Episode 15: “Circe” ~pp. 422-593

What They Are Saying, Episode 15

In The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Antony the Great isolates himself (accompanied fittingly by his pet pig, Gilbert tells us), in the desert to fast and pray. As fasting days accumulate, the mystic suffers temptations and subsequent hallucinations. He is subjected to temptations of lust, by the allure of riches and power, and by heresy (Gifford and Seidman).

In Flaubert’s novel, the hermit attempts to maintain his vow to isolate himself from the world as a path to salvation. Among the temptations visited on the saint is the image of his sister’s friend, Ammonaria, who had long been a source of lust for the young Antony. Her name suggests a shock to the senses and poison but also cleansing. Dispelling that temptation, Lucifer doubles-down sending the Queen of Sheba, who offers not only sex but also riches. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon tempts with power. At last, Hilarion, once Antony’s protege, lures his teacher with heresy. Heresy is a sin of pride as well as one against Faith. Death also appears to Antony, offering suicide as an alternative to endless temptations. Other temptations included threats from wild beasts and promises of lavish feasts in the depths of his fasting. Antony ultimately defeats the demons and recommits to the ascetic life.

The interplay and sequence of reality and hallucination is called “the autonomous complex.” In Flaubert’s novel, the illusion is almost always independent of reality, arising from the temptation, a metaphysical or. spiritual event, the interplay of God and Lucifer. In “Circe,” reality always primes the hallucination. The popping of Bloom’s button, for example, is the real event that prompts a hallucination. But the realistic catalyst in “Circe” is not always easy to pin down.

Hugh Kenner points out that in this episode dialogs are separated by logical chasms between question and answer, between comment and responding observation. Conversations between Bloom and Zoe, for example, have realistic and connected responses to comments that are disconnected and which could not result from any objective reality. Actions too. In “Nausicaa,” Bloom searched his pocket for a watch that wasn’t there to be found. In “Circe,” the watch is now miraculously in his pocket. Bloom also remarks about Tom Rochford’s tally machine, but Bloom wasn’t there when Rochford gave his demonstration. Neither was he there to hear Lenehan’s joke about Rows of Cast Steel but recalls the punchline. Kenner suggests an answer to these impossibilities. Some hallucinations, says Kenner, are those of the reader and not Bloom’s. So it is the reader who sees the maturing ghost of Rudy at eleven. Bloom does not. Another possibility is that Bloom’s communion with Stephen allows them to share past experiences.

Joyce threads Flaubert’s treatment of the Egyptian monk’s story into the episode and the larger weave of Ulysses’ plot. Molly appears wearing scarlet trousers as part of her costume as Queen of Sheba. She mock’s Bloom as Sheba mocks Antony. The culmination of the temptation sequence is the appearance of Christ framed in the desert sun. In Bloom’s dream, the round of lemon-scented soap replaces the sun.

In connecting symbols and imagery with Ulysses’ plot, Joyce used free association and his stream of consciousness. Wrestling with how to treat Hermes’ role and the moly’s preventative power, he asked Budgen for any ideas he might have about the subject. He begged, “A catchword is enough to set me off (Ellmann).” Ultimately the stream led him to Hermes as “god of signposts…i.e. he is, especially for a traveler like Ulysses, the point at which parallel roads merge and roads contrary also.” Joyce also struck on the contrast of the moly’s white flower with a black root as an image in these ruminations. Bloom, he decided, was as complicated as the many-leafed moly. Mr. Bloom suffered “indifference due to masturbation, pessimism congenital, a sense of the ridiculous, sudden fastidiousness in some detail,….” All because the moly is both black and white. 

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