In Brief

Stephen thinks, of the sea, "diebus ac noctibus iniurias patiens ingemiscit": "by days and nights it patiently groans over wrongs." He is recalling Saint Ambrose's commentary on Romans 8:22, which reads: "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain until now." In many translations of Paul's words, the creation suffers the pains of childbirth, waiting for the manifestation of God the way a pregnant woman waits for delivery. Stephen seems to be aware of this conflation of metaphysical expectation with sexual generation.

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Watching seaweed moving on the incoming tide, Stephen thinks of women. He sees "the writhing weeds lift languidly and sway reluctant arms, hising up their petticoats, in whispering water swaying and upturning coy silver fronds. Day by day: night by night: lifted, flooded and let fall. Lord, they are weary; and, whispered to, they sigh." This picture of weary women lifting up their skirts for "lascivious men" seems to trigger his memory of the Pauline image: "Saint Ambrose heard it, sigh of leaves and waves, waiting, awaiting the fullness of their times, diebus ac noctibus iniurias patiens ingemiscit." But instead of, or in addition to, Paul's thought that the whole Creation longs for delivery from sin and revelation of the Creator, Stephen meditates on a specifically sexual weariness.

Drawing on the knowledge of Father W. T. Noon, Thornton notes that the Latin phrase comes from Ambrose's Commentary on Romans. Ambrose (ca. 340-397) was an early church bishop who became known as one of the four Doctors or Fathers of the western church. Born in Germany and educated in Rome, he became bishop of Milan in 374 by popular acclamation, in the midst of an intense fray between Arians and adherents of the Nicene Creed. He defended the orthodox position even against the Emperor Valentinian II, an Arian. His passionate Trinitarianism may have recommended him to Joyce.

JH 2015
Saint Ambrose of Milan, in an early mossaic that may be a portrait from life. Source: Wikimedia Commons.