Episode 15: “Circe” ~pp. 422-593

Important Symbols & Phrases of Episode 15

  • Moly as a potion: Hermes gave Odysseus the herb moly as protection against Circe (Gifford and Seidman). The parallel in Ulysses is that devotion for Molly saves Bloom from straying far despite his natural and unnatural tendenciesIn Italy, Monte Circeo persists in an area prone to outbreaks of malaria. Hallucinations are one characteristic symptom (Gilbert), so Bloom needs mol(l) y’s protection. After making a gift of his talisman potato to Zoe, he is suspectable to Bella’s power and can be turned into a pig. However, in The Odyssey, the crew, when restored to human form, is younger, stronger, and more handsome (Campbell). Bloom leaves the brothel a more powerful person too. Moly was not chosen as the prophylactic herb to echo Marion Bloom’s name, Maddox tells us Joyce chose “Molly” to echo the plant.
  • Kitty, Flora, Zoe: The names of the prostitutes suggest the corruption of all things animal, vegetable, and mineral (Gilbert). Campbell prefers Zoe as zoology, Flory botany, and Kitty a “collection of…the mineral world.”
  • Vidi aquam….: Stephen recites the prayer used in blessing the altar with holy water during Eastertide. The prayer begins, “I saw a stream of water welling forth from the right side of the temple….and all among them came to that water. (Gifford and Seidman)” Once fearful of water, Stephen, not yet an artist, is about to be consecrated as one. His baptism is signaled by the quote from “Scotland’s Burning” ending “Pour on water! Pour on water! “
  • Freemasonry, Skull and Bones, Scottish Rites, and Limestone: Bloom uses his knowledge of Mason’s rites to secure gentle treatment from the guard. The crescent moon on his dream costume suggests his initiation into the secret order. The skull and crossed bones, emblem of Irish Freemasonry (Gifford and Seidman). Lime is significant too. It’s used in plastering and in accelerating the decomposition of bodies, suggesting death and secrecy. Bloom gives the signal of “fellowship” as another indication of membership. Although among his various religious conversions was a conversion to Protestantism, Bloom was born a Jew and is currently a nominal if unpracticed Catholic. Either belief should have excluded Bloom from invitation to join the Masons.
  • Bridie Kelly: Bloom wonders if a son might have been born of this affair and wonders if Stephen might be that child (Campbell), recalling the “It’s a wise father who knows his son” theme.
  • Venus in Furs: The mention of the novel by Sacher-Masoch foreshadowed Bloom’s belief that he deserved punishment. Punishment had psycho-sexual implications for him. Bella Cohen assumes the role of dominatrix Wanda from the novel, and Bloom becomes the protagonist Severin. One aspect of Bloom’s humiliation is his fixation for feet and shoes showing a willingness to grovel at his mistresses’ feet. He recalls, for example, an incident when he mis-laced Molly’s shoe. Presumably, he was scolded for risking bad luck. Molly appears in the bath and in furs in the episode as the model for Wanda.
  • Replacing Boylan: Bloom would, if he could, assume Boylan’s role as Molly’s lover. Perhaps he might even share in her illicit affair. He suggests a tryst with Mrs. Yelverton Barry at “four on the following Thursday.” This is the day and time of Molly’s infidelity. During his stupor, Molly’s image insists that she be called Mrs. Marion (Boylan’s insult to Bloom in addressing her letter). Bloom betrays himself with a Freudian slip calling himself Molly’s “business menagerer.”
  • Bloom as Charles Parnell: First loudly praised then roundly condemned, public opinion turns on the political views of the clergy , both Catholic (Fr. Farley and the faithful represented by Mrs. Riordan) and Protestant (Alexander J. Dowie) in Bloom’s dream. Bloom is criminally charged with being “a dynamitist, forger, bigamist, bawd and cuckold and a public nuisance….” He is spoken of as the Fox, the false name used by Parnell during his affair with Mrs. O’Shea. Bloom has buried a parent beneath the holly bush too, a plant with poison berries.
  • Zoe Higgins:  bears the last name of Bloom’s mother. She also speaks Yiddish/German and is the inheritor of Ellen Higgin’s heirloom potato. This may be another indication of incest or inclination toward incest.
  • The religious problem”: in the discourse, there are references to the threat of Darwinism to traditional religious beliefs. Disraeli appears, the first and only British Prime Minister to be born Jewish. Like Bloom, Benjamin Disraeli converted to Protestantism (at age 12). Religious conversion allowed Disraeli a career in politics. The Prime Minister was conservative in his politics, and his religious statements followed suit. In a speech to the Oxford Dioseacian Society, Disraeli preached that in the argument over evolution, he was happy to be “on the side of the angels” (Gifford and Seidman). While Bloom contemplates the purchase of land in the Middle East, Benjamin Disraeli did purchase the land that ultimately enabled the construction of the Suez Canal. As a psuedoscientist, we might expect Bloom to side with the apes and against the angels.
  • “figged fist” and ring guards: Mysteries persist. According to Gifford and Seidman, “Figged fist” refers to a woman with uncharacteristically large hands. Bella Cohen, however, has a ring guard to fit a ring to a too-small finger. Two possible explanations present themselves. In a male incarnation, Bello has larger hands ,but when female, her adornment needs alteration. Another possibility is that Bella is merely a hallucinatory image of another smaller-digited madam, Mrs. Bloom, or the ringed but less hands-on dominatrix Gerty MacDowell.
  • The black mass:  A priest (O’Flynn) and a minister (Love) officiate at the Black Mass. O’Flynn’s first name is Malachi indicting Mulligan in the blasphemy. Love’s identity is more complicated. Haines’ name in French translates “hate” and speaks ironically of “Love.” Love is also the name of one of the many landlords who had unpleasant dealings with John Joyce, and is marked as a villain (Adams).
  • The word known to all men”: Love.
  • Locomotor ataxia: Joyce to Budgen: “The rhythm (of “Circe”) is the rhythm of locomotor ataxia.” This is the loss of balance or muscle control due to a “syphilitic infection of the spinal cord (Lexico.com).”
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