Orangekeyed

In Brief

The chamberpot that the Blooms keep under their bed for nighttime emergencies is described as "orangekeyed"—a cryptic adjective. Hugh Kenner makes a persuasive stab at explicating it, inferring that this domestic appliance is decorated with an orange border in the kind of continuous labyrinthine pattern often called a meander, Greek fret, or Greek key. He adds that the compounded epithet has a distinctly Homeric flavor, connecting the Blooms' bodily needs to ancient Greek times.

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Kenner writes, "'Orangekeyed' is formed the way Homer formed many epithets, of which the most celebrated is rhododaktylos, 'rosyfingered,' by joining an attribute of colour or brightness with a name: in this case the colour, orange, with the name of the pattern around the rim of the pot. This is the 'key meander' or 'key pattern'; the citation for the latter term in the Oxford English Dictionary (s.v. 'key') is dated 1876, in the first decade of Homeric archaeology. Thus as Ulysses in the fresh of the morning sat upon a 'jakes,' a word Sir John Harington's 1596 paean united with 'Ajax' [Bloom visits a "jakes" at the end of Calypso], so Penelope in the dead of the night will squat on a piece of ware ornamented with the pattern which characterised much Greek pottery of the Geometric Period, the ninth to seventh centuries BC: pottery of the lifetime (if he lived) of Homer" (Ulysses, 144).

In addition to "rosy-fingered," color-based epithets in Homer's poems include "wine-dark," "bronzed-armored," "grey-eyed" or "shining-eyed," "white-armed," "red-haired," "flaming-haired," and "silver-footed."

In Circe, Bloom shocks the newly animated Nymph with thoughts of the things that she has looked down on in his bedroom: him kissing her photo, snoring, flatulence, dirty words, "Soiled personal linen," and brass quoits jingling from sexual activity. Among these corporeal indecencies he mentions "That antiquated commode" that broke when Molly was sitting on it, "And that absurd orangekeyed utensil which has only one handle."

Ithaca notes that the pot was purchased as part of a set: "Orangekeyed ware, bought of Henry Price, basket, fancy goods, chinaware and ironmongery manufacturer, 21, 22, 23 Moore street, disposed irregularly on the washstand and floor and consisting of basin, soapdish and brushtray (on the washstand, together), pitcher and night article (on the floor, separate)."

In Penelope Molly uses the chamberpot when she realizes that her period has started: "I want to get up a minute if Im let wait O Jesus wait yes that thing has come on me yes now wouldnt that afflict you . . . O patience above its pouring out of me like the sea . . . I dont want to ruin the clean sheets the clean linen I wore brought it on too damn it damn it . . . wheres the chamber gone easy Ive a holy horror of its breaking under me after that old commode . . . Ill have to perfume it in the morning . . . O how the waters come down at Lahore."

JH 2017
A Portmeirion soup tureen (not a chamberpot, begob!) with a Greek key design. Source: www.retrowow.co.uk.
Jeffly Molina's photograph of a Greek kylix ca. 480 BC, showing a prostitute (hetaira) using a chamberpot, held in the Altes Museum, Berlin. The keyed border, one may note, is orange. Source: www.imgrum.org.