Not least of the bewildering ways in which Proteus plunges the reader into the waves of Stephen's thoughts, with little connection to the dry land of dialogue and action, is its refusal to translate his kaleidoscopic multilingualism into English. In addition to lots of French, some German and Latin, and smatterings of Scots, Irish, Swedish, Greek, and Spanish, the episode contains more than half a dozen phrases in Italian, a language which Joyce spoke fluently. Two of the utterances translated here come from works of literature and opera, and are discussed in other notes. The remaining ones are conversational.
Stephen Dedalus has studied Italian at university, and in Wandering Rocks he will run across his maestro or teacher, Almidano Artifoni, and hold a conversation with him in Italian. The first paragraph of Proteus mentions another maestro, recalling Dante's honorific phrase for Aristotle in the Inferno: "maestro di color che sanno," "the master of those who know."
Stephen's next use of Italian comes as he decides to end the experiment of closing his eyes and making the world disappear. "Basta!" means "Enough!"
The language irrupts into the text again when Stephen imagines his uncle Richie Goulding singing, humming, and whistling parts of Verdi's Il Trovatore. "All'erta!" means "On the alert!" or "On guard!" It is the basso Ferrando's "aria di sortita" (the song with which a given character enters), and he is telling the troops under his command to keep a careful watch at night.
Later, as Stephen remembers trailing behind a "fubsy widow" hoping that she will lift her wet skirts to show some calf he thinks sardonically, "O, si, certo! Sell your soul for that, do." The Italian could be rendered, "O yeah, sure!" or, in an even more American idiom, "Yeah, right!"
In the same vein, he thinks later of "The virgin at Hodges Figgis' window" that he eyed on Monday: "Bet she wears those curse of God stays suspenders and yellow stockings, darned with lumpy wool. Talk about apple dumplings, piuttosto. Where are your wits?" The Italian word means "rather" or "quite," serving here as an intensifier.
In the midst of thinking of the sexual licentiousness of Paris, Stephen uses an Italian word to personify the men comically jumping from bed to bed: "Belluomo rises from the bed of his wife's lover's wife." The word means, literally, "beautiful man," and perhaps that is a better translation than "handsome man," given what the paragraph goes on to say about "curled conquistadores" (Spanish for "conquerors").
Stephen thinks of Thomas Aquinas as "frate porcospino" or Brother Porcupine, the porcupine monk—because, Gifford infers, "Aquinas's argument is prickly and difficult to attack."
And finally, near the end of the episode, he thinks "Già," or "Already." Gifford notes, "As Stephen uses the word here, "Già . . . Già," it is an expression of impatience: 'Let's go . . . Let's go.'"