Hades

In Brief

Episode 6, "Hades," takes place as Proteus does from 11 AM to noon. (Here, the Gilbert schema is clearly preferable to the Linati.) Bloom gets into a funeral carriage with three other men in the near southeastern suburb of Sandymount, rides through the city center to the near northwestern suburb of Glasnevin, enters Prospect Cemetery and attends the Catholic rites for a man he knew only slightly. His fixation on death and disintegration in this chapter recalls Stephen's on Sandymount strand, as do his distinctly non-Christian thoughts on the subject. Allusions to ancient epic accounts of the underworld, primarily Homer's but also Virgil's and Dante's, are woven throughout, echoing Bloom's pagan thoughts.

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In his detailed Linati schema, Joyce listed more Homeric "Persons" for Hades than for any other chapter of Ulysses, suggesting (even if one does not assume significant modern correspondences for all of them) an intense engagement with the Odyssey. The story runs as follows: In book 10 Circe advises Odysseus to take his ship "to the fresh blowing North" and find "the crumbling homes of Death," where Persephone's grove stands "dusky with poplars and the drooping willow." There, he is to dig a small square pit and fill it with the blood of two sheep, which will attract the shades of the dead. Odysseus gathers his men to carry out the fearsome task, but before they can leave Circe's palace one of them, Elpenor, slips from the roof of the palace, where he fell asleep after drinking too much wine, and breaks his neck. In book 11, after Circe's directions are fulfilled, Elpenor's shade comes forward, tells Odysseus his story, and receives the promise of a decent burial. The hero then speaks with, or observes, many other shades that come crowding around the bloody pit.

Hades echoes many visual details of Book 11, as well as some from Virgil's imitative Aeneid and Dante's classically oriented Inferno. As the funeral procession moves through Dublin it crosses four bodies of water ("Dodder bridge," "The Grand Canal," "the Liffey," "the royal canal") that recall the infernal rivers, lakes, and marshes of classical epic (Homer's "streams of wailing, out of Styx," Virgil's and Dante's Acheron, Styx, Cocytus, and Phlegethon, and Virgil's Lethe). The shades crowding around Odysseus at the pit are evoked by the marble shapes in the stone-cutter's yard next to the cemetery: "Crowded on the spit of land silent shapes appeared, white, sorrowful, holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing." Inside the cemetery, Bloom's "How many! All these here once walked round Dublin" vividly recalls Dante's "I could not believe / death had undone so many" (Inferno 3.56-57). The "Gloomy gardens" and "dismal fields" recall the Lugentes campi (fields of mourning) of Virgil's unhappy lovers (Aeneid 6.440). As the chapter ends, Bloom sees that "The gates glimmered in front: still open. Back to the world again," echoing the "two gates of Sleep" which confront Aeneas at the end of book 6, through one of which he goes back to the world again.

Many of Joyce's characters are plainly linked with Homeric models. Paddy Dignam's alcoholic death recalls Elpenor's. Simon Dedalus' pride in Stephen ("Full of his son. He is right. Something to hand on") recalls the joy of Achilles when Odysseus tells him how well Neoptolemus spoke and fought in the Trojan campaign. Bloom's thoughts about his dead father correspond to Odysseus' conversation with his dead mother. The silent snubbing that Bloom receives from John Henry Menton resembles the moment when Ajax silently snubs Odysseus. The married caretaker John O'Connell, and Bloom's bemused revery about a man asking a woman to live with him in a graveyard, bring to mind the classical underworld ruled by Hades and his reluctant wife Persephone. The Gilbert schema also suggests correspondences between Parnell and Agamemnon (great leaders of nations) and between Daniel O'Connell and Hercules (great men of heroic accomplishments). Many readers have detected other equivalences, with varying degrees of plausibility.

Several mythological figures from ancient epic underworlds also figure in Joyce's chapter. Martin Cunningham's marital situation presents a modern version of the stone-rolling Sisyphus: "And that awful drunkard of a wife of his. Setting up house for her time after time and then pawning the furniture on him every Saturday almost. Leading him the life of the damned. Wear the heart out of a stone, that. Monday morning. Start afresh. Shoulder to the wheel." Another figure of eternal punishment, Tantalus, who is tortured by fruit that he can never eat and water that he can never drink, comes up when Bloom thinks that seeing lovers nearby would be "Tantalising for the poor dead. Smell of grilled beefsteaks to the starving," and again when he thinks of "Tantalus glasses." The three-headed dog Cerberus, who guards the entrance to the underworld, takes the modern form of Father Coffey, the priest who looks "Bully about the muzzle," with "a belly on him like a poisoned pup."

