Annotations to James Joyce's Ulysses/Telemachus/003



S     Ulysses opens and closes with the serpentine letter S. This has been compared to the figures of serpents in the Book of Kells that have their tails in their mouths (ouroboros): Ulysses is a closed circle, ending where it began. In Finnegans Wake Joyce achieved a similar effect by linking the opening and closing sentences of the book so that the former completes the latter.

Joyce was greatly influenced by the Book of Kells. Referring to Edward Sullivan's The Book of Kells (a facsimile of some pages of the manuscript with a commentary), he once told his young Irish friend Arthur Power: "In all the places I have been to, Rome, Zurich, Trieste, I have taken it about with me, and have pored over its workmanship for hours. It is the most purely Irish thing we have, and some of the big initial letters which swing right across a page have the essential character of a chapter of Ulysses."[1]

S     The three parts into which Joyce divides Ulysses open with significant letters:

Part I (The Telemachiad): S
Part II (The Odyssey): M
Part III (The Nostos): P

These letters are the initials of the novel's three protagonists: Stephen Dedalus, Molly (Marion) Bloom and Poldy (Leopold) Bloom.[2]

S, M and P are also significant in the context of Aristotelian logic. In a syllogism there are three terms: the subject, the middle term and the predicate. These are conventionally represented by the letters S, M and P respectively. In the original 1922 edition, Episode 17 (Ithaca) ended with a large black period, which was once used as a conventional sign for Q.E.D. at the end of a formal proof or demonstration. Thus Ulysses is a polemical work with a logical structure.[3]

Stately     For all his cynicism and neo-paganism, Buck Mulligan is identified as an upholder of church and state.

plump     (1) Fat, chubby. Joyce's principal model for Buck Mulligan, Oliver St. John Gogarty, was hardly plump. Ellmann writes that when Joyce first met Gogarty in the National Library in 1903, Gogarty was "handsome, lithe though inclined to fat, prosperous and merry."[4] In 1904 Gogarty attended Oxford, where, in his own words, he "became mentally and physically pinguis [Latin: fat]".[5] Whether plump is an accurate description of Gogarty, there is no doubt that Joyce intended Buck Mulligan to be fat: in Oxen of the Sun (384.33-36), Dixon jocosely inquires whether Mulligan's "incipient ventripotence" indicates that he is pregnant. It is possible that, in the Shakespearean context of Ulysses, Joyce intended Mulligan to represent the fat knight Falstaff to Stephen's Prince Hal.

plump     (2) Blunt (in manners); crude; rude; clownish.[6] These adjectives accurately describe Mulligan's character.

Buck Mulligan     Malachi Mulligan is a portrait of Oliver St. John Gogarty, a young writer and medical student with whom Joyce (portrayed here as Stephen Dedalus) lived for six nights (9-14 June 1904) in the Martello Tower at Sandycove. According to the two schemas which Joyce provided for Ulysses, Buck Mulligan here represents Antinous, the leader of the suitors of Penelope in the Odyssey. As Stephen represents Hamlet as well as the Odyssey's Telemachus, Mulligan can also be identified with Claudius.

The first sentence in Ulysses is rated by The Guardian [7] as one of the 10 best first lines in fiction.

stairhead     A stairhead is a level space at the top of a flight of steps. In the Martello tower at Sandycove, a narrow spiral staircase of stone steps leads from the interior of the tower to the roof or terreplein. Buck Mulligan, in mockery of the Catholic ceremony of the Mass, has just ascended these steps in imitation of a Catholic priest ascending the steps to the altar.

bearing     A more solemn word than carrying. One also bears arms, appropriate here, as Mulligan and Stephen will cross swords in this episode. The military setting in the Martello tower underscores the sense or meaning Joyce assigned to this episode in the Linati schema: Il figlio spodestato alla lotta ("The dispossessed son in combat").

bowl     Mulligan's shaving bowl represents the chalice that holds the wine, which becomes the blood of Christ in the Mass.

razor     The first of many allusions in this episode to blades and cutting. Mulligan is a shaver, and also a future surgeon, but the deadliest weapon in this episode is neither the razor nor the scalpel. Rather than belonging to Mulligan, it is in the possession of Stephen (at least as he sees it). It is the lancet of his (Stephen's) art, the cold steel pen. This allusion is a play on the phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword".

