Seadeath

In Brief

The entwining of Shakespearean and Homeric parallels begun in Telemachus continues in Proteus, as Stephen turns from The Tempest's mystical consolation for a death by drowning ("Full fathom five thy father lies . . . A seachange this") to The Odyssey's benign prophecy that its hero will die at sea ("Seadeath, mildest of all deaths known to man"). Stephen associates this mysteriously beautiful death with "Old Father Ocean," Proteus.

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In Book 11 of The Odyssey Tiresias prophesies "a seaborne death, soft as this hand of mist" for Odysseus (11.134-35, Fitzgerald 201). Stephen is terrified of water, but having just thought of the drowned man undergoing a sequence of benign metamorphoses ("God becomes man becomes fish becomes barnacle goose becomes featherbed mountain"), he entertains Tiresias' words calmly.

"Old Father Ocean" is one possible translation of Homer's epithet halios gerĂ´n, sometimes rendered as the Old Man of the Sea or the Ancient of the Sea. Although Joyce's schemas encourage readers to associate the third episode of Ulysses with this ancient god, only here, at the end of the episode, does the text directly refer to him.

JH 2017
16th century woodblock print of Proteus from Andrea Alciato's Book of Emblems. Source: Wikimedia Commons.