James Joyce's Ulysses
Where It's Always June 16, 1904

     
   
 

Cyclops

Chapter twelve of James Joyce’s Ulysses is titled Cyclops, and takes the bulk of its Homeric parallels from the episode of the Odyssey in which Odysseus becomes trapped in the cave of Polyphemus, the cyclopean goat-herder. According to the Linati Schema set out for the chapter, the scene is the Tavern, the hour 5pm, the organ Muscle, the art politics, the symbol the Fenian, and the Technic Gigantism, and the parallels No Man-I, pike-cigar, and challenge-apotheosis. Gilbert’s schema adds that the color is green, and the sense or meaning the "Egocidal Terror."

In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men become trapped on the island of the Cyclopes, in the cave of Polyphemus, the goat-herder. To make their escape, they get the Cyclops drunk, and Odysseus distracts him. He tells Polyphemus that his name is "Noman." Then, as the men sneak out of the cave by hiding on the undersides of the goats, Odysseus takes a burning pike and puts out Polyphemus’ eye. The injured Cyclops runs out in pursuit, calling his fellows for help- but they laugh when he tells them "no man" hurt him, and try to hold him back. Then, as Odysseus escapes in his ship, he taunts the Cyclops. This goads Polyphemus into throwing a large boulder, which nearly sinks the ship, and causes an earthquake.

On another island we investigated a cave full of goat pens. The herdsman turned out to be as big as a barn, with a single glaring eye in his forehead. This Cyclops promptly ate two of my men for dinner. We were trapped in the cave by a boulder in the doorway that only the Cyclops could budge, so we couldn't kill him while he slept. Instead we sharpened a pole and used it to gouge out his eye. We escaped his groping by clinging to the undersides of his goats. (Homer for Idiots, Book 9)

In Joyce’s episode, we are presented, through an anonymous narrator, with the scene of Bloom hanging around the bar with a host of characters met earlier in the book. The idle talk is somewhat disturbed by Bloom’s efforts to make points or seem enlightened, or simply convert others to his viewpoints, point up the parallel of challenge-apotheosis, and mimic Odysseus’ mocking of the Cyclops. This becomes especially evident when, as the chapter progresses, he taunts the one-eyed citizen (who is anti-Semitic) to the point of violence, and must make a hasty escape in a "jarvey." The citizen hurls a biscuit tin after him, causing an earthquake, parallel to that in the Odyssey, and then Bloom "drives off to heaven." "When lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven." (345)

The Citizen in this episode has Polyphemus's one-eyed crudity. He can see no point of view other than his own. He is arrogant, cruel, and stupid. Polyphemus's gigantic stature is reflected in the Citizen's grossly inflated ego and his equally exaggerated claims. The episode is soaked in another form of gigantism too. For though the events are recounted by a nameless narrator, the narration is punctuated by a series of commentaries in vastly different styles -- but each style an inflated caricature of the legal, the epic, the scientific, the journalistic, and so on. The total effect is to set the gentle, pacific, charitable Bloom in lonely opposition to a barbaric, bigoted, and aggressive nationalist -- and likewise to place Bloom's mildness and commonsense in lonely isolation within a world given over to vast excesses. The intemperate inflations represent many aspects of culture, many movements in our civilization, that are irrational, violent, or pretentious. The fact that the reader, as well as Ulysses-Bloom, feels swamped under it all is appropriate and of course intentional. (Blamire, 112)

In Cyclops, we find parallels not only in the strict episode concerning Bloom, but also in references scattered throughout the chapter. The one-eyed Citizen, who is introduced at the start of the chapter, is the parallel to the goat-herding Cyclops. "So we turned into Barney Kiernan’s and there sure enough was the citizen up in the corner… a broadshouldered, deepchested stronglimbed…." (295-6) At the same time we are confronted with numerous descriptions of and references to livestock--paralleling the goats in the Odyssey. "Ga Ga Gara. Klook Klook Klook. Black Liz is our hen. She lays eggs for us. When she lays her egg she is so glad. Then comes good old uncle Leo. He puts his hand under black Liz and takes her fresh egg. Ga ga ga ga Gara. Klook Klook Klook." (315)

The discussion of foot and mouth disease returns, tying in a theme from earlier chapters, as well as pointing up the parallel between Bloom’s rhetoric and Odysseus’ taunting. Further, it renews the theme (most prominent in Aeolus) of "windbags," i.e., those who simply don’t know when to stop talking, and say a lot without having much to say. Bloom’s speeches throughout Cyclops are often reminiscent of Stephen’s Hamlet theory--which he himself did not believe. Odysseus brings himself trouble by taunting Polyphemus, and letting his ego run away with himself--and in Cyclops Bloom becomes the "Egocidal Terror" in much the same way- with a symbolically identical outcome through the aggression of the Citizen and all subsequent tin-hurling and earth-quaking. Another link with Stephen, and a manifestation of the theme of paternity, as well as a parallel entailing the impotence theme, is the mention of Nelson’s Pillar. This recalls several things:  idle talk, symbols of national power, and, most importantly, the originally implied theme of impotence--only now, just as the old virgins spit barren plum seeds from their mouths, the men in the bar engage in idle conversation and Bloom spouts useless and inflammatory speeches.

