Track of the sun

In Brief

One of the books sitting on Bloom's bookshelves, according to Ithaca, is "In the Track of the Sun." It is one of several travelogues that Bloom owns, consistent with his recurrent dream of doing more traveling. He thinks of the book in Calypso after imagining a long day's stroll through the streets of a Middle Eastern city, with a skeptical attitude toward both the daydream and the book: "Probably not a bit like it really. Kind of stuff you read." Despite these harsh words, the book is informative, observant, and fairly judicious. It appears to have given Bloom some of his ideas about far-flung, exotic parts of the world.

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Frederick Diodati Thompson published In the Track of the Sun: Readings from the Diary of a Globe Trotter in 1893. The book was bound in "yellow cloth," as Ithaca notes, but it does not have a "Sunburst on the titlepage," as Bloom thinks in Calypso. His odd statement may owe to other facts noted in Ithaca: "titlepage missing, recurrent title intestation." Whatever "intestation" may mean in this context (it usually refers to being deprived of the right to make a will, as in "dying intestate"), it seems that Bloom's copy lacks a title page. (Perhaps someone has drawn in a sketch of the rising sun?) Thompson's title page displays photographs of a Great Buddha statue from southeast Asia and a musician from Japan. Hundreds of other photographs and drawings adorn the pages of the text.

Thompson traveled overland from New York to Victoria, BC, and then to Japan, China, Ceylon, India, Egypt, and Palestine. The last of these locales described in the book seems to have especially captured Bloom's imagination. His picture of "Orangegroves and immense melonfields north of Jaffa" a bit later in Calypso, while he reads a proposal "To purchase waste sandy tracts from Turkish government and plant with eucalyptus trees," probably owes something to Thompson: "Leaving Jaffa, we passed through many orange groves. . . . The land may be to some extent worn out, but by proper cultivation and the use of fertilizers it could be made very productive" (190). A picture of Jerusalem's Damascus Gate in Thompson's book (191), and thoughts about the gates of Damascus itself (211), may have inspired Bloom's thoughts, in the daydream, of a "city gate" with a "sentry there." Thompson visited several mosques in the area, and Bloom thinks of "The shadows of the mosques among the pillars."

Thompson also made a trip to the Dead Sea, noting that "The scenery is desolate and weird. On either side the mountains rise abruptly, barren and harsh, without trees or grass. . . . Numerous events of biblical record happened on these Dead Sea shores. It was here that Lot's wife, for looking back in disobedience to the command of the Lord, was turned into a pillar of salt" (197). Bloom thinks, "Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those  waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom." Attempting to swim in the mineral-laden water, Thompson found that "my feet went into the air, the water being so buoyant, and it was difficult to make any headway" (198). Bloom thinks of a similar scene in Lotus Eaters: "Where was the chap I saw in that picture somewhere? Ah yes, in the dead sea floating on his back, reading a book with a parasol open. Couldn't sink if you tried: so thick with salt."

However much Thompson's book may or may not have contributed to Bloom's picture of the Middle East, its title has certainly engaged his imagination. His daydream begins with a fantasy of keeping one step ahead of the sun: "Somewhere in the east: early morning: set off at dawn. Travel round in front of the sun, steal a day's march on him. Keep it up for ever never grow a day older technically." Stephen has entertained a similar fancy in Proteus, imagining the gypsy couple walking "Across the sands of all the world, "followed by the sun's flaming sword, to the west."

JH 2017
Frederick Diodati Thompson, In the Track of the Sun. Source: archive.org.
Frontispiece and title page of Thompson's book. Source: archive.org.
The Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on p. 191. Source: archive.org.