot be said to "belong" to a
subjectivity appended to a definite "I." Sound and music emerge most definitely from this
sensory muddle and one of the first scenes to impress itself on Stephen's mind involves a
When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table.
His mother said:
-O, Stephen will apologize.
Dante said:
-O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
The source of this scene can be found in a real event in Joyce's life. In 1891, his governess
Mrs. Conway threatened Joyce, then 9 years old, with eternal damnation if he dared visit his
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 7.
Protestant neighbors, the Vances, again. In late adolescence, Joyce recorded the incident in
his diary:
Bray: in the parlour of the house in Martello Terrace.
Mr. Vance--(comes in with a stick) . . . O, you know, he'll have to
apologize, Mrs. Joyce.
Mrs. Joyce--O yes . . . Do you hear that, Jim?
Mr. Vance--Or else--if he doesn't--the eagles'll come and pull out his
Mrs. Joyce --O, but I'm sure he will apologize.
Joyce--(under the table, to himself) Apologize, Pull out his eyes, Pull out
his eyes, Apologize.173
This is one of Joyce's many <<epiphanies>> brief jottings containing overheard dialogue,
descriptions of everyday scenes, or recalled memories. He would later weave these snippets
of juvenilia into his fiction, adapting their tone to suit a specific narrative. This prototype of A
Portrait's opening sees a young Joyce hiding under a table to escape Mr. Vance's stick. Hélèn
Cixous interprets this scene as the author's discovery of Stephen's three weapons:
against the stick he adopts exile under the table; against his mother's betrayal, he
arms himself with silence; and against the fear of being blinded, he creates,
utilising that fear, a relationship with himself, using the craft and cunning of art.174
In less than 10 lines, the teenager introduces, in miniature, the principle themes which will
guide his work throughout his life. From the time he began recording his epiphanies, Joyce
had assigned himself the task of creating a work of fiction which would be fueled by the
poignancy of these epiphanic images; but to mold them into something that attained a fullness
of moral scope was his ultimate aim. His main concern as an artist, as expressed by Stephen,
was, therefore, the performance of a moral surgery which would revive his people by
instilling in them a "conscience." This task and the state of exile permitting its execution
implied a certain superiority on the author's part. The creation of a conscience implied the
James Joyce, James Joyce: Poems and Shorter Writings, ed. Richard Ellman and A. Walton Litz, Faber &
Faber, London, 2001, p. 13.
H. Cixous, S.A.J. Purcell, op. cit., p. 298.
preexistence of a moral system, himself being the sole worthy exegete of that moral system.
Such was the egoistic grandiosity that had given him
refrigerating apparatus and such was the egoistic grandiosity that had driven him to now
apply the medieval formulae he had learned from the Jesuits to the raw material of his life.
And it was Dante who breathed life into these formulae.
3.1.2. The Publication of Dubliners
In 1904 George Russell, theosophist and friend to Yeats, had read and enjoyed Stephen
Hero and asked him to write a short story for the Irish Homestead. For a payment of one
pound, Joyce wrote "The Sisters" which would be the first story in the collection. The story
was a success and so Joyce went on to write two more stories: "Eveline" and "After the
Semi-comfortably exiled in Trieste, Joyce continued to write stories to add to the
series, eventually sending them for consideration to the influential London publisher Grant
Richards. In December of 1905, Joyce received an enthusiastic response from Richards
asking him to sign a contract for publication of the stories. The indigent writer was overjoyed
at the prospect of having a published volume of work and in 1906 sent Richards another
story, "Two Gallants." Without reading it, Richards sent the story to his printer and received a
reply requesting that Joyce make changes to some of its objectionable language. The history
of its publication from that point on is a frustratingly interminable tale of artistic
recalcitrance, false hopes, frequent setbacks and recurrent disappointment. English law
worked against the young writer who admitted that he could not help <<but offend>>176 and
who refused to make changes to details which he felt to be crucial to the understanding of the
stories. "Two Gallants," "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," and "The Boarding House" were
the culprits. In their correspondence, Joyce expostulates with the publisher in order that he
might understand the significance of the stories for Irish history:
If I eliminate [the objectionable words] what becomes of the chapter of the moral
history of my country? I fight to retain them because I believe that in composing my
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 174.
J. Joyce, ed. R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 83.
chapter of moral history in exactly the way I have composed it I have taken the first step
towards the spiritual liberation in my country.177
His repeated appeals would not be enough to overturn English law nor would a letter written
to the King of England requesting he weigh in on the matter of a line in Ivy Day that
supposedly slandered King Edward VII, who had recently passed, receive a reply favorable to
his cause. In 1909, Joyce was back in Dublin supervising the opening of the city's first
cinema, when, after having given in to Richards' demands, he received notice that the printer
had put off publication of Dubliners for the foreseeable future. Defeated, he devoted himself
to perfecting A Portrait instead. It was not until 1913, after receiving a letter from Richards
inquiring after the status of the collection that his hopes were restored. The publisher offered
him a second contract and in 1914 Dubliners was finally released as a single volume, its
accession to the canon of Irish literature proving not only locally groundbreaking, but
transforming the short story genre forever.178
3.1.3. The Dantean Structure of Dubliners
Explaining the meaning of the book's title to his editor Joyce wrote to Constantine Curran:
<<I call the series Dubliners to betray the soul of that spirit of hemiplegia or paralysis which
many call a city.>>179 Each story in Dubliners is a microcosm of that paralyzed polis, each
character in each story personifying a specific symptom of moral, social, and intellectual
hemiplegia. Together, the stories form an image of Dublin as a whole, their internal
framework rife with intertextual mirrorings and allegorical correspondences. The complexity
of the stories owes its framework to a Dantean scheme whose moral architecture Mary T.
Reynolds elucidates in "The Shaping Imagination." Reynolds posits that the idea of dividing
the stories in accordance with a tripartite Inferno structure entered into Joyce's mind as early
as February of 1905 after his completion of the 18th chapter of "Stephen Hero," originally
meant to be a parody of the Inferno. She identifies six stories in particular which a closely
echo Dante's first canticle: "Araby," "Grace," "Two Gallants," "A Little Cloud," "The Dead,"
and a revised version of "The Sisters." Reynolds goes on to plot each story in relation to its
corresponding canto or group of cantos. Dubliners is sequentially ordered in terms of the life-
R. Ellman, op. cit., pp 169 - 175.
J. Joyce, ed. R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 22.
cycle, the stories being separated into three groups representing childhood, adolescence, and
maturity. Reynolds's Dantean division rearranges the order contained in this division. Without
delineating every Dubliner-canto parallel on Reynold's table, it is worth noting that "Eveline"
"Araby" and "After the Race" belong to the category of incontinence, "Counterparts," "A
Painful Case," and "An Encounter" to violence, and "Two Gallants," "A Boarding House,"
"The Sisters," "Grace," "Clay," "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," "A Little Cloud,"
"Mother," and "The Dead," to fraud (with "The Dead" being indexed to the antenora of the
traitors specifically). From the mini-Vita Nuova present in "Araby," to the Inferno 3's <<gran
rifiuto>> being evoked by the protagonist's frozen diffidence at the end of "Eveline," to the
Filippo Argenti-like rage of Farrington in "Counterparts," every story in the Dubliners is shot
through with echoes of Dante. So strong indeed is the underlying influence of Dante in
Dubliners that the last story, "Grace" is itself a mini-Commedia with the drunkard Thomas
Kernan making his pilgrimage from an infernal state of inebriated prostration to a paradisiacal
place of forgiveness in the moral cash register of Father Purdon.180
3.1.4. Paralysis, Simony, Sodomy
The collection itself begins with the "Sisters." The opening line, <<There was no hope,>>
is a reference to the forbidding admonition written above the entrance to hell, <<lasciate ogni
speranza voi ch'entrate.>>181 While James Robinson doubts the likelihood that such a simple
sentence was meant to recall Dante, it is equally doubtful that a writer as astutely allusive as
Joyce would have overlooked the evocation.182
In her essay, "'The Sisters' and the 'Inferno': An Intertextual Network" Lucia Boldrini not
only corroborates the Inferno parallel present in the opening line, but also makes a case for
the web of intratextual thematic allusions -- strengthened by the intertexual allusions to
various Cantos of the Inferno -- that tie the end of "The Dead" to the beginning of "The
Sisters." Dante's presence in Dubliners is, thence, not merely schematic, but thematically
crucial.183 In essence, Dubliners begins and ends on a note of "hemiplegia" or "paralysis." In
fact, so powerful is this theme of "paralysis" that the very word holds a certain fascination for
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., pp. 156 - 174.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 46.
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 8.
Lucia Boldrini, "The Sisters" and the "Inferno": An Intertextual Network, <<Style>>, XXV, 1991, pp. 453 465.
the protagonist of "The Sisters." After receiving news of the death of a priest, Father Flynn
who had been something of a mentor to him, the boy reflects on the days leading up to his
death, how the priest had foreseen his impending expiration and how the boy had made
nocturnal pilgrimages to the man's house during the priest's period of bedridden paralysis:
Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis.
It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid
and the word simony in the Catechism.184
Dante's reaction to the admonishing inscription written above the entrance to hell is also
Queste parole di colore oscuro
vid'io scritto al sommo d'una porta;
per ch'io: <<Maestro, il senso lor m'è duro.>>185
The meaning of the inscription itself becomes one with its color, as if the danger they
denote is also contained in their very form. The boy protagonist of "The Sisters" is similarly
struck by the words "paralysis," "gnomon," and "simony," the three words evoking both the
infernal inscription and the three beasts who Dante encounters shortly prior to meeting Virgil.
The boy's reaction to the three words, however, is not the pure fear Dante experiences, but an
admixture of fear, confusion, and curiosity. He is both repelled by and attracted to the
strangely foreign quality of these words. When contemplated profoundly, <<paralysis>> in
particular represents a portal into <<some pleasant and vicious region>> in which the boy's
<<soul [recedes].>>186 Paralysis as a portent of hell seems to contain, for the boy, the promise
of a sort of strangely comfortable, yet morally deleterious slumber. The attraction of the word
"paralysis" makes the state of paralysis itself oddly appealing and this attraction becomes for
the protagonist the pleasure of sin.
The many forms of paralysis or near immobility to which the sinners in the Inferno are
subjected, while hardly comfortable, are often typified by a certain somnambulant
peevishness or what Samuel Beckett called <<the static lifelessness of an unrelieved
bitterness.>>187 The simoniacs, for example, are punished by being stacked upside down in
pits, forever paralyzed by their crime of trafficking in spiritual objects. The traitors are
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 1.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 46.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 2.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 401.
forever frozen in ice. The sin of sodomy is not punished by a form of immobility but rather
constant movement. Boldrini writes
The relationship between Dante and Brunetto on the hand and between the boy
and Father Flynn on the other is treated in Inferno and in "The Sisters" in a similar
manner: while both disciples show their affection for their masters, the latter are
condemned for their sins.188
For Joyce, Father Flynn, one of his many <<fraudulent fathers>> is condemned to
paralysis because of simony. A certain kinship exists between the two sins: <<sodomy and
simony can be paralleled in that both Joyce and Dante consider them to be unnatural
practices, physical and spiritual respectively.>>189 Apropos of the link between sodomy and
simony, Brunetto makes a point of drawing Dante's attention to the many clerics present
among the throngs of sodomites, <<insomma sappi che tutti fur cherci>>190. Brunetto also
points to the hemiplegia afflicting the city of Florence by forewarning Dante against the
danger of conforming to the city's corrupting influence, <<dai lor costumi fa che tu ti
forbi>>191. These "costumi" are the same forces of habit which induce paralysis in the
individual. Father Flynn, being a "gnomon" or an unfinished parallelogram, i.e. a spiritually
incomplete individual, is also a creature of custom. His spiritual and physical paralysis is the
punishment for his conformity to Dublin's corrupting customs and his sin of simony resides in
an ill-defined impiety alluded to by the eponymous sisters, <<I'd find him with his breviary
fallen to the floor, lying back in his chair and his mouth open.>>192 The story ends with one
of the sisters' hearsay account of the priest mysteriously laughing to himself in his confession
3.1.5. Gabriel Conroy, the "ignavo"
The cause of the priest's laughter is one of the many concluding moments of Dubliners that
can be open to interpretation and the ambiguity of which is the key component of the
adolescent Joyce's philosophy of epiphany. Whatever causes the priest to laugh must have
something to do with that <<pleasant and vicious region>> where the boy meets again his
L. Boldrini, op. cit., p. 456.
Ivi, p. 457.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 282.
Ivi, p. 280.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 6.
mentor and where the two are drawn together in the name of a <<a maleficent and sinful
being.>>193 This nebulous world of mysteriously pleasant sin reappears at the end of "The
Dead" when Gabriel Conroy has his revelatory moment of self-knowledge. The moment is
provoked by his wife's disclosure of the existence of a departed teen-age lover who admired
her in her youth. The shock of this discovery makes Gabriel question the degree to which he
knows his wife and, as a consequence, how well he knows himself. An entire unexplored
world of his inner being suddenly exposes itself in his heart. The unexplored world is the
world of the dead and Gabriel realizes that he is, in truth, but a wanderer, a homo viator,
despite the illusion of stability in which he had been immersed. The singular reality that
seems to affirm his existence, in that moment, manifests itself as an awareness of sin, the
same sin that manifests itself in the dreams of the protagonist of "The Sisters." The sensation
is described in the same vein as the <<maleficent and sinful being>> of the boy's dream:
<<some impalpable and vindictive being was coming against him, gathering forces against
him in that vague world.>>194 Boldrini finds in Gabriel's epiphanic moment an echo of Dante.