However, like much of the rhetoric and aggression throughout the book, all of this seems to be to little or no avail. The chapter begins with much discussion of political accomplishment and power, and the recounting of (so-called) Irish accomplishments, but, pointing out the Irish persecution and subjugation by the British, ends in a discussion of the persecution of the Jews. In other words:  impotence, both that of Bloom, that of the Irish as a people and nation, and that of "modern man" as a "species" is once again on display. The organ may be muscle, and there is much discussion of the power and achievements of the Irish; but all of Bloom’s points fall flat, and many of the so-called scions of Irish Heritage are not Irish at all (e.g. Brian Confucius, and Patrick W. Shakespeare) Patrick W. Shakespeare, furthermore, is another reference back to the Hamlet-theory and impotent intellectual activity of Scylla and Charybdis and Aeolus.

Further, the issue of Bloom’s Judaism is raised as a central point- being the chief issue of conflict with the Irish-nationalist Citizen. "But "Mendelssohn was a Jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a Jew and his father was a Jew. Your God. . . . Christ was a Jew like me." (342) The exile of the Jews, and their resulting "impotence" acts as a multifaceted symbol uniting the many layers at play in the novel--it brings in the wandering of Odysseus at the mercy of the Gods and the Fates, and also the Irish impotence and the hands of British imperialism--and the impotence and exile of man in the modern era--if not in the "condition of existing" as a whole.

The theme of paralysis and impotence, pervasive in Ulysses as a whole, also is more literally implied in the chapter. Some of the most direct correlations to the Homeric episode include numerous references to pole and pillar like objects. There is, of course, the account of the hanged man (symbolizing, perhaps, Bloom himself and Ireland as a whole, etc.). "The distinguished scientist Herr Professor Luitpold Blumenduft tendered medical evidence to the effect that the instantaneous fracture of the cervical vertebrae and consequent…" (304-5) The Cyclopes, much like the bar crawlers, do little with themselves on a general basis. They mostly talk and drink, drink and talk. Throughout the chapter, references to eyes are made- a link with the one-eyed Cyclops of the Odyssey. Among the most obvious are the chimney sweep’s pole which nearly puts out the narrator’s eye, as Odysseus puts out Polyphemus’ eye; and Blooms "knockmedown cigar" which is a hot pole, like Odysseus’ pike. Other pole-like objects and references: "plain as a pikestaff" (300); trees, "keep your pecker up" (326); and the "stuck Pig." (343) This is also foreshadowed throughout the preceding chapters with constant repetition of "Met Him Pike Hoses." Other word- association parallels within the chapter include the constant repetition of "Gob" by the narrator as Bloom makes his speech about the Jews--which is sonically reminiscent of "God."

Even as Bloom makes his Odyssean escape at the end of the chapter, his dignity is taken away, and we are again reminded of the theme of impotence, as a woman shouts after him "Eh Mister! Your fly is open, Mister!" (342) From start to finish, Cyclops illustrates, more than anything, the theme found throughout the work of man’s helplessness--weather before the God’s of Homer, the Irish Catholics, the Protestants, or the Jews. In the end, even as the car "ascends to heaven," we find ourselves pursued by biscuit tins, and with our flies wide open.

Annotated Bibliography

Blamire, Harry. The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses. Revised edition. New

York: Routledge, 1988. pp112-127

This article provides an in-depth, meticulous analysis of the plot, interwoven with a symbolic and Homeric interpretation. It offers concise explanations of the major parallels Joyce uses throughout Cyclops.

Gilbert Analysis. http://www.owecc.net/crunyon/CE/Joyce/gilbert12.htm

This site includes a detailed breakdown of the chapter according to Homeric references, as well as an expanded version of the Linati Schema.

Goodwin, Evan. "little blue light - Samuel Beckett", Littlebluelight (May 5, 2002 Edition), Evan

Goodwin (ed.) URL = http://www.littlebluelight.com/lblphp/beckett.php

This site provided a brief biographical synopsis of Beckett’s life, as well as the exact quote of the passage which I believe is a reference to Joyce’s work.

Hooker, Richard. Polyphemos (translation of Homer) 1996. URL=http://www.wsu.edu:8080/%7edee/MINOA/POLY.HTM

This translation of Homer’s Odyssey was a valuable resource for accuracy purposes.

Nunes, Mark. "Beyond the "Holy See": Parody and Narrative Assemblage in Cyclops."

Twentieth Century Literature Jan, 1999.

This article offers a diction-centered critical analysis of Cyclops.

Skidmore, Joel. Odysseus. 1997. http://www.mythweb.com/odyssey/

This summary of Homer’s Odyssey is extremely valuable as a quick reference to substitute the translation of Homer’s text in its entirety- it was also valuable for easily understandable synopsis of the major events.

Web Features International, Ltd. Irish History and Old Ireland Heraldic Gifts. Dublin: 5 March,

2000. http://www.ireland.org/irl_hist/hist47.htm ( or http://www.ireland.org )

This site is endlessly helpful in explaining the many esoteric references which Joyce makes to Irish culture and history that may be unfamiliar to an American, or one could argue, any human, audience.