(U) Episode 3: “Proteus,” ~pp 37-51.

Important Symbols & Phrases of Episode 3

  • “Ineluctable modalities:” One possible translation might be an unavoidable bombardment against one or more senses. Aristotle taught that color was essential to visibility. We now know there is color beyond most people’s capacity to perceive, but some cheat the limitation. Artist Concetta Antico has four photoreceptors rather than the usual three. She sees gradients of a million colors. All geniuses possess the gift- an ability to derive meaning where most mortals can see none. However, the immature Stephen attempts not to use his enhanced ability but to shut it down.
  • Signatures: Sixteen Century German mystic Jakob Boehm wrote that God leaves a mark on his creations, so that man will know Him. His Signatures subscript the object’s purpose in the struggle between good and evil. The creative and destructive power of the sea might be one such signature. Another might be the sea’s role as a vehicle for jetsam carrying wreckage and a means of transport for new life. Seeds, for example, are carried on the Jet Stream from island to island.
  • Diaphane and adiaphane: Diaphane means translucent; adiaphane opaque. Aristotle taught these are qualities of the object, not of the color. Both qualities are transformative. An opaque colored glass is different than one which is translucent. The adiaphaneous is hidden from human observation, like the shades of hues visible to Concetta Ancico. One symbol of the adiaphaneous nature of reality is in the Kabbala where God’s face can only be seen in profile since “the other side is unknown and unknowable (Campbell).”
  • Nacheinander (neibeneinander): Step beside step (step after step) references both space and time elapsed as Stephen travels Sandymount Strand. Nebeneinander is the passage through space; nacheinander is the passage through time. Space-time was unknown in 1904 but was understood when Joyce took up his pen to write the novel. Einstein wrote his papers on both General and Special Relativity in 1905. Virginia Wolfe, another Modernist proposed that General Relativity would allow writers to know their futures. Wrong, but it certainly would help Stephen’s contemplation of an uncertain future. According to Joseph Campbell, the conflicting German terms pit the eternal against a discrete moment in time.
  • Midwives and gamps: Away from urban Dublin, a pair of midwives process an infant corpse, placenta, and umbilical for burial in the seaside sand. The burial is probably the result of abortion rather than a miscarriage since it is buried on a beach. One matron carries a gamp or umbrella, named for a Dickensian midwife of that name. If you will allow another connection that Joyce probably didn’t intend, funeral processions in New Orleans are led with an umbrella. The trailing umbilicus returns the present through a “strandentwining cable of all flesh” back to Edenville.
  • Aleph, alpha, nought, nought, one: Stephen’s invents a particular telephone exchange and number for his imaginary call to Edenville. In Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah), Aleph is a number set that indicates the infinite. In Greek logic and mathematics, zero does not exist. In a binary system, alpha would represent “1.” If we convert the alpha to a binary 1, the sequence is 1001 or 9. Medieval thinkers considered 9 to be a perfect number, the number of the Trinity squared. The heroes of Ulysses are also a Trinity (Stephen, Poldy, and Molly). Another interpretation might be the reduction from the infinite (Aleph) to the minimum (001). From a theocracy to an autocracy of one.
  • Arius:  The Arian heresy claimed that God the Father created Christ. Creation by the Father makes the Son less godly than the Father. Consider if artistic “divinity” passes from a father to son. Consider if an artist needs a creative or spiritual father as well as a biological one. Stephen’s story is the search for such a father.
  • Kevin Egan: A forgotten republican Irish hero, Egan is an earlier generation of expat exiled in Paris. Stephen’s recollection of time spent with Egan is a disconcerting promise of what living abroad could become. Stephen’s current problem, according to Campbell, is how to escape from his juvenile ego.
  • The gypsy dog: In conversation with Frank Budgen, Joyce described the dog on the beach as a shape-changing creature- hare, hart, gull, wolf, etc. See “Themes” above. The dog’s human companions are gypsies, combining the themes of transformation and wandering. Egypt, source of the term “gypsy,” also the origin of Prince Noferkephtah, who uncovered the magic Book of Thoth containing the secrets of shape-shifting.

2 thoughts on “(U) Episode 3: “Proteus,” ~pp 37-51.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Elis.

      My intent is not to do what has been done excellently elsewhere. Gifford has created great notes; Gilbert offers a great summary of each episode. My purpose is to bring together what various great commentators have said about themes and symbols in the work. I am available to discuss specific questions with any reader who cares to leave a Comment as you have been kind enough to do.

      I read somewhere that only 7% of those who begin reading Ulysses finish the book. If I can improve the numbers of those who see the website to a 6% success rate, I would be very happy.

      I greatly value what you have said. You can be sure that I will continue to think about your comment.



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