Up until this point, Gabriel has been defined by his passivity or what Dante calls,
<<ignavia.>>195 The insipidity of this sin is such that <<neither heaven nor hell wants the
souls of the 'ignavi.'>>196 Gabriel's acknowledgment of his own passivity thus impels him on
a <<journey westward>> in which he will be able to, one hopes, cleanse himself of this sin.197
The beginning of Gabriel's journey at the end of "The Dead" is the incipit of the boy's journey
at the start of "The Sisters." "The Dead" ends with an image of snow <<general all over
Ireland>>198 a reminder of the traitor-tenanted ice of the Inferno's depths. Dante, having
braved this region of ice, has two-thirds left of his pilgrimage to complete, but the
surmounting of this first obstacle has taught him the courage that will propel him forward in
his quest. It will not be until Purgatorio 27 that he will be abluted entirely of his fear. Gabriel,
who has been pining throughout the story to go outdoors and breath fresh air, now finds
himself in the woods, a clear reference to Dante's <<selva oscura.>>199 His confrontation with
his own sinfulness puts him as close to the beginning of the Inferno as it does to the end. The
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 1.
Ivi., p. 152.
L. Boldrini, op. cit., p. 459.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 152.
Ivi., p. 152.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 2.
<<vicious region>> of the boy's fantasies is replicated by the <<impalpable and vindictive
being>> who is <<coming against>> Gabriel much like the she-wolf in Dante's dark wood
appears to him ready to attack.200 By closing the thematic circle of Dubliners with this
synthesized image of the beginning and end of the Inferno, Joyce embroiders the intertextual
with the intratextual. Boldrini explains the result of this allusive feat:
At first, when the world of Dubliners is first entered, there is 'no hope' of
discovering the full significance of the stories; but, as readers reach the end, they
will also realize that the 'journey' must be faced once again with increased hope of
penetrating deeper into the text.201
3.1.6. "Araby," Joyce's Vita Nuova
Whereas Reynolds considers "The Dead" a tale of traitorousness (Gabriel is excoriated at
the party for being a <<west briton>> and therefore a traitor to his countrymen), Boldrini's
placement of Gabriel in the antechamber of the ignavi does not necessarily contradict this
reading and works well with the notion Dubliners' intra-/intertextual cycle. The most clearly
intertextual rendering of Dante is the collection's third story, "Araby," a simple tale of a
young boy who falls in love with his friend's sister. Love-crazed, the boy offers to buy
Mangan's sister a gift from the Araby bazaar which happens to be in town. When he arrives
there, a little too late, he finds it falls short of his fantastical expectations. Overcome by
despondency, he feels his youth slip away and a new awareness of reality blossom in its
The story, a condensed version of the Vita Nuova, is perhaps Joyce's most overtly
romantic. Unlike "The Sisters" or "An Encounter," the message of "Araby" is more
apparently apprehensible. The boy protagonist, who could easily be the same character that
narrates the two aforementioned stories, embarks on a <<grail quest>> which ultimately
disabuses him of his innocent fixation and in exchange for this loss of innocence imparts
upon him a new consciousness of life's vastness. The knowledge he gains is the intratextual
equivalent to the knowledge of sin gained by Gabriel Conroy. The initial intoxication
experienced by the boy recalls Dante's exhiliration upon his first encounter with Beatrice. The
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 152.
L. Boldrini, op. cit., p. 4.
boy describes his love at first sight moment in a mode paralleling Dante's encounter: <<All
my sense seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I
pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring, O Love! O Love!
many times.>>202
Dante's first vision of Beatrice is no less operatic:
In quello punto dico veracemente che lo spirito de la vita, lo quale dimora ne la
secretissima camera de lo cuore, cominciò a tremare sì fortemente che apparia ne li
mènimi polsi orribilmente; e tremando, disse queste parole: «Ecce deus fortior me,
qui veniens dominabitur mihi».203
For the Dante, the <<image>> or <<figure>> of Beatrice is a <<prefiguration>> in the
Augustinian sense of the word, i.e. <<a foreshadowing [...] of something subsequent, such as
the Old Testament prefiguring the New Testament.>>204 In the case of Dante's first vision of
Beatrice, the image is a prefiguration of God's love, something similar to the vision of Love
dressed as a pilgrim which Dante receives during his trip to the countryside. The vate, never
displaying any sexual desire for Beatrice nor confessing his love for her to anyone, always
defines his affection in expressly romantic language. Nothing comes of his love for her while
she is living, but her soul is destined to serve as Dante's guide through Paradise. Similarly, the
boy's despair suggests the certainty of his love remaining unrequited, but this realization may
spur the boy towards the creation of art. <<The protagonists of Dante and Joyce's stories lose
the girl physically, but ultimately find themselves>> writes Richard J. Gerber.205 For both
protagonists, this moment of truth comes at a propitious time. For the protagonists, of Joyce's
childhood trilogy ("The Sisters," "An Encounter," and "Araby") there is a hope that they
might be able to live with a conscientiousness which they otherwise might not have cultivated
had they been deprived of their epiphanic experiences. Gabriel Conroy is Joyce's first mature
self-portrait and his first attempt to reckon with the truths he had derived from his state of
exile. The apotheosizing self-fulfillment which he had expected to find abroad never quite
panned out and in lieu of its occurrence, Joyce's exile bore another fruit, that of wisdom, a
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 16.
D. Alighieri, trans. S. Appelbaum, op. cit., p. 2 .
Richard J. Gerber, "La Figura": Image of Divine Love: The Figure of Beatrice in Dante's Vita Nuova and
Mangan's Sister in Joyce's "Araby", <<Joyce Studies Annual>>, 2017, p. 268
Ivi, p. 270.
wisdom in which he found the humility (never an easy virtue for Joyce) to include himself in
his infernal architecture.
In "The Dead" Joyce asks himself where he fits into his own Dantean scheme and finds
himself ultimately on the circular precipice between escaping hell at its egress and falling into
it at its point of entry. As an author, Joyce's voice is most consonant with the characters of his
childhood stories and as the stories progress into the stage of youth, his voice becomes more
tenuous and rebuking, and by the time he reaches adulthood, his tone is that of moral outrage.
With the addition of "The Dead" as the collection's coda, Joyce tempers his disgust with the
lives of those superannuated Dubliners who have forfeited everything sacred (e.g. the love of
the boy in Araby) for the sake of indolent conformity. After his time in Trieste, Joyce and
Nora went to Rome where he found work as a bank clerk. The job was dismal and the city
itself he found sepulchral. In a letter to his brother he compared Rome to, <<a man who lives
by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother's corpse.>>206 Unhappy in Rome, he begrudgingly
admitted to an impossible emotion, homesickness. In reference to his portrayal of Dublin, a
letter to his brother says, <<I have not reproduced its ingenuous insularity and hospitality, the
latter 'virtue' so far as I can see does not exist elsewhere in Europe.>>207 Gabriel Conroy
expresses a similar sentiment during Christmas dinner:
I feel more strongly with every recurring year that our country has no tradition
which does it so much honour and which it should guard so jealously as that of
Ellman says of this passage, <<this was Joyce's oblique way, in a language that mocked
his own, of beginning the task of making amends.>>209
3.1.7. "Grace," the Sin of Flattery
And yet, before amends were made, by way of a novella whose genius exceeded even the
entirety of the other stories combined, Joyce had to, in his own wry manner, give vent to his
Dantean spleen. "Grace" is the story that precedes "The Dead" and was originally meant to be
the concluding story of the collection. Discussed earlier in this thesis, it is the story of a
J. Joyce, ed. R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 108.
Ivi., p. 110.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 128.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 254.
drunkard, Tom Kernan who falls down a flight of stairs and is charitably returned to his wife.
Recovering in bed, he is joined by his friends who extol the virtues of the Irish branch of the
Catholic church and the infallibility of the Pope. These friends convince Tom to join them on
a religious retreat where he plans to renew his baptismal vows. Soon after this resolution, the
three go to a Jesuit Church where Father Purdon delivers a sermon on the concept of grace.
He ends the sermon by comparing the accumulation of good deeds to an account book.
Grace is Joyce's first foray into combining the epical with the commonplace. In this case
the parody is constructed around the three Canticles of the Commedia.. Tom and his friends
are shortsighted and ignorant, the sort of vice-ridden, bourgeois drones which Joyce
considered the scourge of Dublin and the source of the city's paralysis. The first part of the
story witnesses Tom in a state of abject dissolution. The bottom of the stairs is his <<selva
oscura>> and the image of him <<smeared with the filth and ooze of the floor on which he
had lain, face downwards>>210 parallels with the 8th circle of the Inferno in which the sinners
are immersed in feces:
Quivi venimmo; e quindi giù nel fosso
vidi gente attuffata in uno sterco
che da li uman privadi parea mosso211
This is the contrapasso pertaining to the sin of flattery. The disingenuous effusiveness of
Tom and his friends' praise of the Church defines them as flatterers, a sin which Dante
considered only slightly less reprehensible than simony. Father Purdon is the worst of the lot
because of his simony. But he is also a flatterer and the worst kind at that. He flatters his
congregation by, perhaps deliberately, misinterpreting a text from Luke to make it seem as if
Jesus is praising the parable's character of the steward for his financial shrewdness. Purdon
proclaims himself to be a sort of average joe who sympathizes with the business-oriented
approach to life. Purdon's Jesus understands and forgives our <<little failings>> and remains
cognizant of the <<temptations of this life.>>212 His not-so-tacit approval of the mediocrity of
these men does not in any way bring them closer to grace but has the opposite effect. The
men are further from salvation as ever before and ever more complacently entrenched in their
unquestioning mode of living.213
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 151.
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 334.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 131.
Carl Niemeyer, "Grace" and Joyce's Method of Parody, <<College English>>, XXVII, 1965, pp. 196 - 201.
Tom attainment of "divine grace" is thus a drastically vulgarized version of Dante's faceto-face encounter with God at the end of Paradiso. Grace, the most enigmatic and mystifying
of all the theological virtues, is in this story bastardized to the point that it loses all meaning
whatsoever. "Grace" portrays its characters as being beyond all hope. <<There was no
hope>> reads the opening line to Dubliners, a line which just as easily applies to Father
Flynn's situation as it does to Father Purdon's. If these then are Dublin's guides then surely
they are debarred from entering heaven's gates.
3.1.8. Conclusion
Only the children of Dubliners have any hope of acting forthrightly on their epiphanies.
Whereas a character like Eveline comes close to the brink of flying free from Dublin but is
paralyzed at the last moment, one feels that the narrators of "Araby" and "The Sisters" are
already on the path to something like self-fulfillment. Being themselves early incarnations of
Stephen Dedalus, their awareness of the morally askew, at least temporarily, indemnifies
them from the rampant corruption and blind compliance of men like Tom Kernan. These
children are closer to paradise than even Gabriel Conroy who, because of his ignavia, or lack
of moral and spiritual commitment, suffers from an indolence that betrays his intellect.
Despite his education, his ignorance of his own wife's inner life and the lives of his
compatriots, brings him closer in spirit to Tom Kernan than it does to children of the first
cycle. He is not yet without hope, but he is aware of the world in which he has lived up until
this point and from which, with some effort, he can strive to escape, i.e. the world of the dead.
The liminal space of Gabriel's moral conundrum, to the degree that it encompasses more
than simply the antechamber of ignavia, is only known to Dante in the form of the <<selva
oscura>> from which he most unambiguously escapes. The question of Dante's salvation is
decided from the very outset of his journey, Beatrice's appearance in Inferno 2 guaranteeing
as much. For Joyce, on the other hand, the question of salvation is itself a thorny one.
Whether such a state is even a reality is, in his mind, highly debatable and so the threshold
upon which Gabriel stands is the threshold of belief itself. <<The time had come for him to
set out on his journey westward>> reads one of the final lines of the story.214 This is his
pilgrimage away from the source of the sun and towards the land of the dead where, perhaps,
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 152.
he might be able to salvage something of his soul. Joyce, having made attempts to create a
conscience for his race, now finds it incumbent upon himself to regain his own conscience.
Gabriel's epiphany is Joyce's epiphany.
Many more epiphanies occur in Dubliners: Eveline's balking at the brink of exodus from
Dublin, Little Chandler's realization of his artistic impotence, James Duffy's misconceived
conviction that he himself is the cause of Mary Sinico's death. What is an "epiphany" for
Joyce how can the concept be applied to his Dubliners stories? Joyce never called his stories
"epiphanies" but rather "epicleti" a misspelling of the Eastern Orthodox ritual of epiclesis
which corresponds to the Eucharist in Catholic liturgy.215 An indepth exploration of the
meaning of epiclesis in "Dubliners" and the rest of Joyce's work will form the final part of
this thesis, but first an exploration of the concept of Joycean epiphany is warranted. Since the
emergence of the "Stephen Hero" manuscript in 1945, the topic of epiphany in Joyce's work
has been a matter of controversy. The discovery of Joyce's "epiphany theory" has led many
scholars to apply the concept of epiphany as a key heuristic through which one can unlock the
many mysteries of Joyce's writing.
3.2. "Epiphany-Hunting"
3.2.1. The Origin of "Stephen Hero"
"Stephen Hero" began as an essay. In 1904, Joyce submitted the autobiographical A
Portrait of the Artist to the Irish literary magazine Dana. The essay, mixing selfaggrandizement with self-irony, was Joyce's first major effort at creating a serious work
whose import went beyond the hyper-refined aesthetic of his recorded epiphanies. The style
of A Portrait combined elements of the essay and the short story resulting in a self-conscious
account of the artist at work, ascending to the summit of creation by defining his place atop it.
Ellman writes:
At the age of twenty-one Joyce had found he could become an artist by writing
about the process of becoming an artist, his life legitimizing his portrait by
supplying the sitter, while the portrait vindicated the sitter by its evident admiration
for him.216
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 150.
Ivi, p. 144.
The process of describing the artistic process itself would continue to engage him for the rest
of his life. Due to the essay's riddling prose and sexual content, it was rejected for publication
by John Eglinton, the pseudonym of W.K. Magee, upon whom Joyce would revenge himself
by casting him in the role of his effete adversary in the Scylla and Charybdis episode of
Ulysses. Joyce's rage at this rejection would prove productive and by February 10, 1904, he
had finished the first chapter of Stephen Hero. His theme was <<the portrait of the renegade
Catholic artist as hero>> and his hero was <<the defector from religion and the insurgent
artist.>>217 And so Stephen D(a)edalus was born.
3.2.2. "Epiphany Theory" in "Stephen Hero"
Stephen Hero features the same bumptious, self-regarding schoolboy who will become the
protagonist of the 1914 A Portrait. Stephen Daedalus considers his verses so brilliant he
thinks they should <<be numbered among the spiritual assets of the State.>>218 He
<<[professes] scorn for the rabblement>>219 and has a <<commandment of reticence.>>220
The element of irony that Joyce perfects in A Portrait is absent from Stephen Hero, but the
appeal of the novel's earlier form is derived from the presence of an unvarnished Stephen
Daedalus, one who seems to give unobstructed utterance to the young writer's pre-exilic
hubris. Stephen Hero is the true portrait of the artist as a young man as he conceived of
himself while still a very young man. The novel centers its focus, among other things, on
Stephen's obsession with Ibsen and Dante, his adventures in brothels, his refusal to sign a
petition for world peace, and a handful of images which would be inserted into "Ulysses."
One of the portions of the book which would carry over, nearly intact, into A Portrait
was Stephen and Cranly's (Lynch in A Portrait) discussion of aesthetics. Fresh from a failed
attempt to woo a love interest, Stephen divulges to his friend that he has been keeping <<a
book of epiphanies>>221 His latest epiphany treats of a young woman he saw sitting on the
steps of Belvedere's library. The <<trivial incident>>222 inspired him to write a poem, the
R. Ellman, op. cit., pp. 149 - 153.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 86.
Ivi, p. 102.
Ivi, p. 127.
Ivi, p. 159.
"Villanelle of the Temptress." He then presents an unsolicited definition of "epiphany." This
definition, cause of so much debate in Joyce scholarship, is as follows:
By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation whether in the vulgarity
of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that
it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing
that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.223
Morris Beja, in his book, "Epiphany in the Modern Novel" paraphrases this definition in
order to further clarify it:
[Epiphany is] a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether from one object, scene,
event, or memorable phase of the mind—the manifestation being out of proportion
to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it.224
What follows is an explanation of the three Thomistic qualities necessary to the creation of
art. <<The three things requisite for beauty are, a wholeness, symmetry, and radiance.>>225 In
Aquinas's Latin the three qualities are integritas, consonantia, and claritas. To see an object
as one thing distinct from all things is to perceive its wholeness or its integritas. The next step
in the formula is to apprehend the object as being made up of various parts which are in
harmony or consonant with one another. This is consonantia. The final criterion is the
knottiest for Stephen. For a long time he had been unable to work out just what it was, but
finally concludes that <<claritas is quidditas.>>226 In A Portrait Stephen further elaborates on
the meaning of "quidditas" by translating it as the "whatness" of a thing or that which
<<makes it outshine its proper conditions.>>227 In summation, the artist first perceives the
congruity of the thing, then perceives its being made up of individual parts, and finally
perceives <<its soul...which leaps to us from the vestment of appearance.>> And thus the
object <<has achieved its epiphany.>>228 He concludes by saying that even an object as
mundane as clock could be considered epiphanic.
The end result of this process, its synthesis into epiphany does not appear at all in the
mature novel and some scholars, most notably Robert Scholes, have gone as far as to aver
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 160.
Morris Beja, Epiphany in the Modern Novel, University of Washington Press, Washington, 1971, p. 18.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 161.
that Joyce abandoned the concept entirely. And yet the concept is so fundamental to Stephen
Hero that, once known, one feels its phantasmal presence in A Portrait. Harry Levin in his
"James Joyce: A Critical Introduction" was the first to shed light on epiphany, advising
readers of Joyce to ferret out epiphanies in all of his major works, <<Listen for the single
word that tells the whole story. Look for the simple gesture that reveals a complex set of
relationship.>>229 Irene Hendry, in her seminal essay "Joyce's Epiphanies" argues that Joyce's
genius does not consist in his supposed "discovery" of epiphany, which was an idea already
rife with antecedents when Joyce wrote Stephen Hero, but rather stems from his application
of a <<systematic formulation to a common esthetic experience.>>230 Hendry detects
epiphanies scattered everywhere throughout Stephen Hero, A Portrait, and Ulysses: <<factory
boys and girls coming out to lunch; the witless laughter of an old woman; the screeching of a
mad nun; a servant singing; the salutation of a flower girl.>>231
3.2.3. The "Vulgar" Epiphany
Joycean, Robert Scholes warns against this sort of "epiphany-hunting."232 For Scholes,
Joyce's recorded epiphanies, those included in his mature works, become mere
"incident[s]"233 when contextualized within the world of the over-arching narrative and what
survives of Stephen's definition in the process of transplantation is merely the aspect of
<<vulgarity of gesture.>> As such the epiphany is no longer a spiritual moment but, <<a
piece of prose, subject to criticism like any other.>>234 To support his thesis that Joyce
repudiated the epiphany theory, Scholes cites one of Stephen's diary entries at the end of A
Portrait in which he criticizes the epiphanic entry preceding it as <<vague words for a vague
emotion.>>235 His dismissal of the entry on the grounds of its vagueness would then seem to
indicate a more mature artistic sensibility on Stephen's part, one that is alive to its limitations
and understands the necessity of not merely apprehending a momentary vision but also
fashioning it into something artistic. Scholes equates this new turn of mind, this epiphany of
Harry Levin, James Joyce: A Critical Introduction, New Directions Publishing, New York, 1960, p. 29.
Irene Hendry, Joyce's Epiphanies, <<The Sewanee Review>>, LIV, 1946, p. 451.
Ivi, p. 453.
Robert Scholes, Joyce and the Epiphany: The Key to the Labyrinth?, <<The Sewanee Review>>, LXXII,
1964, p. 66.
Ivi, p. 75.
Ivi, p. 76.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 214.
the uselessness of epiphanies, as evidence of Stephen's having <<worked himself free of
Platonic idealism.>>236
In the wake of this attempted demolition of epiphany, Florence Walzl exerted efforts to
reinstate epiphany's supremacy in Joyce scholarship by expanding the concept to encompass
the entire symbolic edifice of Dubliners. The collection had long since been considered by
scholars such as William York Tindall <<a great epiphany and the container of little
epiphanies, an epiphany of epiphanies.>>237 By determining the relevance of the original
religious significance of epiphany in Joyce's work, Walzl addressed what so many Joyce
scholars had only mentioned in passing. "Epiphany" comes from the Greek word for
"appearance" or "manifestation."238 During the early Christian era, "epiphaneia" evolved to
mean a, <<visible manifestation of a hidden divinity either in the form of a personal
appearance, or by some deed or power by which its presence is made known.>>239 Epiphany
is also used to refer to the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January which is associated with the
star that guided the Magi to the newborn Christ. Walzl says that Joyce borrowed the symbolic
meanings constitutive of the epiphany cycle in preparing the structure of "Dubliners." In
addition to an array of symbols, each season brings with it certain motifs and colors. Most
importantly, the cycle was, in the middle ages, not simply ceremonial but also a <<universal
time scheme>> which paralleled the <<career of Christ.>>240 Walzl combats Scholes by
maintaining that Joyce not only used the religious concept of <<epiphany>> as a supporting
framework for Dubliners but also adopted the concept as a <<mode of characterization>> in
his <<narrative technique.>>241 The life cycle of "Dubliners" in its three stages of childhood,
adolescence, and maturity is, therefore, an allegorical representation of the epiphanic seasons
and, in that vein, an allegory for the life of Christ. Liturgical epiphany is at the heart of
Joyce's masterpiece and a significant clue to an understanding of "Dubliners" as it relates to
his grander vision.
But if, on the other hand, Scholes's theory is accurate, the vulgarization of epiphany still
does not reduce the concept to naught. Joyce's aim to depict life <<as we see it before our
R. Scholes, op. cit., p. 70.
William York Tindall, A Reader's Guide to James Joyce, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1995, p. 11.
Florence Walzl, The Liturgy of the Epiphany Season and the Epiphanies of Joyce, <<PMLA>>, LXXX,
1965, p. 436.
F. Walz, op. cit., p. 437.
Ivi, p. 438.
eyes>> involved a careful domestication of the transcendent. Like Dante, he wished to lay
bare seemingly inaccessible truths to the extent that they could be made to speak to the
senses. But an affirmation of the importance of epiphany in Joyce's work begs the question of
whether or not the experience is vouchsafed to the artist alone. Is the recognition of an
object's ultimate claritas equivalent to the process of transmogrifying the object into a work
of art and, consequentially, an epiphany or is the experience of a completed epiphany
available to any mortal regardless of their artistic capacities? Stephen claims that it falls upon
the <<man of letters>> to record these experiences. In that respect, it would seem that the
experience of epiphany can only be properly identified by someone endowed with the ability
to give shape to it. However, none of the men and women of the Dubliners possess Stephen's
Thomistic credentials. If the boy in "The Sisters" and Eveline and Mr Duffy do, in fact,
experience epiphanies then it is no use distinguishing between the "real" epiphany of the artist
and the "false" epiphany of the non-artist. <<There is a touch of the artist about old
Bloom>>242 says Lenehan of Leopold and the same observation easily applies to any of
Joyce's characters. For an artist to exist <<within or behind or beyond or above>>243 their art
is, for Joyce, to word the unuttered, the mediating presence of the artist being just that, a
mediating presence. But so long as Stephen is not able to produce art he is no more an artist
than Little Chandler is an artist; nor does Gabriel Conroy's declaration to himself that he is
<<an artist>> and that his words are not, therefore, <<hollow and meaningless>> make him
artist.244 But does Joyce, undoubtedly an artist, by repurposing his epiphanies give them a
greater validity? He does not seem to offer any unequivocal response to this question. Zack
Bowen writes
Stephen tries to rationalize and comprehend the relationship of truth to beauty in
his aesthetic theory. In doing so, he attempts to describe the substance of his
epiphany process and place it in the perspective of the integrity and truth of his
own revelations.245
The <<integrity and truth of>> Stephen's or anyone's <<revelations>> is the claritas of an
object. What pours forth from the epiphany is claritas and claritas should be understood as
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 225.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 171.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 99.
Zack Bowen, Joyce and the Epiphany Concept: A New Approach, <<Journal of Modern Literature>>, IX,
1981 - 1982, p. 110.
being one with truth. Bowen proffers as an example Stephen's poetic alteration near the end
of A Portrait of his vision of a girl on a beach. This anonymous figure is transformed into a
bird-girl whose appearance betokens Stephen's migratory destiny, that is, his flight from
Dublin and into exile. A parody of the scene occurs in Ulysses when the sight of Gerty
McDowell on the beach sexually arouses Bloom. The inspired banality and occasional
boorishness of Bloom's internal monologue lack the high-flown poetry of Stephen's musings,
but in a sense the very commonness of his thoughts gives them an accuracy unknown to
Stephen's conception of truth. The "truth" of Stephen's epiphanies is often more beautiful than
it is "true" while the beauty of Bloom's mundane observations is often truer than it is
beautiful. The exact equation is never achieved. Time and time again Joyce's characters
experience epiphanies that do not result in any sort of fruitful reevaluation of their lives.246 In
Dubliners, the majority of his characters will continue their lives of paralysis, indifferent to
their epiphanies. Epiphanies seem
to represent some ultimate truth residing in the subconscious, but in reality they
have little more validity than the original experiences from which they stem, or, for
that matter, the recognitions of other epiphany holders in Joyce's work [...]247
The validity of epiphanies is not, therefore, in Bowen's mind, commensurate with the
advisability or the practicability of the lessons enclosed therewith, nor is the beauty of the
ideal generated by the experience a reliable signal the ideal's truthfulness. But the epiphany
cannot, in those respects, be called "invalid" nor "useless." The "use" of epiphany, as Joyce
learns after having evolved beyond his "Stephen Hero" persona, is its capacity to allow the
author to enter into communion with others, or in other words, to be initiated into a human
community. What the artist provides by unraveling epiphanies is an image of humankind as it
is, not as it should be. The epiphany is, therefore, public property, but Stephen is not wholly
misguided when he says it is for the <<man of letters>> to interpret it. The poet is charged
with this task not because the poet sees what others do not, but because they are willing to say
that they see it, and spend quite a lot of time putting pen to paper in order that others might
acknowledge these visions themselves. This generative experience is, for Stephen, in essence,
vulgar. Does he intend with this word "vulgar" to cleanse himself of the polluting influence
engendered by the raw and formless material of immediate reality? Or does he mean to say
Z. Bowen, op. cit., p. 109 - 110.
Ivi., p. 113.
that the epiphany, is, at its core, vulgar even after it has been given form? At an earlier time in
his life Joyce might have adhered to the former viewpoint, but it is clear from Dubliners that,
Joyce the exile grew fonder of the latter viewpoint. The "vulgarity" of a vision does not take
away from its sublimity, but rather gives it greater meaning. The vulgarity in Dubliners is not
-- or not always -- the grotesque or malformed, but rather the language spoken by everyday
people and, on a larger scale, the language of everyday life itself.
