In Brief

When Bloom sees a cat basking on the warm window sill of a house, he recalls that "Mohammed cut a piece out of his mantle not to wake her." Mantle here means a cloak or robe, not the fireplace ledge (sometimes spelled the same way) that could be called up by the image of the "warm sill." The story, one of many thousands of hadith, traditional reports of the words and deeds of the Prophet, holds an obvious appeal for Bloom, who likes cats and has just thought, "Pity to disturb them."

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The best-known anthology of hadith is the Sahih al-Bukhari, compiled by a Persian scholar named Muhammad al-Bukhārī in the 9th century and revered by Sunni Muslims. It has several passages referring to a woman who was put in Hell because she imprisoned a cat until it died of hunger, but none about the Prophet's act of kindness. Other 9th and 10th century collections, however, report that Muhammad's favorite cat, Muezza, was sleeping on his robe one day when the call to prayer came. Instead of waking her, he cut off the sleeve of the robe. Islamic texts contain many other encouragements to be kind to cats.

Bloom's sympathetic impulse toward this cat counts not only as one more instance of oriental exoticism in Lotus Eaters, but also as one more meditation on lotus-like states of blissful relaxation. Indeed, nearly all of Bloom's thoughts of the Mideast in this chapter (Jesus at dusk, the excluded peri, Mohammed and his cat) and also the Far East (lazy Cinghalese, a reclining Buddha, opium-smoking Chinese) can be read as efforts to project himself out of his current mental struggles to a place where, as Stephen thinks in Proteus, "Pain is far."

JH 2019
  Detail of a 19th century painting by John Frederick Lewis, Interior of a School in Cairo, showing an imam and his cat. Source: Wikimedia Commons.