Yellow dressinggown

Yellow dressinggown

In Brief

The text gives less obvious encouragement to reading symbolic significance into Mulligan's "yellow dressinggown" than it does with mirrors and razors, but in Christian countries this color had long been associated with heresy and treachery. In Circe these associations settle on Bloom.

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Quoting George Ferguson's Signs and Symbols in Christian Art (1954), Gifford notes that "the traitor Judas is frequently painted in a garment of dingy yellow. In the Middle Ages heretics were obliged to wear yellow" (153). After the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, some countries forced Jews to wear a yellow badge on their clothing. After the Albigensian Crusade ended in 1229, the Papal Inquisition of Pope Gregory IX decreed that all remaining Cathars would wear yellow crosses on their clothing as a similar badge of shame. This practice was part of a broad cultural effort to stigmatize certain groups. (In some countries paupers who had received relief from the parish were made to wear red or blue badges on one shoulder, in order to make seeking such relief unappealing.) Islamic countries with large Jewish and Christian populations had done the same thing in earlier centuries. In the 20th century, the Nazis in Germany revived these medieval badges of shame, forcing Jews to sew yellow stars of David on their clothes and making homosexuals wear pink triangles.

Since Stephen associates Mulligan with heresy later in Telemachus, the fact that Buck likes to wear yellow clothing is very suggestive. Later in Telemachus we learn that his waistcoat too is "primrose" colored.

In Circe, Bloom is immolated by an Irish version of the Inquisition after being given such clothes to wear. Brother Buzz "Invests Bloom in a yellow habit with embroidery of painted flames and high pointed hat. He places a bag of gunpowder round his neck and hands him over to the civil power," saying, "Forgive him his trespasses." Of course, it is Bloom rather than Mulligan that most Dubliners would see as a heretic. Half-Jewish by ancestry (his father converted before his marriage, but tried to instill Jewish traditions in his son), half-Protestant by affiliation (raised in the Church of Ireland and a Freemason later in life), and fully atheistical by temperament (he disbelieves in the incorporeal soul and a host of other Christian teachings), Bloom is quite inevitably an object of suspicion to most of the Catholic Irishmen he meets.

John Hunt 2011
The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas), a mural by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, ca. 1305. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
René Weis, The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars (2001).