3.2.4. Revelation, The Vernacular, Sermo Umilis/Sermo Sublimis
This is Dante's "volgare," the vernacular, the idiom of the streets, the language with which
one can communicate ideas, even the most esoteric, in accordance with common
understanding. "Divulgazione," dervied from the word "volgare" is the process by which
knowledge is translated into the vernacular. In his essay, "Dante and the Poetics of Religious
Revelation," William Franke argues that the most revolutionary aspect of Dante's approach to
history and knowledge, that which Dante calls scientia, is his ethical impulse to share this
knowledge with the world -- the world being for him all the souls of Christendom.248 Franke
Dante took upon himself the task of vulgarizing clerical knowledge and so of
placing the nourishment of a divine scientia as well as of human wisdom,
theretofore reserved largely for sterile fruition by the few learned in a dead
language, on tables for general cultural consumption by all whose natural desire to
know survived uncorrupted.249
And so it was urgent that he spoke to as many people as he could about as many things as
he could in the most accessible way possible. To comprehend the urgency that impelled
Dante to write his poetry in the vernacular, one must know something about his interpretation
of history. In Dante's medieval mind, <<truth is time-trascendent>> and governed by a
theologically determined sense of history.250 To borrow a hackneyed turn of phrase, time is
<<history in the making.>> Divine truths, presaged by scripture and revealed through
symbols apprehensible by our sensible intuition, are born out by historical events themselves.
To whom is knowledge and/or truth of these events granted -- the historian, the prophet, or
William Franke, Dante and the Poetics of Religious Revelation, <<symplokē>>, II, 1994, pp. 103 - 116.
Ivi, p. 109.
Ivi, p. 104.
the <<man of letters>>? In Dante are all three of these titles are combined. Dante's
<<prophetic spirit>> captures the coming into being of an event while it is in his capacity as
historian that he is able to "read" the meaning of the event. However, only by means of his
poetic license is he permitted to make his reading "readable" at a mass level. The "legible"
form of history can only be disclosed to one who satisfies the qualifications of historian,
prophet, and poet. But, above all, he must also have a self-sufficient faith, perfect in and of
itself, which cannot be contingent on the historical, the prophetic, nor the poetic. Only then
will God reveal himself in his inexhaustible wholeness. Without faith, all that is revealed to
the poet amounts to an exact replication -- in historical time -- of scripture's truths, but not the
Word of God, the logos, which reveals itself not through predictable self-fulfilling patterns
but through the contingency of events themselves. The Commedia is the epic in which
prophecy, history, and contingency are reconciled. Cacciaguida's prophecy in Paradiso 17
tersely summarizes the exceptional visionary essence of Dante's prophetic gift:
Così vedi le cose contingenti
anzi che sieno in sé, mirando il punto
a cui tutti li tempi son presenti251
In simple, unadorned language, Cacciaguida emphasizes contingency's centrality to
revelation, time dissolving into a single point and the ineffable meaning of history revealing
itself all at once. And yet the importance of the revelation lies not in the prerogative of the
receiver to receive it but in the ability of the receiver to transmit it. It is in the act of
transmission, or better yet, divulgazione that the revelation gains its true meaning and,
effectively brings into being the Word of God. The knowledge transmitted therein is not a
fixed and stable body of axiomatic information, but a persistently mutable echo of divinity
itself. Thus Dante reveals the essential instability of knowledge. <<For a historical being to
judge that anything is thus and so is to overstep what can be strictly warranted on the basis of
its own epistemic condition as constantly in flux.>>252
Unlike the fossilized grammar of ecclesiastical Latin, the vernacular is always in flux,
meaning it is always evolving to adapt itself to the needs of an ever-changing world. For the
cloistered scholar, the vulgar is what Eric Auerbach calls the sermo humilis253, a simplified
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 441.
W. Franke, op. cit., p. 111.
Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Edward Said, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 1953, p. 72.
mode of expression used to address the illiterate commoner, a style recalling Joyce's
technique of <<scrupulous meanness>> with which he wrote the "Dubliners."
Opposed to sermo umilis is sermo sublimis254, that is, a heavily rhetorical form of elevated
speech used in tragedies and appropriate to the portrayal of great men and great deeds. As
Dante ascends from the deeps of hell into the spheres of heaven, sermo umilis gives way
tonally to sermo sublimis as the ignoble slang laden argot of the lower-level sinners
transitions into the highly Latinate language of theological revelation. However, the language
remains, despite its Latin bent, the vulgar and as such it remains, in essence, sermo umilis.
Dante's break from antiquity is thus effected through the fusion of sermo umilis with sermo
sublimis. Put simply, by writing in the vernacular he makes a clear statement that no Christian
is precluded from joining in the banquet of knowledge, that feast in which all souls feed of
the <<pan de li angeli>>.255 Of course Dante is not the first to bring the two forms into
conjunction. St. Augustine writes about the initial perplexity he experienced upon being
exposed to the simplicity and baldness of Biblical language. Auerbach comments on
Augustine's first impression of the sacred scriptures, <<non aveva ancora capito, egli dice,
che la loro apparenza esteriore era umile, ma il loro contenuto era sublime e velato di
misteri.>>256 After living with the text for some time, Augustine begins to find his way
among the arcane meanings hidden behind the veil of so much plainness of speech:
Perciò, al fine di purificare la mente umana di questa sorta di falsità, la Sacra
Scrittura che si adatta alla mentalità di bambini, non ha evitato tutte le parole da
ogni categoria di oggetti reali attraverso le quali, come per nutrimento, il nostro
intelletto possa ascendere gradualmente alle cose divine e trascendenti.257
He goes on to raise issue with the pompous rhetorical style that hides its meanings <<sotto
il velo dei misteri>> and <<neppure allora ha l'aria di che possa allontanare le menti un po'
tardi e rozze come alle volte il povero non osa avvicinarsi al ricco.>>258 With this distinction
between the high and low style in mind, Auerbach makes the claim that Augustine's writing
advances the development of "realism" combining as it does two styles such that it might
articulate the relationship between the sacred and the profane which lies at the heart of the
E. Auerbach, op. cit., p. 151.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 34.
Erich Auerbach, Sacrae Scripturae Sermo Umilis in Studi su Dante, trans. Maria Luisa De Pieri Bonino and
Dante Della Terza, Feltrinelli, Milan, 2005, p. 170.
Ibid. .
E. Auerbach, trans. M.L.D.P. Bonino and D.D. Terza, op. cit., p. 171.
Christian message. He cites one Augustinian image in particular, found in his Sermons as the
most exquisite symbol of this leveling of styles: <<[la] fiamma che scaturisce da un bicchiere
d'acqua fresca.>>259 In this image, an everyday object taking on extraordinary properties
recapitulates the grandeur and degradation of the crucifixion. The artist who will bring this
genre of image -- i.e. one born of the coupling of the earthly and the divine in a language both
authoritative and austere not despite but because of its "vulgarity" -- to its stylistic apex is, of
course, Dante. In the 8th chapter of Auerbach's Mimesis, he describes Dante's revolutionary
virtuosity of style saying, <<the themes which the Comedy introduces represent a mixture of
sublimity and triviality which, measured by the standards of antiquity is monstrous.>>260 This
mixture of styles is reminiscent of the language of The Bible, a text which was also
considered solecistic when <<measured by the standards of antiquity.>> To the degree that
the style of the Commedia is in keeping with the Biblical tradition of commingling registers,
the achievement of such an expressive modality can be understood as the vehicle of
revelation itself.
To support his authority as theologico-historico-prophet-poet Dante had the entire
suprastructure of scholasticism behind him, its Aristotelian classifications and encyclopedic
approximations of absolute ideals demarcating out an apposite space for his personal
revelation. The clocklike machinery of Dante's cosmic teleology may not be exactly what
Joyce had in mind when he has Stephen refer to his <<spiritual-heroic refrigerating
apparatus>> but that the elusive locution lends itself to such a reading is unquestionable.
Through an allegorical-aesthetic conversion process Dante is able to turn his personal,
ineluctable revelation into its rationalized symbolic counterpart and make it available for
mass consumption. Stephen would like to get the machine to do the same for his epiphanies,
but his knowledge of Dante and scholasticism is not enough to form his world anew such that
it might properly dignify his visions. Whereas Dante was able to create a perfect alignment
between his symbolic personages and the scriptural topoi ubiquitous in the medieval psyche,
Stephen is unable to achieve such a symmetry between the form of his mind and the structure
of the world surrounding him. Thus, he and his epiphanies remain in a state of suspended
animation, the meanings of these epiphanies never quite disclosing themselves.
Ivi, op. cit., 175.
Id. p. 184.
3.2.5 Ingegno and Epiphany
Stephen is always wrestling with the raw material of his epiphanies as he attempts to give
life to an image that might rival the unassuming sublimity of Augustine's flaming cup. After
expounding upon his three artistic criteria, Stephen touches upon some of the questions which
he has been asking himself in his attempts to apply his theory:
"Is a chair finely made tragic or comic? [...] If a man hacking in fury at a block of wood
[...] make there an image of a cow, is that image a work of art? If not, why not?"261
Stephen is that man comically <<hacking in fury at a block of wood>>. The question of
whether the finely made chair, a reference to the quintessential example of the Platonic form,
is tragic or comic, on the other hand, concerns what register of language, sublimis or humilis,
is most suitable to describe that object or, any banal object, such that it might become
epiphanic. The particular and the universal -- an earlier chapter of A Portrait shows Stephen
trying to relate himself as a particular to the universal writ large; now, having rejected the
calling of the priesthood and fully devoted to reinventing himself as an artist, Stephen
exercises himself to find the universal (the Platonic cow form) in the particular (the block of
wood). Epiphany, in Stephen Hero, is the liminal space between the two. In A Portrait it is
the enythmeme, or the unstated premise, of the syllogism by which the transformation is
accomplished. Stephen is working backwards, trying to wrest the divine from the banal
without any expectation that the divine might of its of its own volition impress itself upon
him extraneously. Is it his lack of faith or the simply fact of being born in the wrong era that
prevents Stephen from receiving one grand revelation of the Dantean variety and instead
having to make due with so many atomized "mini-revelations" of his own minting? These
mini-revelations seem to be leading him nowhere, but his artistic strategy, in contrast, is
something of work of art in its own right.
Previously, the topic of "ingegno" was introduced. Ingegno, as we discovered, corresponds
to Stephen's "cunning." It is that faculty which apprehends the three stages of artistic
objectification and then polishes the resultant object. It is the tool <<hacking in fury at the
block of wood.>> Mario Trovato's description of the cogitative procedure of ingegno, a
concept whose origins are Aristotelian and whose scholastic connotations were defined by
John of Salisbury in the Metalogicon, has resonances with Stephen's description of artistic
J. Joyce, op. cit, p. 251.
apprehension. Ingegno, as discussed earlier, is for Dante, the intuitive ability to excise a
specific object from the sensuous welter of empirical perception.262 The designated object of
ingegno is then <<the sensato, or a concrete object perceived by the external organs.>>263
Once the ingegno isolates its object, it <<abstracts the inorganic or insensata image, which is
an intelligible, though, particular sign of knowledge from which the agent draws the idea or
the universal form.>>264
All human beings are born with a certain measure of ingegno which, generically
understood, is the faculty which stocks the minds with the archetypal images necessary to the
identification of everyday objects. John of Salisbury investigates another sort of ingegno, that
which has as its object ars, art. An ars-oriented Ingegno, in its widest range of application, is
<< a gift given to man to help him start the gnoseological process leading to art, the supreme
expression of human activity. >>265
The employment of ingegno to this end is what gives an artist the proper discernment that
allows them to decide what is and what is not an object suitable for artistic transmutation. The
arena within which these valuations take place is delimited by ratio, divine reason.266 In
Paradiso 4, the activation of the ingegno is central to Dante's query concerning the reasoning
behind the assignment of the souls in heaven to their respective spheres:
Qui si mostraro, non perché sortita
sia questa spera lor, ma per far segno
de la celestial c'ha men salita.
Così parlar conviensi al vostro ingegno,
però che solo da sensato apprende
ciò che fa poscia d'intelletto degno
Per questo la scrittura condescende
a vostra facultate, e piedi e mano
attribuisce a Dio e altro intende267
M. Trovato, op. cit., pp. 258 - 266.
M. Trovato, op. cit., p. 259.
D. Alighieri, trans. trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 87.
Ingegno extracts the material which furnishes itself as the clay to be shaped by intellection.