These many precise echoes weave a fabric of pagan antiquity around the Christian cemetery and its rites, paralleling Bloom's skepticism about a heavenly home. His thoughts are his own, but pre-Christian accounts of the afterlife may provide meaningful context. Circe calls the people that Odysseus will meet "the faint dead," and Book 11 describes Erebus as a place where the "dimwitted dead are camped forever, / the after-images of used-up men." Odysseus learns that at death "dreamlike the soul flies, insubstantial," and Tiresias tells him that the dead crave the blood in the pit because it will give them a brief substantiality: "Any dead man / whom you allow to enter where the blood is / will speak to you, and speak the truth; but those / deprived will grow remote again and fade." The desperate enervation of this place receives supremely dramatic expression when the great conqueror of men, Achilles, tells Odysseus that he would rather "break sod as a farm hand / for some poor country man, on iron rations, / than lord it over all the exhausted dead." 

Virgil retained the outlines of Homer's underworld while adding features—rewards for lives well led, torments for wickedness, a fully fleshed theory of reincarnation—that Greek eschatology had only dimly forecast. In Dante's afterlife, where punishment and reward swell to govern the entire conception, reincarnation is anathema and there can be no thought of the mundane world being more real than heaven and hell. Still, his damned souls do have some of the desperate insubstantiality of Homer's dead. Even those who endure no physical torments suffer from awareness that they eternally lack the presence of God, and Farinata explains that the damned possess "the mighty Ruler's light" only in being able to see the future; they are blind to the present, so when time ends and only the present moment exists, "all our knowledge will perish" (10.100-8).

Readers can form their own judgements about the relevance (if any) of these various eschatologies to Bloom's mortuary reveries. But it is unquestionable that, like Achilles, Bloom prizes life in the flesh over the shadowy, uncertain, decaying facsimiles of life beyond the grave. "There is another world after death named hell," he thinks. "I do not like that other world she wrote. No more do I. Plenty to see and hear and feel yet. Feel live warm beings near you. Let them sleep in their maggoty beds. They are not going to get me this innings. Warm beds: warm fullblooded life." The priest's "In paradisum" means nothing to Bloom: "Tiresome kind of a job. But he has to say something." Reincarnation makes somewhat more sense: "If we were all suddenly somebody else." But what makes most sense is that the heart stops beating, the body falls apart, the person vanishes, and loved ones start forgetting you.

The oblivion is not total, however. Like the insubstantial shades of former human beings that populate Homer's underworld, the dead in Hades live on in ghostly simulacra, poignant recollections, proud memorials, loving wishes. Monuments to great men line the route of the procession from just below O'Connell Street to its very end. The palliative fiction of people lying at rest in the graveyard generates Thornton Wilder-like fancies about their ongoing life: "The dead themselves the men anyhow would like to hear an odd joke or the women to know what's in fashion." Photographs and voice recordings can perpetuate memories of lost loved ones: "After dinner on a Sunday. Put on poor old greatgrandfather. Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeagain hellohello amawf krpthsth. Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face. Otherwise you couldn't remember the face after fifteen years, say." Perhaps there are even actual ghosts walking among us, as the mysterious man in the macintosh does in the Glasnevin cemetery.

The most enduring effect of Hades, remarkably similar to the one created by the ending of The Dead, is a suggestion that the dead are never completely expunged from the world of the living, and the living are never completely free of the dead's capacity for diminishment, loss, and ghostly insubstantiality. The sixth chapter of Ulysses abounds with examples of life-in-death and death-in-life, limning a border that Joyce would explore again in Finnegans Wake.

JH 2018
Photograph of the Glasnevin cemetery taken by William Murphy in 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ulysses at the Entrance of Hades, the Underworld, by Johannes Stradanus. Source: humx.org.
Crossing the Styx, 1861 illustration of Dante's Inferno by Gustave Doré. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Rape of Proserpina, 1622 marble sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini held in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Detail of Sisyphus on a huge terracotta Greek krater made in Apulia ca. 350 BC, held in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Source: blogs.getty.edu.
Tantalus, 17th century oil on canvas painting by a Dutch follower of Caravaggio. Source: pixels.com.