Buck, trippant

Buck, trippant

In Brief

Authorial simile in Proteus briefly changes the dog on the beach into a different animal: "Suddenly he made off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a lowskimming gull." Further protean animal metamorphoses ensue, anticipating the kaleidoscopic transformations of the dog in Circe. The comparisons must be instances of free indirect narration approximating the contents of Stephen's consciousness, because soon after the first of them his interior monologue turns the dog into a deer, using the language of heraldry: "On a field tenney a buck, trippant, proper, unattired." At the end of the chapter, Stephen himself is presented in the language of heraldry.

Read More

In a personal communication, Ole Bønnerup offers the wonderful observation that Stephen's "buck, trippant" echoes Mulligan's characterization of himself in Telemachus: "Tripping and sunny like the buck himself." But Stephen manages to map this remembered phrase onto technical terminology. In the language of heraldry, "passant" refers to an animal walking past the viewer, looking straight ahead. (If he looks at the viewer, the word "gardant" is added.) Unlike other animals, a deer depicted in this posture is called "trippant." Stephen presumably sees the dog moving across his field of vision in this way. He also sees it "On a field tenney" (tenné = orange or tawny, i.e. the beach), "proper" (in his natural colors, i.e. not changed by demands of iconography), and "unattired" (without antlers, i.e., a dog).

All of this happens in the midst of the narrative's slightly more realistic depiction of the animal. When the hare-dog hears its master calling, it comes back, now sounding vaguely like a horse or deer, and stops at the water's edge to watch more life-forms approaching: "He turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks. On a field tenny a buck, trippant, proper, unattired. At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking." "Seamorse," which the OED identifies as an archaic name for a walrus, captures the heaviness of the breaking waves. "Serpented" captures their sinuous many-headed advance. "Every ninth" foregrounds the human habit of looking for patterns in the fluctuations of magnitude in incoming waves.

In the following paragraph, the dog becomes a bear: "The dog yelped running to them, reared up and pawed them, dropping on all fours, again reared up at them with mute bearish fawning." And a wolf: "Unheeded he kept by them as they came towards the drier sand, a rag of wolf's tongue redpanting from  his jaws." And a cow: "His speckled body ambled ahead of them and then loped off at a calf's gallop." In the paragraph after that, he plays the part of the fox in Stephen's riddle: "His hindpaws then scattered the sand: then his forepaws dabbled and delved. Something he buried there, his grandmother." And finally he leaves in a flurry of changing forms: "He rooted in the sand, dabbling, delving and stopped to listen to the air, scraped up the sand again with a fury of his claws, soon ceasing, a pard, a panther, got in spousebreach, vulturing the dead."

Thornton traces the leopard and panther to several works in the medieval tradition of fantastic bestiaries. The most relevant seems to be the encyclopedic compendium called De Proprietatibus rerum (On the Properties of Things), written in the 13th century by a Franciscan friar named Bartholomeus Anglicus (Bartholomew the Englishman) and translated into English in the late 14th century by a Cornish writer named John de Trevisa. The OED quotes this sentence from the work: "Leopardus is a cruel beeste and is gendered in spowsebreche [i.e., adultery] of a parde and of a lionas." On the other hand, the "fury of his claws" may justify William Schutte's suggestion that Joyce is following Brunetto Latini's Il Tesoro, which explains why the female panther gives birth only once: her young will not wait for the proper time and tear their way out of her womb.

In the final paragraph of Proteus Stephen himself is described in heraldic terms as he looks back over its shoulder: "He turned his face over a shoulder, rere regardant." In James Joyce and Heraldry (SUNY Press, 1986), Michael J. O'Shea notes that "None of the English sources to which I have referred uses the expression 'rere regardant' (they simply use 'regardant' to describe the lion looking back over its shoulder) except Barron. But Barron is citing old French usage" (181). The fact that "regardant" was used to describe lions extends the web of connections to still one more animal image: "The lions couchant on the pillars" of Mr. Deasy's gateway at the end of Nestor. There, Stephen turns back at the gate and sees the sun fling spangles of light on the "wise shoulders" of his Nestor. At the end of Proteus he looks back over his own shoulder to see the masts of a ship evocative of the homecoming of Ulysses.

JH 2015
Heather Pockock, mixed-media painting of the sentence "His snout lifted, barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse," from an exhibit called "Jumping for Joyce: Contemporary painters revel in the world of James Joyce" at the Francis Kyle Gallery, London, 2013. Source: kebury.wordpress.com.
Heraldic image of a buck, trippant, proper, attired. Source: www.heraldsnet.org.