It is also tantamount to the activity of intellection. The most refined ingegno when directed, in
compliance with ratio towards the highest substance, God, can produce, in effect, the most
exquisite of revelations. This image is always imperfect, but only because the faculty of
human cognition is imperfect. Biblical language, the sort of plainly succinct yet often
enigmatic phraseology that so baffled Augustine, is the most potent form of language to
which ingegno can give to the eternal principles of God's law. The aesthetic dictates
segregating sermo humilis from sermo sublimis are thus disregarded in favor of a higher order
of expression.
However, when misapplied ingegno can also lead to perdition. This is cupido ingegno that
sort of self-interested thirst for knowledge which led to Ulysses’s shipwrecked ruin at the foot
of Mt. Purgatory as described in Inferno 26. It is cupid ingegno which causes Elisha to
attempt to see an object disproportionate to the powers of his visual faculty:
E qual colui che si vengiò con li orsi
vide 'l carro di Elia al dipartire,
quando i cavalli al cielo erti levorsi,
che nol potea sì con gli occhi seguire,
ch'el vedesse altro che la fiamma sola
sì come nuvoletta, in sù salire
This thwarted ascent to heaven recalls another attempt by another abuser of ingegno to
reach a point beyond his limits. Icarus meets a fate similar to Dante's Ulysses when he flies
too close to the sun. The father of Icarus and the inventor of his wings is, of course, Daedalus
to whom Stephen owes his surname. The last line of A Portrait is an invocation to the great
artificer who, in contrast to his son whose romantic impulsivity and distaste for convention
more closely resembles Stephen's personaltiy, represents the skilled and painstaking
craftsman who Stephen aspires to become. Stephen's thirst for knowledge, in the end, brings
him to the brink of self-destruction and at the beginning of Ulysses he finds himself to be a
fallen Icarus rather than an accomplished Daedalus. In the Telemachus episode of Ulysses the
reader encounters a Stephen whose brooding thoughts crucially separate him from the
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 478.
incipient artist eager to encounter <<the reality of [his] experience.>> He is submerged in a
world of infernal vagaries, the incessantly metamorphosing shadows of his aborted artistic
ambitions. James Robinson writes
the nesting of his thought within a poetics of futility and stasis suggests that, just as
with his 'silence' and 'exile,' his 'cunning' or 'ingegno' -- the final tool in his
Dantean inventory -- has been blunted.269
And though his ingegno still spurs him to believe <<signatures of all things I am here to
read>>270 it has no material upon which it can productively work itself. His failed attempt at
self-realization, the clearly reflected self-portrait of the artist which he had believed exile
would grant him, has brought him to a point where he habitually fashions and re-fashions his
own image without any tangible artistic result, the spiritual-heroic refrigerating apparatus
having left him high and dry. He scoffs at his
epiphanies written on green oval leaves, deeply deep, copies to be sent if you died
to all the great libraries of the world, including Alexandria? Someone was to read
them there after a few thousand years, a mahamanvantara. Pico della Mirandola
like. Ay, very like a whale.271
The same tone with which he dismissed the <<vague words>> of his diary entry at the end
of A Portrait is, in the Sandymount Strain monologue of Ulysses's first chapter exploited to
great effect. This is Joyce's first grand experiment in the "stream of consciousness" technique
and, in another sense, the climatic consummation of epiphany itself: an epiphany of the
uselessness of epiphany. Stephen observes, <<seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that
rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs>>272 images of his shattered dreams'
detritus. Epiphanies, those which were meant to have saved him, have not only misled him
but have also brought him to a state of utter inanition. In a similar sense, the wings of his
cunning. those wings which were meant to have blessed him with flight, are now the
"blunted" instrument of an ingegno feeding upon itself like an uroboros.
J. Robinson, op. cit., p. 108.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 37.
Ivi, p. 41.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 37.
3.2.6. Stephen, the Dubliner
Indeed Joyce said to Frank Budgen of his youthful alter-ego, <<[he] no longer interests me
to the same extent. He has a shape that can't be changed.>>273 His opprobrium for all things
Irish and the reproachable aloofness of his behavior have caused him to suffer the enervation
of the unsung poet. And so Joyce subjects him to the only contrapasso suitable for such a sin:
an endless wander through his mind's labyrinth. A truncated version of his story, as it is
contained in Stephen Hero, A Portrait of the Artist, and Ulysses might envisage Stephen a
category of Dubliner not unlike the ineffectual Little Chandler of "A Little Cloud." Surely, he
would be a vastly more educated sort of failure than Little Chandler, but he would be no less
a Dubliner on that account.
Stephen, who had once yearned to fly beyond the nets cast upon his soul, now finds that
the net restricting him is not simply the handiwork of his tre fiere: <<nationality, language,
and religion.>>274 Instead, his imprisonment in Dublin or (psychological enthrallment to
Dublin) is as self-imposed as was Joyce's exile. He realizes that he is not trapped in a net, but
a Daedalean labyrinth. "Dubliner" can, therefore, be interpreted as more than a mere
demonym; it is a condition, a category, and an assigned fate. The baroque artistry with which
Stephen has crafted his own demise makes him appear all the more ridiculous than those
other Dubliners who mostly meet their doom blindly. Epiphany is, for most Dubliners, a brief
glimpse into the reality of their condition, but for a young man as keenly perceptive as
Stephen, his epiphany must be more a mere glimpse. And so Joyce, playing Dante, has
assigned Stephen to a certain malebolgia, one of his own making. His sin is the sin of literary
simony, <<falsity of purpose>> a form of fraud by means of which one sins, not against God,
but against oneself. Stephen is a simoniac because he has devoted his given gift of linguistic
imagination to the invention of a persona, or moreover, to the self-deification of his ego at the
expense of his compatriots. In A Portrait, he fears <<the hawklike man whose name he
bore>> and in the same sentence likens him to <<Thoth, the god of writers, writing with a
reed upon a tablet and bearing his narrow ibis head to the cusped moon.>>275 Years hence he
will invoke the same God's name in the midst of the agonized thoughts which intersperse the
dialogue in Scylla and Charybdis's Hamlet symposium, <<Coffined thoughts around me, in
F. Budgen, op. cit., p. 105.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 171.
Ivi, p. 190.
mummycases, embalmed in spice of words. Thoth, god of libraries, a birdgod,
moonycrowned.>>276 Now Thoth appears not as a harbinger of flight, but as an inhabitant of
the necropolitan library where Dublin's intelligentsia pontificate aimlessly in the fashion of
the magnanimous pagans wandering the grounds of limbo. The mention of <<coffined
thoughts>> and <<mummycases>> also calls to mind the city of Dis the inner circle of which
houses heretics and epicureans.277 It is in this city that the proud Farinata degli Uberti and the
rueful Cavalcante de Cavalcanti rise from flaming coffins to address Dante. The pride of
Farinata who, upon realizing he has been noticed, stands erect with his chest out, <<com'
avesse l'inferno a gran dispitto>>278 is reflected in Stephen's bumptious disdain for Dublin's
hemiplegia, a condition from which he also suffers. That Stephen's disenchantment with
himself has not robbed him of his innate pride is testified by his response to an overheard
insult made at the expense of his dying mother by his rival and housemate Buck Mulligan:
Stephen, shielding the gaping wounds which the words had left in his heart, said very coldly:
—I am not thinking of the offence to my mother.
—Of what then? Buck Mulligan asked.
—Of the offence to me, Stephen answered.279
During the conversation in the Scylla and Charybdis, his thoughts are peppered with
mentions of <<a horde of heresies>> and the <<African heresiarch Sibellius>>.280 Thus
Stephen's pride is the pride of the heresiarch and not long after reproaching Mulligan for the
narcissistic wound his words left, he celebrates himself as an <<Illstarred heresiarch>>.281
Throughout Ulysses, the reader observes Stephen occupying a number of different infernal
tableaus. The endless re-fashioning of his self-image is always performed against the
backdrop of a recurrent hellscape, the musical progression animating it culminating in the
psychedelic turmoil in Nighttown. Stephen's in the midst of these hellish images is not the
sudden stroke of awareness that occurs in so many of the Dubliners, but rather a long, drawnout, and possibly endless process of raveling and unraveling and <<so does the artist weave
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 186.
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 186.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 8.
Ivi, p. 199.
and unweave his image.>>282 Auerbach, referring to Farinata and Cavalcante in the context of
Dante's categorical hierarchy of sin might as well be talking about Stephen when he says,
<<we behold an intensified image of the essence of their being, fixed for all eternity in
gigantic dimensions.>>283 This is the moment of epiphany, the moment in which an action or
lack of action condemns an individual to live out their unique essence. Auerbach calls this,
<<a specific eternal situation>> which is <<fixed it in [God's] eternal judgement.>>284 Like
the virtuous pagans of Limbo, Stephen seems forever condemned to idle, enervated and
3.2.7. Stephen's Contrapasso
The scheme with which Dante metes out punishment involves a highly complex synthesis
of classical and Christian readings. In simple terms, Dante's concept of contrapasso, a
compound word derived from the Latin terms "contra" and "patior" which combined mean
<<to suffer the opposite>> is equivalent to the punishment fitting the crime.285 The
punishments of the Inferno are, thus, illustrative. The sorcerers, astrologers, and false prophets
of Inferno 20 have their heads twisted in the opposite direction of their bodies' movement,
causing them to walk backward; the avari and prodighi of the seventh circle battle with
boulders as the former attempts to get rid of their boulder and the latter attempt to hold onto it;
the sinners in the lake of the murderers are condemned to swim in depths of the blood they
shed on earth. In Joyce's Dubliners, many of the characters' fates are a form of contrapasso as
well. Eveline, at the end of her eponymous story, balks at the moment of her departure from
Dublin, and so seals her fate as one Dublin's frozen souls. Little Chandler in "A Little Cloud"
comes to a realization of his own pusillanimity and in his wife's words of consolation towards
their crying child, he hears a confirmation of this weakness. The coin which Corley reveals to
be the acquisition effected by his guile at the end of "Two Gallants" is a symbol of his
enslavement to lucre. In text Joyce breathes life into his characters and in text he consigns
them to a fate of eternal suspension within a single moment, object, or even a word. The
<<scrupulous meanness>> with which he describes these moments, the register of sermo
umilis, gives even greater emphasis to the punishments. By crystallizing his characters within
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 86.
E. Auerbach, trans. Edward Said, op. cit., p. 192.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. xxii.
the amber of these individual moments, Joyce achieves the Dantean effect, as described by
Auerbach, of having his readers <<behold [his characters] in a purity and distinctness which
could never for one moment have been possible during their lives on earth.>>286 In the case of
Dubliners, the characters still reside on earth, but it is in the static clarity of their textual
figuration that their essence shines through. Thus, the horror of contrapasso is, for Dante and
Joyce, not simply the torment of paralysis or repetition, but a response to the way each
character lives out his or her unique essence in a state of eternal paralysis or repetitive action.
Thus Dante and Joyce remove these characters from the world of contingency and place them
in a space where life does not extenuate their essence.
Stephen's essence is labyrinthine and his contrapasso, that of wandering the labyrinth of his
own genius, is more obvious than the most obvious of Dante's punishments. But now that we
have, ostensibly, determined Stephen's eternal fate, two questions arise: 1) Is Stephen, like so
many of Dante's souls, truly damned or does he have some hope of salvation? 2) By what
authority does Joyce pass judgment on the souls of his fellow Dubliners and by condemning
them does he simply mean to selfishly revenge himself upon his <<betrayers>> or is there a
higher aim to his art? The first question I intend to answer in the last chapter of this thesis, but
the moment has finally come for addressing the second question.
E. Auerbach, trans. Edward Said, op. cit., p. 26.
4. Epiclesis
4.1. Schismatic Freedom
4.1.1. "Epicleti" and "Epikaleo"
In A Portrait Stephen imagines himself to be <<a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting
the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of every-living life.>>287 Joyce himself
stated to his brother that his artistic activity was much like the Mass itself insofar as he
attempted to give an <<intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of
everyday life into something that has a permanent artistic life>>.288 The Dubliners can, in this
light, be viewed as acts of transubstantiation through which the lives of their characters are
eternalized. By reading and rereading these stories of characters whose essence is eternally
calcified in the textual representation of a single moment, the reader derives a certain spiritual
nourishment. With the description of his stories as "epicleti," a word of his own coinage, Joyce
is also trading in on the root of the word, "epikaleo" which can mean <<"invocation," "name,"
"summons," or "accusation''>>, these latter two definitions also connoting a summons before a
court.289 Joyce's Dubliners stories are both transmutations and a summoning of these
characters to stand trial before the court of humankind. What we take from an initial reading of
the stories, that is prior to detached analysis is what we read into the stories insofar as the
stories depose their characters, many of whom seem to directly address us in the confessional
style of Dante's souls. How we respond to this deposition, measuring out its tragic proportions
and, consequently, deciding just how much empathy to devote to the characters is a testament
to our own distance or proximity to the epiphanic essences of their characters. However, the
transubstantial quality of these stories consist in their capacity to push us beyond our initial
reactions of pity, revulsion, or repugnance and force ourselves to ask why these characters and
their stories have elicited these reactions in us. The active power of these stories is then their
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 260.
S. Joyce, op. cit., ed. R. Ellman, p. 104.
Alexis James Doval, Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogue: The Authorship of the Mystagogic Catecheses, The
Catholic University of America Press, Washington, 2001, p. 89.
capacity to occasion an epiphany on the part of the reader who is cast in the role of a Dantean
pilgrim surveying a gallery of lived moments. Just as Dante's reactions to the souls of the
afterlife vary in accordance with the extent to which the facts of his own life's story reflect or
deviate from the acts determinative of a soul's place in hell, purgatory, or heaven, the severity
of our cathartic responses to the Dubliners stories is commensurate with our own selfabsolving systems of moral reasoning, making pilgrims of all of us.
