Nestor

In Brief

Episode 2, "Nestor," shows Stephen outside of his bohemian digs, in the adult world of earning a living. He has walked about a mile southeast from the Sandycove tower to the town of Dalkey, where he is employed in a private boys' school owned and run by a man named Garrett Deasy. Joyce maps this realistic action onto some of the events in Books 2 and 3 of the Odyssey, which show Telemachus moving into the world of manly action. The events narrated in the chapter probably begin at about 9:30 and end at about 10:30.

Read More

Homer shows Telemachus taking action first by calling an assembly of the men of Ithaca to condemn the suitors' depradations, and, when that fails, by voyaging to Pylos and Sparta on the Greek mainland to see what Nestor and Menelaus may know of his father. Nestor receives him hospitably and tells him the relevant story of what happened to Agamemnon when he returned home, but he has no information about Odysseus. Stephen's case is worse: Deasy afflicts him with unsought and aggressive advice, and Stephen actively resists the headmaster's assumption of intellectual authority.

Joyce's narrative clearly associates Deasy with Nestor. The portraits of "vanished horses" on the walls of his study—champion racehorses from the 1860s, 70s, and 80s—echo Nestor's reputation as "the prince of charioteers," a reputation that is illustrated when Nestor sends Telemachus and his son Peisistratus off to Sparta behind a pair of "thoroughbreds, a racing team." The concern for cattle that Deasy shows in writing his letter about foot-and-mouth disease reflects the monumental sacrifice of bulls that greets Telemachus when he arrives at Pylos, as well as the sacrifice of a prize heifer to Athena the next day. There are many additional echoes, but Joyce's episode engages with Homer's most crucially on the theme of a young man seeking advice from an old one. Athena urges Telemachus to learn from Nestor:

"Go to old Nestor, master charioteer,
so we may broach the storehouse of his mind.
Ask him with courtesy, and in his wisdom
he will tell you history and no lies."

But clear-headed Telémakhos replied:

"Mentor, how can I do it, how approach him?
I have no practice in elaborate speeches, and
for a young man to interrogate an old man
Seems disrespectful—"

Despite this veneration for the old man's wisdom, Nestor does not have any actionable information. His knowledge of Odysseus' whereabouts ends with the departure from Troy. Joyce took this deflation of patriarchal wisdom considerably further. Mr. Deasy tells Stephen (who has not asked) a boatload of "history," including the United Irishmen rebellion of the 1790s, the Act of Union in 1800-1, Daniel O'Connell's parliamentary reform movements in the first half of the 19th century, the famine of the 1840s, and the fenian conspiracy of the 1860s. But his Protestant unionist perspective on these events is one that Stephen can hardly embrace. And his aggressively partisan position is undermined by many, many "lies."

For Stephen, Deasy's biased history is not simply inaccurate. It is depressingly representative of history in general, which tells the story of the dominant powers, effacing the losers. In Deasy's complacent unionist view, "All human history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God." In Stephen's subjected condition, history is "a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." Joyce named history as the "art" of Nestor in both of his schemas. It is an art whose practice depends hugely on one's subject position.

According to the Linati schema, the episode takes place from 9 to 10 AM. According to Gilbert's, the time is 10-11 AM. Neither of these on-the-hour times fits precisely with the details that can be found in the text or inferred from it. The chapter begins in the middle of a lesson, so the time must be later than 9:00, since Telemachus ended at 8:45 and it must have taken Stephen at least 15 minutes to walk the mile from the Sandycove tower to Dalkey Avenue. It is impossible to say exactly how long the lessons have been going on, but not very much textual time elapses before the boys remind Stephen that they have "Hockey at ten, sir." Estimating backward from this hour to account for the history and literature lessons that we hear narrated, for Stephen's riddle, and for his tutoring of Sargent while the boys dress for the match and Deasy sorts the teams, one may reckon that the action of the chapter begins somewhere around 9:30.

The conversation between Stephen and Deasy in the headmaster's office must begin at about the same time as the boys' recess, 10:00, and it occupies slightly more than half the chapter. An estimate of 10:30 would fit with the time frame of Lotus Eaters, preserving the temporal parallels that Joyce evidently intended between Stephen's first three chapters and Bloom's. It clashes, however, with the time of 10:00 that Clive Hart infers from his account of how Stephen travels from Dalkey to Sandymount Strand between Nestor and Proteus (James Joyce's Dublin, 27-32). Persuasive as Hart's account of Stephen's movements is, it seems impossible that his conversation with Deasy could conclude by 10:00.

JH 2018
The house in Dalkey that housed Francis Irwin's Clifton School for boys, in a photograph taken in the 1950s by William York Tindall. Source: The Joyce Country.
Bartolomeo Pinelli's early 19th c. drawing (pen on paper, with gray and brown wash and traces of black chalk) titled "Telemachus Relates how he was Admitted into the Assembly and how he Received Prizes," held in the Art Institute of Chicago. Source: www.artic.edu.
Nestor and his sons sacrificing to Poseidon on the beach at Pylos, in an Attic red-figure calyx-krater from ca. 400 BC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Early 19th c. etching of Telemachus taking his leave of Nestor by Henry Howard, location unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons.