Calypso

In Brief

Episode 4 begins a new section of the novel, the Wanderings of Ulysses, marked by a Roman numeral II in print editions. Joyce loosely imitated the structure of Homer's Odyssey, which introduces Telemachus before telling the backstory of Odysseus' adventures after the fall of Troy and concluding with the hero's return to Ithaca. But instead of starting in medias res and then looking back, Joyce started June 16 twice, making Leopold Bloom's first three chapters cover the same period of time that Stephen's have, beginning at 8 AM and ending at noon. He also tinkered with Homer's spatial plan, moving his hero from exile to home. "Calypso" takes place in and around Bloom's house on Eccles Street, but this title suggested by the schemas implies that all is not well at home.

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Leaving aside all of the questions attendant upon Joyce recasting Odysseus as a socially marginal middle-class ad salesman, it is worth asking why and how he associated Bloom's hour at home with Calypso's island—beyond the obvious reason that this is where Homer starts the story of Odysseus. The fifth book of the Odyssey finds the hero marooned on an island called Ogygia, desperately unhappy and longing to return to Ithaca. He has been away from home for twenty years, seven of them in the company of a demi-goddess who gives him her love, her body, and the promise of immortality, but not the freedom to return home. At the end of the poem he regains his palace and his wife, a conclusion that Joyce reenacted by calling the penultimate chapter of his novel "Ithaca," and the last chapter "Penelope."

Bloom's narrative begins at home, for the necessary reason that this is where he begins every day. But Joyce conceived the chapter as a reenactment of Odysseus' exile. He did not have to follow Homer's order of events—as the second section of Ulysses goes on, he freely alters that order—so the reader should reflect upon the fact that as Bloom more or less contentedly begins another ordinary day, bringing meat to his house and preparing breakfast, collecting the mail, discussing things with his wife, tending to the needs of his cat, and clearing his bowels and his bladder, he is symbolically presented as a hero in exile. By identifying Molly here with Calypso (as well as Penelope at the end of the novel), Joyce suggests that the Blooms' home is a place of dissatisfaction as much as contentment.

Athena tells Zeus that her protégé "lives and grieves upon that island / in thralldom to the nymph." When the messenger god Hermes arrives at Calypso's cave, bearing Zeus' command to release her prisoner, Odysseus is not present. He is on the seashore, sitting "apart, as a thousand times before":

                             The sweet days of his lifetime
were running out in anguish over his exile,
for long ago the nymph had ceased to please.
Though he fought shy of her and her desire,
he lay with her each night, for she compelled him.
But when day came he sat on the rocky shore
and broke his own heart groaning, with eyes wet
scanning the bare horizon of the sea.

Molly plays the role of the captor in Calypso. She orders her husband about with sharp commands, as he dutifully labors to fulfill her needs and indulge her whims. She is also the sexual partner who has "ceased to please," and here too Joyce supplies a realistic analogue to Homer's story, though he takes many chapters to supply the details. Since the death of their second child, more than ten years earlier, the Blooms have not enjoyed satisfying sexual intercourse, and the disinterest is pretty clearly Bloom's.

Many other details link Molly with Calypso. Homer calls his goddess "the softly-braided nymph," and Molly lies in bed "counting the strands of her hair, smiling, braiding." Over the Blooms' bed hangs a reproduction of a painting titled The Bath of the Nymph, which Bloom thinks is "Not unlike her with her hair down: slimmer." He remembers how it came to hang there: "She said it would look nice over the bed." A passage in the Odyssey describing the scented smoke in Calypso's cave may have inspired Bloom's appreciation for the scents of tea and cooking food in Molly's presence. And the name Calypso means "Concealer." When Bloom delivers a letter to his wife, she hides it under the pillow. It is from the man that she will begin an affair with on this day—a great concealment.

Molly does not bother to effectively conceal either the hiding of the letter or the affair from her husband, but these brazen actions express her alienation from him. Bloom too feels alienated. He spends much of his day thinking about other women, beginning in this chapter with the neighbors' servant girl. Although he is not conducting any physical affairs, he has visited prostitutes, and June 16 finds him engaged in an epistolary affair. It is probably not his first. His marked subservience to his wife coheres with a strongly masochistic tendency in his sexuality, an excessive deference to other men that suggests insufficient self-confidence, a willingness to imagine other men having sex with his wife, and an interest in Greek goddesses as immortal ideals of physical beauty who do not have to live with physical frailty.

Bloom likes his place in the world, his home with Molly. The "art" of the fourth chapter, according to Gilbert's schema, is "economics," which in its original Greek sense means household management, and this term describes Bloom's life as a househusband as we see him puttering about in Calypso. But the home, for him, is a place of entrapment as well as self-fulfillment, and when the chapter ends he makes his way out into the larger world. The travels that he undertakes on June 16, thinking constantly of the sad state of his marriage, push him out of his comfortable center and bring him back to it at the end of the day. It is perhaps not too ingenious to see in Boylan's letter an echo of Hermes' message from Zeus, freeing Odysseus to leave. It will be a long time, actually and textually, before this traveler returns.

Like Telemachus, Calypso begins near the hour of 8:00 and ends at 8:45. It takes place at the northern edge of Dublin, in a house located just inside the North Circular Road and on nearby city streets.

JH 2017
William York Tindall's photograph from the 1950s of the row of townhouses on Eccles Street that includes no. 7 (nearest to the lamppost), looking toward St. George's church. Source: The Joyce Country.
Odysseus and Calypso, 1943 oil on canvas painting by Max Beckmann, held in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Source: www.artchive.com.
Odysseus and Calypso, 1883 oil on panel painting by Arnold Böcklin, held in the Kunstmuseum, Basel. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Odysseus, Calypso, and Hermes in a drawing by an unknown artist. Source: ithaka.wikispaces.com.