4.1.2. Epiclesis and Heresy: the Eucharist as Recollection
If the implications present in Joyce's use of the term "epicleti" ran only as deep as a strictly
allegorical interpretation of Dubliners would allow, then its appearance in his letter to his
editor, Constantine Curran might appear a mere touch of intellectual ostentation. His
predisposition to bombast notwithstanding, Joyce coined "epicleti" with a higher aim in mind,
one that will further develop the analogue he sought to establish between his life and work and
the life and work of his poetic guide. A clue to his motivation can be found in Stephen's
fascination with heresiarchs. As stated prior, Stephen's thoughts are teeming with references to
Catholic liturgy and Church history. Heresies, in particular, exercise a strange fascination for
the young poet, Arius and the <<subtle African>> Sabellius figuring foremost among his
meditations. Both Arius and Sabellius were excommunicated by the Church because of their
unique definitions of the trinity, both of which denied or redefined the concept of the
consubstantiality of the father with the son, a tantalizing proposition for Stephen who wants
nothing more than to cast off the yolk of fatherhood. Stephen's fascination with heresy speaks
to Joyce's interest in the Eastern Orthodox Mass which he attended in Trieste and which he
described to Stanislaus as <<strange.>>290 Reflecting on the experience, he wrote to his
brother, <<while I was attending the Greek mass here last Sunday, it seemed to me that my
story 'The Sisters' was rather remarkable.>>291 "The Sisters" is, of course, the opening story of
the collection, and remembrance of it in this context connects the story to the Greek rite.
The Eucharistic theme of these stories is critically intertwined with the topic of heresy. In
order to understand the reasons behind Joyce's adoption of the Greek rite of the Eucharist in
defiance of its Roman counterpart, it is essential that we grasp the crucial difference between
the two rites. Both rites reach their climactic moment in the transformation of one substance
Roy Gottfried, Joyce's Misbelief, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2008, p. 63.
into another, but it is in the act of invocation that the Eastern rite contradistinguishes itself
from the Roman rite. The doctrine of transubstantiation that Joyce had learned from the Jesuits
considered the words of the Eucharist in and of themselves as the very act of
transubstantiation. That is to say the enunciation, This is my body is not a simple statement of
the self-same identity of two substances but is in the occasion of its utterance the instantiation
of the transubstantiation itself. In the Eastern rite, the continuity of the Eucharistic process
becomes arrested by the request to the Holy Spirit to execute the transubstantiation, effectively
altering the meaning of the stages leading up to the transubstantiation. Roy Gottfried explains
the crucial difference between the two rites in "Joyce's Misbelief":
the point of the Western Orthodox claim against the East is that this invocation by
the epiclesis has the effect of diminishing the Institution itself into a description of
the Last Supper rather than a transformative and ongoing moment in and of
The epiclesis is one of the most conspicuous fault lines defining the schism between the
two orthodox traditions. What is at stake is the ontological significance of the Eucharist itself.
<<An epiclesis is schismatic because, from the Catholic point of view in the liturgy of the
Mass, it is a narrative of a previous event rather than the event itself.>>293 By recasting
elements familiar to Joyce as principle facets of Catholic liturgy in a primarily narrative role,
epiclesis appeared to offer abundant possibilities for mimetically metamorphosing religion into
art. Taken to its extreme, the epiclesis is a "representation" a "similitude," or a "metaphor."294
The language of the epiclesis is that of recollection, or the reenactment of an event. Joyce
plumbed the depths of the recollective interpretation of the Last Supper by finding its thematic
furtherance in another schismatic tradition, the Anglican Mass. In this tradition, as described in
the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the grammatical tenses used in the account of the Last
Supper interact in order to describe <<events that take place in a past of two time frames.>>295
His discovery of a vernacular exemplification of a "historical-" or "narrative-" based
conception of the liturgy, therefore, abeted his rupture with the Catholic Church and serves as
a springboard for Joyce's experiments with nested time frames in Dubliners. Whereas the act
of breaking bread and giving it is described with the gerund in both the Latin and Greek
Ivi, p. 67.
R. Gottfried, op. cit., p. 70.
liturgies, in the Anglican tradition an interplay of the simple past and the past perfect disrupt
the simultaneity of past and present. Gottfried writes:
the stories of Dubliners are similarly narrated as events taking place in two pasts in
regression, with the narrative occurring in the immediate past of the narrator and
the memory of a more distant past in which the actions performed took place in the
past perfect before being narrated in the simple past of the narrator in the act of
"The Sisters" is, for example, narrated through the lens of this dual perspective. The
mystery-ridden quality of the narrator's memories (replete with strange terms such as
"gnomon," "simony," "Rosicrucian," "feints," and "worms" and the malapropism <<rheumatic
wheels>>297) is a consequence of the partial occlusion caused by the gap in time frames. The
potential for misremembering, projecting into the past, or complete confabulation on the part
of the narrator thus creates a dissolving perspective that allows for multiple readings of the
same stories. This is the nature of Joyce's epicleti, the process by which he suffuses his stories
with an air of mystery by creating a certain discordance between time frames. The boy's
repeated visits to the window of Father Flynn's house is described with the pluperfect, <<I had
passed...I had found.>>298 He also makes use of the conditional past perfect: <<if he was dead,
I would see.>>299 These tenses contribute to creating the effect of a representation within a
representation, that is the same effect which the pluperfect achieves at the end of "An
Encounter" when the narrator says <<I had always despised him a little>> in reference to his
childhood friend Mahoney.300 Even in "The Dead," the intrusion of Gretta's deceased admirer's
memory into the story symbolizes a summoning from the past. Uncanny in tone, these stories
mean to draw forth the unfamiliar from the commonplace and reclaim the rites of religion for
an art that aims to revive the mystery lying at the center of everyday visions.
A similar form of nesting time-frames occurs in many Cantos of the Commedia in which
the souls of the departed recount pivotal moments of their earthly lives. The Commedia itself
is a recollection and its Cantos are, in turn, containers of recollections. Characters like Farinata
degli Uberti, Francesca da Rimini, Pier della Vigna, the troubadour Sordello, and St.
R. Gottfried, op. cit., p. 77.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 1- 8.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 14.
Bonaventure are all summoned to give an account on their own lives and/or the lives of others.
In the case of a Pier della Vigna, the biographical anecdote is colored by his own self-pity,
causing the reader to feel that perhaps they are not receiving the "whole story." The souls of
the Inferno often reveal the nature of their abominable vices in the way they attempt to justify
their conduct on earth to one who might relay the stories to the living. The way they tell their
story is a symptom of their very sin.
4.1.3. The Anagogical Interpretation of the Commedia
We have already established that the characters encountered by the pilgrim have met their
fates at a certain moment along the unfolding path of an elaborated characteristic essence.
How they choose to present themselves to Dante through testimony of their deeds and/or
misdeeds is, therefore, the clearest expression of their singular essence and the justification for
their designated place in the afterlife. The matter of interpretation, of interpreting Dante's souls
own, at times, disingenuous interpretation of their earthy lives is vital to the comprehension of
the Commedia as a whole. The highly protean language itself -- densely thicketed with purple
verbiage in the case of Pier della Vigna's address to Dante, slang-larded in the circle of the
panderers and flatterers, refreshingly candid in the heaven of the crusaders of the faith-- can
often feel like an obstacle to unveiling the meaning behind the carefully constructed
metaphysical atmosphere which works to sensuously vivify the Dantean afterlife. The air of
mysterious ambiguity that Joyce sought to generate in his stories, by means of a heretically
inspired artistic technique, is everywhere apparent in Dante's hell where nothing appears to be
quite what it is. In an effort to remedy the confusion surrounding his great work, Dante, in his
famous, and possibly apocryphal, letter to Cangrande della Scala, refers to four different levels
of interpretation necessary to the comprehension of his "poema sacro": the literal, the
allegorical, the moral, and the anagogical.301 The literal simply refers to the superficial
apprehension of an image as nothing more than its description, the allegorical interpretation
looks to the higher principles for which a symbol stands, the moral interpretation finds the
ethical meaning behind the symbol, and the anagogical refers to the final mystical meaning of
the symbol. Every symbol in the Commedia can be subjected to this four-fold heuristic. In
John Saly, Dante's Paradiso: The Flowering of the Self, Pace University Press, New York, 1989, p. 11.
"Dante's Paradiso: The Flowering of the Self," John Saly applies this interpretive grid to the
three beasts encountered by Dante at the beginning of the poem:
In the literal story these animals are simply what they seem to be, wild beasts[...]in
the social-political allegory[...]they are emblems of the Florentine city-state, the
Kingdo of France, and the worldly power of the Papacy[...]in the moral allegory
they represent the habitual vices of lust, anger, and greed[...]in the anagogical
interpretation we seem them in permanent states of mind and soul, such as selfwill, pride, and fear[...]302
It is the final anagogical interpretation which most concerns our exploration of Joyce's
artistic strategy. All four levels of interpretation are integral to an understanding of the
Commedia, but this last level is the most important. Dante's four-fold method is not an
invention of his own and in his time was well-known in the realm of Biblical exegesis. By
promoting the method, he is implicitly authenticating the divine provenance of his
masterwork. The word "anagogical" comes from anagoge meaning an upward movement, the
entire trajectory of the Commedia being an ascending movement culminating in Dante's faceto-face encounter with God Himself; every phase of his journey can thus be understood
metonymically as an aspect of that final image.303 The anagogical is the most important level
because it deals with direct revelation. It is the most general interpretative mode and the one
that views Dante not as the political exile nor the Dolce Stil Novo poet, but the homo viator, a
peregrine everyman confronting eternal human realities. The foreign Medieval elements of the
poem which can be alienating to the modern reader are forgotten in this interpretation. The
anagogical Dante belongs to no particular time period. The truths his poetry actualizes are
constants of the human spirit. Anagoge is the Word of God revealing itself in historical time.
Interpreted anagogically, Dante's personal revelation is, thus, our revelation. At this point
<<there is no more Dante or reader, there is only us, this common essence.>>304 Dante and the
reader are mutually transubstantiated.
The anagogical interpretation closes the circle of the four-fold method by directing the
reader's focus to an immediate experience. The immediately general truths of anagogical
revelation are, in a sense, as immediate as the surface reality of the literal interpretation.
J. Saly, op. cit., p. 19.
Ivi, p. 21.
Ivi, p. 22.
Dante's guides and the characters themselves make their own attempts at interpreting the
allegory of their lives or the lives of others and in doing so engage in the process of
interpretation which commonly takes place outside the text. By nesting narrative within
narrative (e.g. the story of Lancelot qua catalyst of Paolo and Francesca's fatal kiss), tenses
within tenses, and styles within styles, Dante creates a centrifugal (or depending on the
direction in which one chooses to read the Commedia, centripetal) movement of interpretation
which is perpetual. If the meaning of a symbol is unclear at first blush, further interpretation
fleshes out that meaning, not in a directly linear manner, but rather to the degree that we
recognize the concerns of Dante's characters, be they damned, penitent, or saved, as our own
concerns. The true meaning of a symbol is always "ineluctable," but it is in its quality of
ineluctability that it becomes most apparently true. What Dante calls the bella menzogna,305
the beautiful lie cloaking the true meaning, should not be understood as a useful didactic
vestment to sloughed off as soon as its inner meaning is apprehended. On the contrary, its
surface shape is, in a mystical sense, the most faithful reflection of its inner meaning. Pier
della Vigna's symbolic manifestation as a dry shrub can be understood as a merely pragmatic
metaphor, but in its anagogical form, it is also an ontologically permanent reality contracting
the distance between the physical object and its constituent sign as it exists in the mind of God.
The concept of the contrapasso gives a visual language to the ineffable without demanding
that the meaning acquired withal precede in importance the sheer power of the vision itself.
The two-way correspondence of image and word, therefore, effects a certain kind of
transmutation, or, as Joyce would have it, a transubstantiation, in which the material of the
senses becomes one with the divine Word.
4.1.4. Dubliners Summoned
To perform a similar feat of eternal creation is precisely what Stephen aspires towards when
he speaks of himself as <<a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of
experience into the radiant body of every-living life.>> Gottfried calls this act of
transubstantiation Joyce's <<metaphoric substitutability of art and real life.>>306 No detail of
the Dubliners should lose its importance upon iterative analyses. The only "wrong" reading of
these stories is, then, one that would organize the component parts of the story in order of their
J. Saly, op. cit., p. 24.
R. Gottfried, op. cit., p. 73.
relevance to a singular sought-after meaning and discard whatever details do not conform to
this reading. The aforementioned definition of epikaleon as a form of "summoning" becomes
clearer when we think of Joyce's act of summoning his characters to tell their stories more or
less in their own words, whether in first person or in the free indirect style. We should not
infer that Joyce's summoning of his characters to speak for themselves guarantees the
authoritative honesty of their accounts, but it does guarantee an honesty of reaction on our
parts. Like Dante, Joyce exploits this interpretative mode to bring his reader into closer
communion with his stories' characters whose presence in the text is simultaneously objective
and subjective, their unique epiphanic essences being revealed in the margin left by this
asymmetrical relationship. Unlike Dante, however, the moral scheme of the Dubliners does
not clearly explicate the exact nature of each sin contained therein nor do we feel that this
hemiplegic procession of souls somehow reveals anything about God's plan. Instead, it is
Joyce himself, rather than God, who plays the part of the final arbiter in these matters,
pervading the text with his invisible presence, <<refined out of existence, indifferent, paring
his fingernails.>>307 This is Joyce, the <<priest of the eternal imagination>> whose revelation
is not an otherworldly vision but a thoroughly worldly one, and whose transubstantiation
involves not the translation of an ineffable revelation into legible signs, but rather into the
putatively legible facts of mundanity into an occult language of eternal mystery.