Introibo ad altare Dei     (Latin) I will go in to the altar of God. The Latin Tridentine Mass opens with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. After making the Sign of the Cross, the priest and his servers intone an antiphon based on Psalm 43 (Vulgate 42), Iudica Me, Deus (Judge Me, O God), the fourth verse of which Mulligan quotes. By intoning these words after he has ascended the steps, Mulligan has perverted the order of the liturgy.[8]

Joyce preferred to indicate spoken dialogue with a dash, in the Continental manner, rather than with inverted commas. The latter were used, against the author's wishes, in Dubliners and the first two editions of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.[9]

Chrysostomos     (Greek) Χρυσόστομος is Greek for golden-mouthed, a common epithet meaning eloquent, though here it refers literally to Mulligan's gold-pointed teeth.[10] The epithet was applied to St John Chrysostomos, one of the fathers of the Greek church, whose name recalls that of Oliver St John Gogarty, Joyce's principal model for Buck Mulligan. On 16 June, the feast of the confessor St John Francis Regis, the fourth lesson of the Second Nocturn would have been taken from one of John Chrysostom's sermons.[11]

In Ireland Pope Gregory the Great was known as Grigoir Belóir (Gregory of the Golden Mouth).[12]

There was also, reputedly, an Irish saint of the 6th-century known as Greoihir Belóir (Gregory of the Golden Mouth). He lived in a cave in the Aran Islands. A local myth recounts that he bit off his lower lip while fretting over his sins, and a golden lip grew in its place.[13] Gregory's Sound, between Inishmore and Inishmaan, is named after him. John Millington Synge mentions the Bay of Gregory of the Golden Mouth in his one-act play Riders to the Sea.[14]

In his early satire Gas from a Burner (1912), Joyce refers to Lady Gregory as Gregory of the Golden Mouth.[15]

Two strong shrill whistles The two whistles represent the sacring bell, which is rung during the elevation of the consecrated Host during Mass. The origin of these helpful whistles is still a mystery. There are two obvious sources: (1) the mailboat, which is just about to leave Kingtown Harbour, about 1200 metres away (see 005.17) (2) a train arriving at Sandycove Railway Station, about 900 metres away.

In the live reading of Ulysses, broadcast in 1982 on Raidió Éireann to commemorate Joyce's centenary, the two whistles were represented by two blasts of a ship's whistle. But the resulting sound is hardly shrill, sounding more like a tuba than a piccolo.

I prefer the train whistle, which is normally of much higher pitch than a ship's whistle. In the final episode of Ulysses, Molly hears two train whistles (see 706.05 and 713.11). It is possible that Joyce intended a connection between these two events, linking the novel's most Mephistophelean character at the beginning of the book with the Ever-Womanly Molly at the end. Molly's bedroom at 7 Eccles Street is only about 600 metres from Drumcondra Railway Station.

Is Buck Mulligan Sancho Panza? To raise a possible parallel with or echo of Cervantes, Roger B. Salomon[16] suggests Joyce in Portrait and Ulysses has Stephen play out the mock-heroic mode invented by Cervantes in Don Quixote, combining both nostalgic creator and ironic critic. (The mock hero aligns his deepest emotional attachments to dead mythologies and forgotten codes of ethics; an alienated figure in a landscape hostile to the possibility of any kind of attainment. The reader is witness to a dialogue between the real and a faded ideal, between the sensible and the admirable.) He suggests Buck Mulligan plays the part of both supportive friend and deflating realist a la Sancho Panza in Don Quixote. This role, though in a more kindly and distant way, seems to transfer to Leopold Bloom. This is just one thread in a myriad of literary allusions Joyce draws upon, but nevertheless a powerful one.


  1. Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 545. ISBN 0-19-281465-6.
  2. Gifford, Don; Seidman, Robert J. (1988). Ulysses Annotated. Berkeley Los Angeles London: University of California press. p. 12. ISBN 0-520-05639-6.
  3. Gifford, Ibid.
  4. Ellmann, op. cit. 117.
  5. St John Gogarty, Oliver (1971). James F. Carens (ed.). Many Lines to Thee: Letters to G. K. A. Bell 1904-1907. Ireland: Dolmen. p. 29.
  6. Oxford English Dictionary.
  8. Prayers at the Foot of the Altar
  9. Hans Walter Gabler, A Note on the Text, in James Joyce, Dubliners, Vintage International (1993), page 233.
  10. Gifford (1988) 14.
    Thornton (1968) 12.
  11. John, Marquess of Bute (translator), The Roman Breviary (1908) 457.
  12. Annals of the Four Masters M590.4 and Annála Ríoghachta Éireann M590.4.
  13. John O'Hanlon, Irish Local Legends 27-29.
  14. Riders to the Sea.
  15. Gas from a Burner 42.
  16. Desperate Storytelling: Post-Romantic Elaborations of the Mock-Heroic Mode, Roger B. Salomon University of Georgia Press, July, 2008 [1]
Annotations to James Joyce's Ulysses
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