“Thalatta! Thalatta!" means "The sea! The sea!” Xenophon's Anabasis, written in the first decades of the 4th century BC, records this cry of a Greek army upon seeing the Black Sea. It expressed their relief and exultation at escaping near-certain death.
The word anabasis refers to a military expedition, literally “a march up from the coast” or “a march up country.” Xenophon took part in such an expedition in 401, as one of 10,000 Greek mercenaries who, along with a much greater number of Persians, agreed to follow Cyrus the Younger from the Aegean Sea up into Ionia (western Turkey today) to attack a Persian tributary who ruled Ionia. The real target of Cyrus’ massive army, however, was his older brother Artaxerxes II, the emperor of Persia. Near Tarsus (in what is now south central Turkey), the Greek soldiers discovered this appalling deception and refused to go further east, but were convinced to do so by a Spartan general named Clearchus. After surviving battle with Artaxerxes’ army in what is now the heart of Iraq, Clearchus was invited to a peace conference by Artaxerxes, who betrayed and murdered him. Far from the sea and surrounded by hostile forces, the Ten Thousand elected new leaders (Xenophon one of them) and fought their way out of Persia, north to the Black Sea. From there they made their way home via the Bosporus.
Added to the Homeric references, the evocation of this heroic feat deepens our impression that the events of Ulysses are somehow recapitulating or echoing the world of ancient Greece. And they foreground one particular aspect of that world: armed conflict. Mulligan speaks the triumphant words of Xenophon, and his relation to Stephen makes him Antinous, the leader of the suitors whom Telemachus must outwit and kill. Along with the knives that figure often in this episode, these stories seem to predict an archaic narrative of violent struggle. But Ulysses will complicate these expectations. In the following episode, Nestor, the Homeric analogues begin to function less straightforwardly, assuming parodic forms. The book as a whole will undermine notions of heroism based on strength and aggression.