Silent ship

In Brief

Having lobbed out one highly suggestive image in "crosstrees," the final sentence of the Telemachiad concludes with another: "homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship." If Stephen's protean wrestlings in the third chapter somehow reenact the efforts of Homer's Telemachus to learn about his father's whereabouts (by questioning Menelaus, who questioned Proteus), then this silent ship may somehow reenact Odysseus' stealthy return to his home in Ithaca.

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Other details conspire with the words "silent" and "homing" to create this impression. Just before turning to see the ship, Stephen has thought, "Behind. Perhaps there is someone." He may only be worrying that someone has seen him picking his nose (he has reached for his handkerchief, only to realize that he never picked it up when Mulligan threw it to him in Telemachus), but the thought that "someone" is coming to town on that ship is effectively insinuated into the reader's mind.

A reader of Joyce's fictions, in particular, may think of Odysseus. In "An Encounter," the second story of Dubliners, the two boys who are "miching" from school walk along the quays on the north side of the Liffey and see a "graceful threemaster" being unloaded on the opposite side of the river. They take a ferry across to watch, and the protagonist looks at "the foreign sailors to see had any of them green eyes for I had some confused notion. . . . ." The boy's unexplained "notion" is probably the medieval one that Odysseus had green eyes. (This tradition has been perpetuated in modern culture. Glyn Iliffe's recent popular novel The Voyage of Odysseus, for instance, gives the hero "green eyes.")

Joyce's Odysseus, Leopold Bloom, will appear on the very next page of the novel, so the final words of the Telemachiad read like a prophetic transition, a linking of expectant son to triumphantly returning father. But symbolic connections tend not to cohere quite so neatly in Joyce's fictions. Bloom is not arriving on a schooner on June 16; he is conducting everyday business as a citizen of Dublin. And symbolically, he has only started on his journey from Calypso's island to an Ithacan homecoming.

Even in "An Encounter," the boy's search for an adventure is not fulfilled in quite the way he has hoped for. The man he eventually encounters, with "a pair of bottle-green eyes peering at me from under a twitching forehead," is no Ulysses. And this "queer old josser," a leering and demented substitute for the expected hero, will have his counterpart in Ulysses. In Eumaeus Stephen will find that there indeed was "someone" on the ship, name of W. B. Murphy. He too is a very disappointing Odysseus.

JH 2017
Odysseus at sea on a raft made of amphoras, on a 4th c. BC Boetian black-figure pottery wine cup found at Thebes, held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
2013 edition of Charles Lamb's The Adventures of Ulysses, the 1808 collection of tales in which the young James Joyce first encountered his classical hero. Source: www.nanozine.org.