4.1.5. "Uneasy Orthodoxy"
By adopting epiclesis as an artistic strategy, Joyce is able to transcend the caprices of
fragmented epiphany, affirming his distance from both the Roman Catholic Church and the
fraudulence of the priesthood while dignifying his artistic métier as an extreme expression of a
foreign heretical practice remaining within the sphere of Christendom, a practice which, it is
worth noting, made claims to historical primacy of liturgical tradition. The mimetic
potentiality of the epiclesis afforded Joyce a sense of freedom from a univocal Jesuit/Roman
orthodoxy while also allowing him to avoid falling into his brother's stalely adversarial
reaction-formation variety of complete apostasy/atheism; hence, Ellman's statement that
<<Christianity had subtly evolved in his mind from a religion into a system of metaphors>>.308
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 256.
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 58.
Most importantly, epiclesis also acts in the invocatory mediating role of officiating the
transmogrification of the everyday into the everlasting. Joyce's unique heretical stance
communicates intimately with what James Robinson calls Dante's "uneasy orthodoxy." It was
Dante's resolute conviction of the superior piety of his Christian vision to that of the hardline
decretalists of his time that attracted Joyce. In his treatise De Monarchia, Dante delineates a
radical political philosophy pivoting on the premise that the Empire and the Church should be
separate forces, the former deferring to the latter on purely ecclesiastical matters and the latter
remaining entirely outside the purview of temporal politics. According to Dante, the Holy
Roman Emperor's secular power was derived directly from God and was not in need of papal
approbation so long as the ecclesiastical establishment was paid due homage by the Empire.
One of the most controversial aspects of this treatise was its questioning of the supposed
infallibility of the Pope. Stephen displays the same sort of exegetical dissension as Dante when
he gainsays Mr. Deasy's teleological contentions in the second chapter of Ulysses:
—The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All human history
moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.
Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:
—That is God.
Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!
—What? Mr Deasy asked.
—A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.309
Stephen's God is the God of exiles. In his mind, Stephen's belief in a radically alternative
God, one who is quite far removed from Mr. Deasy's paternal demiurge, makes the boy a
species of heretic, and yet Stephen's entire aesthetic theory possesses a certain orthodoxy of its
own. This explains Joyce's fascination with heresiarchs. The creation of an "orthodoxy" of his
own, one which he felt truer to his artistic vocation or to the sheer experience of real life was
directly determinative of his life's work. And so he had no recourse but to become a heretical
rebel. Epiclesis vehiculated his rebellion, sanctioning his art as a representational analogue of
religious experience while protecting it from the despotic authority of the Catholic Church.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 34.
4.1.6. Conclusion
Epiclesis is the hard-won bounty of Joyce's exile. The <<spiritual-heroic refrigerating
apparatus>> had not performed the alchemical function of converting his epiphanies into a
perfectly proportioned Apollonian monolith to his own artificial genius nor had it changed him
into the emulative paragon of the heroic exile. Evolving beyond epiphanies, he found that he
had finally acquired a greater treasure, that of an experience and wisdom with which he could
leaven the dough of his fractured yet now tempered dreams. Epiclesis was the oven, and in it,
he would effect his greatest transubstantiation. The journey of Stephen Dedalus towards his
spiritual father is one of erasure, the refining <<out of existence>>310 of his textual persona
through its assumption into the womblike vortex of a supreme symbol of paternity, Leopold
Bloom. The journey is an epikaleon, a summoning of Stephen by Bloom. Throughout this
pilgrimage recurrent echoes of Dante's travels will aid Joyce in his endeavor to rid himself of
his alter-ego by providing him with a Virgilian model of reason to counterbalance Stephen's
romantic angst.
4.2. A Transubstantial Homecoming
4.2.1. The Birth of Ulysses
In June of 1915, Joyce arrived in Zurich where he became a double expatriate. After 11
years of exile, Trieste had become his home. His literary output during that period included
"Chamber Music," "Dubliners," the revision of "Stephen Hero" into "A Portrait of the Artist as
a Young Man" and the play, "Exiles." Not long after arriving in Trieste, he received a letter
from Yeats' American friend, Ezra Pound. Pound informed him of his connection with a
number of literary periodicals and asked if he would be interested in contributing to any of
them. In response, Joyce finished the last chapter of "A Portrait" and sent it together with
"Dubliners." That same year Grant Richards wrote to him curious as to the fate of "Dubliners."
It seemed his luck was beginning to change. In Pound, Joyce found a lifetime patron, and it
was perhaps this new friendship that heartened him to begin the novel that would change the
face of English literature forever, "Ulysses." Joyce had first conceived of the idea for
"Ulysses" in 1907 as an addition to his "Dubliners." It was to be a short comic story of a day in
the life of a Dubliner whose prosaic meanderings ironically parallel the journey of Homer's
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 252.
great hero. Joyce eventually expanded the scope of the story to include, as a model, the 18
episodes of the Odyssey, choosing for his protagonist the grandson of a Jewish immigrant to
Dublin. After completing the first two chapters, he dispatched them to Pound, writing, <<it is a
continuation of "A Portrait as a Young Man" after three years' interval blended with many of
the persons of "Dubliners".>>311 The first chapter, Telemachus was published in the journal
"The Little Review" in March 1918. Subsequent chapters were to appear in "The Little
Review" and "The Egoist," which had previously serialized "A Portrait." The history of the
novel's publication from that point on is a long contentious story of scandal and censorship
culminating in the historic decision made by the United States District Court of New York in
1933 that deemed the book inoffensive, making the US the first country in the English
speaking world to publish it. It would not be until the 1960s that Joyce's own country would
follow suit.312
The available portions of Joyce's novel instantly established him as a literary genius of
the first rank. T.S. Eliot said of "Ulysses":
<<I hold this book to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a
book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.>>313
Himself a classicist, Eliot approved of the transposition of ancient tropes into the realm of
the drably modern. Surely the many references to Dante in the novel would not have eluded
him. From Stephen's reference to the <<maestro di color che sanno>> in Proteus to <<nel
mezzo del cammin di nostra vita>> in Scylla and Charybdis314, the Commedia calls out to the
reader from within the text, peeking through cracks in the prose. Dante's presence in "Ulysses"
is not merely allusive nor is it exclusively confined to Stephen's recondite musings. The role
that Dante fulfills in "Ulysses" is instructive and directive; one that capitalizes on the nuanced
relationship connecting Joyce the man to the poet's exilic persona and Joyce the artist to the
poet's body of work.
4.2.2. Bloom, the Spiritual Father
With the aid of Dante, Homer, Shakespeare and a host of other minor literary forefathers,
Joyce would bring Stephen Dedalus back home and, in the course of the journey, come to a
R. Ellman, op. cit., p. 329.
Ivi, p. 491.
T.S., Eliot, ed. F. Kermode, p.175.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 37.
fuller acceptance of his own exile. Themes of exile, simony, betrayal, sex, envy, religion, and
politics are variously confronted at different points in the story. What ties all of these themes
together is fatherhood, the legal fiction with which Joyce wrestled his entire life. In Eumaeus,
the reader can detect a Dantean resonance in the manner of Stephen and Bloom's father-son
walk together towards Eccles Street: <<As they walked, they at times stopped and walked
again, continuing their tête à tête [...] about sirens, enemies of man's reason, mingled with a
number of topics of the same category, usurpers, historical cases of the kind [...]>>315
Reynolds points out that <<their actual association is brief, only 92 pages, or one-eight of
the book, and the Virgilian aspect is overlaid in a context that also gives Bloom the role of
Dante.>>316 Bloom's transition into fatherhood begins midway through the Oxen of the Sun
and progresses into the Ithaca chapter lasting until Stephen's departure from Bloom's home.
Much as Virgil's guidance is cut short at the end of Purgatory, the conversation between the
two men is anti-climactically brief. Virgil is, of course, well aware and accepting of his
limitations, making it known to Dante that he will not be at his side in Paradise.
Dante only directly addresses his guide by name one time in the entire Commedia. When he
first encounters Virgil in the selva oscura, he asks him, <<Or se' tu quel Virgilio [...]?>>317
Bloom calls Stephen by his first name only one time near the end of the Circe chapter while
trying to wake him. The young man sings lines of Yeats' <<Who goes with Fergus?>> to
himself and Bloom, ignorant of the concluding lines of the poem, says <<In the shady wood>>
unconsciously completing the allusion to the pilgrim's first encounter with his guide.318
Stephen's leave-taking at the end of Ithaca is equally Dantean. Virgil's instantaneous
disappearance so shocks Dante that he helplessly repeats his name three times. Stephen also
disappears from the story as suddenly and conclusively as Virgil. Joyce observes his feelings
of loss:
Alone, what did Bloom feel? The cold of interstellar space, thousands of degrees
below freezing point or the absolute zero of Farenheit, Centigrade or Reaumur: the
incipient intimations of proximate dawn.319
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 618.
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 35.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 6.
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 565.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 689.
Reynolds's points to the assonance of the passage as an echo of Dante's triply repeated
refrain of "Virgilio." <<In Joyce's two sentences the "o" is reduplicated like an echo lost in
infinity: alone, Bloom, cold, below, or, zero, Reaumur.>>320
An echo of the Inferno occurs in the Eumaeus when Stephen and Bloom meet an old sailor
who tells the story of a shipwreck meant to evoke Ulysses's disastrous voyage in Inferno 26. In
this chapter the spiritual father and son walk always to the left, the direction always taken,
with two exceptions, by Virgil and Dante. At a certain point they stop to observe a pile of
broken cobblestones, an image similar to that of the rockfall caused by the crucifixion in
Inferno 12. Like Virgil, who gives an incomplete, pre-Christian explanation of the rockfall's
cause, Bloom is also a non-Christian. <<Something of Dante's syncretism may be present as
well in Joyce's selection of details.>>321 For instance, Stephen's impression of the pile causes
him to <<remember that this had happened, or had been mentioned as having happened,
Stephen temporarily takes on a paternal guise when he speaks of the soul with Bloom in the
Eumaeus. His discussion puts him in the position of Statius expounding to Dante the stages of
embyronic generation. Bloom's opinions coalesce with Stephen's argument <<though the
mystical finesse involved was a bit out of his sublunary depth.>>323 His restriction from the
realm of pure abstraction is reminiscent of Virgil's inability to ascend any higher than the peak
of Mt. Purgatory. Statius, a convert to Christianity, discusses notions which are inaccessible to
a pagan such as Virgil who can only conceive of things in purely rational terms.
<<The discourse of Statius, Virgil, and Dante [...] has been called Dante's most notable
portrayal of poetic fatherhood and sonship>> writes Reynolds.324 Dante's hesitation to call
Virgil father is loosened the more his guide refers to him as <<figliuol>>325 Here he sets a
precedent that allows Dante to gradually display his affection for his guide.
Virgil is chiefly a teacher, but his role grows to include the title of protector. Bloom is also
protective as he chaperones Stephen out of night-town. At his most ulyssean, Bloom's heroic
traits dwarf his spiritual son's youthful image of his own self as "Stephen Hero." Joyce told
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 38.
Ivi, p. 39.
J.Joyce, op. cit., p. 600.
Ivi, p. 618.
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 39.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 278.
Frank Budgen, <<As the day wears on Bloom should overshadow them all.>>326 The first
image we receive of Dante in the Inferno is that of a frightened and diffident child. Virgil
recognizes his state of crisis and tries to nurture the helpless child in him, adjuring him to be
Dunque: che è? perché, perché restai?
perché tanta viltà nel core allette?
perché ardire e franchezza non hai?327
Stephen's circumstances are similar to Dante's in the selva oscura as evidenced by his
<<battling against hopelessness>>328 in the National Library. Later in the Oxen of the Sun,
Bloom, perceiving the boy's depression, laments the squandering of his brilliance <<for that he
lived riotously with those wastrels.>>329
Stephen's famous disquisition on Hamlet in Scylla and Charybdis places the theory of
fatherhood at the center of the novel. This is a moment of exposition in Ulysses that gives the
reader a glimpse of the novel's engine at work. It is not coincidental that Bloom almost
encounters Stephen during this scene. His initiation into the action of Stephen's day will either
substantiate the theory or deny it. The novel itself is, on that point, a bringing to bear of
Joyce's own feelings about paternity, almost an experiment in filiation for his own benefit.
Joyce does not make Bloom summon Stephen but provides the conditions for such an act to
take place. In this sense he treats his creation as a living or lived presence in the same way
Dante brings to life Virgil the man and not Virgil the medieval magician. <<Bloom will follow
and watch over Stephen in the pattern of Virgil responding to the call of Beatrice. The writing
of Joyce's book thus becomes by analogy an act of filiation.>>330
4.2.3. Bloom, the Jewish "Pagan"
The reason Bloom is allowed an autonomy denied to the rest of Joyce's characters is due to
his Jewishness. It is because of this Jewishness, a tenuously held identity for Bloom who is
technically a Catholic convert, that he can fulfill the charge of the spiritual father for his ward
Stephen. Although he hardly flaunts the fact, he is first and foremost, a Jew and not a
Dubliner. As such, Bloom, not by disposition but by his very nature, is tethered to the source
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 41.
