Fleshpots

In Brief

Both Stephen and Bloom think of a biblical phrase, "fleshpots of Egypt," that evokes life in exile. It is used by the Israelites when they rebel against Moses, who has led them out of captivity in Egypt into near-starvation in the Sinai desert.

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In "the fifteenth day of the second month" after leaving Egypt, "the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Exodus 16:1-3). YHWH responds by promising to "rain bread from heaven" (16:4), "And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host" (16:13). The quail meat and the manna rescue the people from starvation.

Stephen apparently thinks of this episode in Proteus with a wry, sardonic twist. He has escaped from Ireland, only to face near-starvation in Paris. What does he find to eat there? Not elegant quail or miraculous manna but only "fleshpots" of the lowest order: "mou en civet" is lung stew.

Bloom too does something surprising with the image. He thinks of a man named Jack Fleming who ran off to America and "Keeps a hotel now. They never come back. Fleshpots of Egypt." In this instance, the better economic circumstances in America, imaged as fleshpots, keep Ireland's exiles from returning. Material fulfillment wins out over spiritual calling.

JH 2017
James (Jacques Joseph) Tissot, The Gathering of the Manna (ca. 1896-1902), gouache on board painting held in the Jewish Museum, New York City. Source: Wikimedia Commons.