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, where Homer shows Telemachus moving into the world of manly action, first by calling an assembly of the men of Ithaca to condemn the actions of the suitors, 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.

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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 dominant powers effacing the existence of 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 schematic, on-the-hour times fits precisely with the details that can be found in the text, or inferred from it. The recess that frees the boys from Stephen's instruction not far into the chapter begins exactly at the intersection of the disagreement: "Hockey at ten, sir." Allowing for whatever amount of time may be allotted to the boys to prepare for the match (ten minutes?), and for whatever amount of instructional time may have preceded the first sentence of the chapter (undecidable, but clearly we meet Stephen and the boys in the middle of their lesson), and for whatever amount of time it may have taken Stephen either to walk the mile from the Sandycove tower to Dalkey Avenue or to take the Dalkey tram (Telemachus ends at 8:45, and it should take Stephen about 15 minutes to complete the walk), Stephen's workday may be inferred to have started not too long after 9:00. So the Linati schema's time may be judged generally the better one in this instance. But of course the chapter does not begin at the same time as the workday, and Stephen's conversation with Deasy would appear to run past 10:00, so the 9-10 designation must be regarded as very approximate.

JH 2017
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.