D. Alighieri, trans. R. Hollander and J. Hollander, op. cit., p. 32.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 204.
Ivi., p. 42.
M.T. Reynolds, op. cit., p. 43.
of all the monotheistic religions. He is that void on which fatherhood is founded, the antipode
of the <<madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe.>>331 Here
Joyce parts ways with Dante, who had little to nothing to say about Jews in his Commedia,
locating in his Ulysses the germ of a pre-Christian worldview via which he might become one
with the governing mysteries of life itself, i.e. the supreme act of creation, the transformation
of nothing into something, that which the invocation of epiclesis initiates. On the one hand,
Joyce seems assign value to his protagonist's pre-Christian aura, his Jewishness creating a
feeling of wonder and perverse reverence among Dublin's intellectuals. (<<The wandering
Jew, Buck Mulligan whispered with a clown's awe.>>332) On the other hand, this aura marks
him as something of a scapegoat in his community and seems to have something to do with his
cuckolded status. In his argument with "the citizen," a blustering alcoholic embodiment of
Irish paralysis, Bloom asserts that God himself is a Jew infuriating the citizen to the point that
he lobs a biscuit tin at him. Thus Joyce careens farther afield than Dante in his heretical
orthodoxy, finding infinite possibility in Bloom's "paganism" rather than Dante who sees his
Virgil as casting an instrumental but finite shadow of sober, ratiocinative prudence.
4.2.4. Bloom, the Simoniac
And yet Bloom is not a world apart from his fellow Dubliners. In many ways, he is the most
parochial of men, the sum total of his knowledge and tastes amounting to no more than what it
can procure him in a material sense. His affection for Stephen may be kindled, in part, by
admiration for the boy's intellect and, in part, by the residue of paternal love left by the
memory of his departed son, Rudy, but factored into his motivation behind inviting Stephen to
his home is also the possibility that he will be able to use Stephen's connections to Dublin's
literary scene to further his wife Molly's opera career. Bloom's thoughts are saturated with
considerations of cross-benefit analysis. His work is advertising and his mind is of a very
modern cast insofar as the potential profitability of any given situation is often the primary
director of his thoughts. In his essay, "Bloom, The Father," Theodore Holmes go so far as to
say of Joyce's hero, <<in his efforts to reduce everything to his material advantage he has
forgotten his humanity.>>333 He continues his argument saying that we moderns are so inured
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 199.
Ivi, p. 209.
Theodore Holmes, Bloom, The Father, <<The Sewanee Review>>, LXXIX, p. 241.
to this sort of cross-benefit analysis mentality that we do not even notice its sovereignly
motivating role in Bloom's thoughts. Bloom's thinking involves a far colder and far less
Socratic form of reason than that which Virgil supposedly symbolizes. Unlike Virgil, who is
compelled to acknowledge the strictures disallowing his inclusion in God's plan, Bloom's
calculating mindset knows no bounds. Its arena encompasses all of creation in its
predisposition to reduce everything to a question of efficiency. For example, upon witnessing
a vagrant, presumably disease-stricken prostitute, he reacts by reflecting on how the
government should provide for sex workers by ensuring their sanitation and requiring that they
be licensed. <<In the face of stark degradation and odium [Bloom's] overweening concern is
that everything should be kept physically tidy and clean.>>334
Bloom's obession with efficiency and order is not meant, however, to reflect poorly on
the Jewish people. There is enough of the British and Irish character in his way of thinking to
convince the reader that Joyce's censures are directed at the inhumane paltriness of capitalism.
He does not intend his protagonist, a half-Jew, to be interpreted in the vein of a stereotypical
Shylock, but instead means for the reader to appreciate just how much Bloom has imbibed a
capitalist worldview. So many aspects of Bloom's life and the lives of his fellow Dubliners are
dictated by the maledetto fiore which Dante identifies as the cause of Florence's anomie.335
The flagrant hypocrisy of Mr. Deasy's lecture to Stephen is that he denounces the Jews for
sinning <<against the light>> in one breath and in another breath lauds the British, saying an
Englishman's proudest boast is <<I have paid my way.>>336 Bloom's mentality is identically
molded. In the Aeolus chapter, the Roman and British empire are compared to the wandering
Jewish tribes:
Ivi, p. 246.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 227.
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 34.
-- What was their civilization? Vast, I allow: but vile.
Cloacae: sewers. The Jews in the wilderness and on the
mountaintop said: It is meet to be here. Let us build an
Altar to Jehova. The Roman, like the Englishman who
follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which
he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his
cloacal obsession. He gazed about him in his toga and hesaid: It is meet to be here.
Let us build a watershed.337
The word <<cloaca>> recalls the the 27th Canto of Paradiso in which St. Peter delivers a
bitter jeremiad on the defilement of his gravesite upon which the Church was founded:
fatt'ha del cimitero mio cloaca
del sangue e de la puzza; onde 'l perverso
che cadde di qua sù; là giù, si placa.338
The contrast between the opportunistic and small-minded aspirations of Empire and the
quiet dignity of Jewish piety implicates Bloom whose ill-defined relationship with Judaism
makes him susceptible to an Imperialistic, capital-oriented mentality. The same fixation on
money and power is responsible for the contamination of St. Peter's tomb. << 'l perverso>> is,
of course, Bonifacio VIII, Dante's simoniac par excellence. Simony makes a sewer of all
things sacred and the <<cloacal obsession>> Joyce refers to in his description of the Roman
and the Englishman is a form of simony. Bloom is all the more culpable than the Roman and
Englishman because he belongs to a people who have fought for millenia to preserve the
sanctity of their sacred writ. By colluding with the oppressors of the Irish people, he is,
therefore, a simoniac. In the Eumaeus, Bloom's response to the catechistic question <<Was
vast wealth acquirable through industrial channels?>> has him tabulate his response thus:
The utilisation of waste paper, fells of sewer rodents, human excrement possessing
chemical properties, in view of the vast production of the first, vast number of the
second and immense quantity of the third, every normal human being of average
vitality and appetite producing annually, cancelling byproducts of water, a sum
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 126.
D. Alighieri, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander, op. cit., p. 713.
total of 80 lbs. (mixed animal and vegetable diet), to be multiplied by 4,386,035,
the total population of Ireland according to census returns of 1901.339
And so feces, money, and numbers come to symbolize a diabolical trinity.
Even in the highest spheres of Paradise, Dante cannot refrain from excoriating his
enemies. Mentions of sewers and blood in heaven may seem to verge on blasphemy, but such
is Dante's rage that he must take advantage of having St. Peter as a mouthpiece to denounce
the Pope who many believed to be the Anti-Christ himself. By the time Joyce wrote Ulysses,
his rage towards Dublin and Dubliners had mellowed, but his belief in the paralysis endemic in
Dublin had not changed. The content of Bloom's thoughts are enough to qualify him as
simoniacal, but Joyce, forgiving the sinner, but hating the sin, does not see his protagonist as
the embodiment of evil. Bloom's sin is complaisance, or a form of ignavia. Though he
espouses all the "right" views, it would never even occur to him to take any real action against
the forces of evil. <<On his lips is the apostleship of all the latter-day humanistic creeds: love,
brotherhood, peace, equality, internationalism, universality of thought and emotion.>>340 And
yet he goes about his humdrum existence keeping always an eye to his own advancement, all
the while waging a campaign of indifference to his status as a quasi-pariah and cuckold in his
community. On the surface, he is as far from a Hellenic hero as one could imagine, and yet,
for Joyce, he is no less a hero because of his flaws.
4.2.5. Conclusion
<<There is a touch of the artist about old Bloom.>> Joyce's Ulysses is very much the true
portrait of himself as an artist. He bears the same relationship to Bloom that Dante bears to his
pilgrim alter-ego. He is and is not his creation. Dante is narrating the events of the Commedia
from the point of view of someone who has already undergone those very same events. The
voice is that of someone who has already been saved and is reliving the stages of his life which
preceded his moment of salvation. Joyce, on the other hand, is witnessing a journey towards
something like salvation as it unfolds, in real time, in a twenty-four hour period. The end of
Paradiso and the end of Ulysses are both, therefore, moments of transubstantiation. The
moment that Dante finally lays his eyes upon God is the very moment of his transformation
into that which he had not been and could not have been prior to that very moment. It is this
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 670.
T.Holmes, op cit., p. 244.
act of transubstantiation that grants him the power to tell the story of everything leading up to
it. In this sense, the Commedia is cyclical, as implied by its final image of a glowing circle
symbolizing God himself. Ulysses is also a cyclical story inasmuch as the entrance of Stephen
into the inner sanctum of Bloom's home represents his salvation but also the recommencing of
his exilic journey.
The meeting between Stephen and Bloom is a meeting between a simoniac and a
heresiarch and a heresiarch and a simoniac. Stephen has all but left his church and has all but
squandered his literary gifts on barroom chatter while Bloom has ostensibly turned his back on
his Jewish origins and sold himself to the world of advertising. Both characters are guilty of
the same generic sins that define the entire collective run of Dubliners. Both have surrendered
to a certain hemiplegia, but they wander yet. Their sins are the sins of all Dubliners, but they
are not quite Dubliners in the proper sense. At times, they would appear to belong to a certain
tier of Joyce's Dantean architecture, and yet, Joyce cannot bring himself to be as severe as
Dante by damning them entirely. It would seem that their epiphanic essences are far more
pliable that those of other Dubliners. Thus we witness in Bloom and Stephen's reunion, the
destruction of Dante's edifice. Joyce seems to be saying he can no longer pass judgment on his
fellow human, but must instead make an effort, one that may prove unavailing, to save the
only character who he feels deserves any hope at all.
Stephen, the voluntary exile, in his wanderings crosses paths with Bloom, who by dint of
being a religious outcast, is, where-ever he goes, an absolute exile. The spiritual-heroic
apparatus is revealed to be fallacious. No formula can ensure an artist romantic integrity. Life
needs to be lived before it can be converted into art. But it is perhaps his contact with Bloom
which will, in the end, make a true artist of Stephen. The hero Stephen imagined himself to be
is exactly who Bloom happens to be by chance. It is Bloom's belief in decency, as anemic a
belief as it may be, that separates him from Stephen. Though much of what he thinks is highly
indecent, Bloom does, in his own quiet way, strive to be decent. His apparent decency may be
drenched in hypocrisy, but Joyce seems to portray him in this light not as statement of moral
condemnation, but to show his reader that Bloom is about the best one could aspire towards in
a society as unfeeling and impersonal as our own. Thus he may be able to exorcise from
Stephen the many demons of his <<agenbite of inwit>> by shifting the boy's focus away from
his own persona and towards the soul-sown tapestry of the world as a whole.
Through Bloom Stephen thus encounters finally, the <<reality of [his] experience.>> The
encounter does not grant him his hoped-for artistic sovereignty; instead, the experience
disabuses him of his selfishness and reminds him of the importance of accepting the world as
it is and accepting one's place in it. Stephen has no real place in the world; he is an eternal
exile, but having met Bloom, he can continue on with the knowledge that he is not the only
exile in the world. All humans are the homo viator, no more nor less Stephen because he
fancies himself an artist. This epiphany, the most important of all Joyce's epiphanies, is not so
much inspiring as it is sobering and vaguely hopeful. If Stephen can be saved, then all of
Joyce's Dubliners can be saved. They are not, as are many of Dante's souls, beyond
redemption, but are essentially purgatorial beings, silently working in their own way, perhaps
as unconsciously as Bloom, towards reaching the summit of heaven.
The summoning of Stephen by his spiritual father is an epiclesis, a transmutation, but it is
an incomplete transmutation. The mimetic capacity of epiclesis means that Joyce denies
himself the true power of the Catholic priesthood, that is, the ability to actually convert one
substance into another. When Dante claims he saw what he saw, we as readers are to assume
he means it. With Joyce, the reader never quite knows where he stands. The transubstantiation
he effects is, therefore, one <<founded upon incertitude, unlikelihood>> one that does not
actually guarantee any lasting change of substance in the character of his heroes. The point at
which Dante believes his soul to be saved is the point at which Joyce confronts the void itself.
Perhaps even Bloom's spiritual fatherhood is a fiction. Only the reader can decide.
The conclusion of Ulysses could not be any more different from the end of Paradiso's 33rd
Canto and yet there is one crucial note of similarity. In the Penelope, the tightly regimented
prose of the Ithaca's catechism gives way to the freely fluvial, unpunctuated poetry of Molly's
inner monologue. As she lays in bed thinking of her past lovers, she reminisces about the first
kiss shared between her and <<Poldy>> almost seeming to consider the scene as just one of a
series of different dalliances, not any more or less significant than the others. And yet, her
description is not wanting for tenderness and affection. Her love for Leopold, though fraught
with betrayal, endures:
he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms
around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume
yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.341
This tumbling stream of repeated yeses achieves an affirmative effect unknown in the rest
of the novel. Its sincerity is not to be doubted. This is the amor matris which Stephen
J. Joyce, op. cit., p. 850.
uncertainly posits as <<the only true thing in life>>342, the great mystery to which epiclesis
points. <<Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred>>343 or, in other words, <<l'amor
che move il sole e l'altre stelle.>>344 But that is a topic for another thesis and another time.
Nicholas Castellucci
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