How many!

How many!

In Brief

He does not know it, but Bloom's thoughts in Hades repeatedly echo Dante's Divine Comedy. One of these allusions is to lines of the Inferno made famous in The Waste Land: "so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many." T. S. Eliot's words about the commuters walking over London Bridge respond not only to Dante but to something that Bloom thinks about the dead in Glasnevin's cemetery: "How many! All these here once walked round Dublin." Two other allusions to the Inferno are worth noting, and a fourth passage seems indebted to the Purgatorio.

Read More

Near the end of Hades Bloom thinks, "There is another world after death named hell." This is by no means a remarkable observation to make about the Christian afterlife, but the sentence contains a surprise for attentive readers: it is structured like a line in the Inferno. Introducing a new region at the opening of canto 18, Dante writes, "There is a place in Hell called Malebolge (Luogo è in inferno detto Malebolge)." The allusion is easy to miss but almost certainly intended. Although Gifford, Slote, and other annotators have not noticed it, Mary Reynolds does in the appendix of allusions at the end of her book on Joyce and Dante (275).

Readers may do a similar double-take when Bloom, after thinking that cemeteries generate poisonous miasma ("Air of the place, maybe. Looks full up of bad gas"), unnecessarily repeats himself: "Must be an infernal lot of bad gas round the place." The word "infernal" evokes other scenes filled with foul vapors. In the last circle before the City of Dis, Virgil and Dante cross a "filthy bog" (7.127) covered with "marsh-fumes" (8.12). Inside the city, as they prepare to descend into Lower Hell, they stand above a pit whose "stench offended even at that height" (10.136), and then they are forced to take cover from "the unbearable foul stench belched from that bottomless abyss" (11.4-5). Entering the first of the Malebolge, where panderers and seducers are immersed in shit, they find that "The banks, made slimy by a sticky vapor / from below, were coated with a mould / offending eyes and nose" (18.106-8). Victorian-era fears of miasma were overblown, especially in spacious suburban cemeteries like Prospect, but the memory of Dante layers a different kind of "bad gas" over the scene.

Joyce's most resonant evocations of the Inferno are inspired by lines 55-57 of canto 3, where Dante witnesses "so long a file of people / that I could not believe / death had undone so many (sì lunga tratta / di gente, ch'i'non averei creduto / che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta)." Dante's word tanta appears to reverberate throughout Hades. Bloom thinks, "Funerals all over the world everywhere every minute. Shovelling them under by the cartload doublequick. Thousands every hour. Too many in the world." Mr. Power exclaims, "How many broken hearts are buried here, Simon!" The caretaker asks the undertaker, "How many have you for tomorrow?" These references to the many human beings shoveled into the ground every day culminate in a passage near the end of Hades when Bloom reflects, "How many! All these here once walked round Dublin. Faithful departed. As you are now so once were we." A draft of Hades containing the first two sentences was published in The Little Review in September 1918, so Eliot must have known them. His sepulchral pedestrians show the influence of Bloom's Dublin's walkers.

Purgatorio also may figure in Hades, though here it is harder to say definitively that Joyce is alluding to the work. When Bloom thinks, "We are praying now for the repose of his soul. Hoping you're well and not in hell. Nice change of air. Out of the fryingpan of life into the fire of purgatory," the reference may simply be to Catholic doctrine, and not to Dante's poem. But there are much clearer traces in the passage in which Bloom ponders how suicides are treated. He thinks, "Yet sometimes they repent too late. Found in the riverbed clutching rushes." These sentences remind Gifford and Slote of Ophelia's watery death in Hamlet, arguably relevant since the subject is suicide. But if Shakespeare is lurking in the passage, he is probably sharing space with Dante.

In canto 5 of Purgatorio Dante meets those who have repented at the last possible moment. Jaccopo del Cassero tells him how murderers pursued him through the countryside and he fled into a marsh: "Entrapped in reeds / and mire I fell, and in that mud / I watched a pool of blood form from my veins" (5.82-84). Just after this, Buonconte da Montefeltro tells a similar story of how he was mortally wounded in battle and made his way to a mountain tributary of the Arno, where he died with arms folded in a cross and Mary's name on his lips. A flood created by hard rain "found / my frozen corpse and swept it down the Arno," left it at "the bottom, / then covered and enclosed me with its spoils" (5.124-25 and 128-29). The fact that these men repented late and died "in the riverbed clutching rushes" strongly suggests that Joyce was thinking of them.

In Telemachus and again in Aeolus, Stephen precisely recalls lines from the Paradiso. These are self-conscious references from a character who appears to know Dante's writing quite well and is using it to think about his own promise as a literary artist. The allusions in Hades are different. Nothing in Ulysses suggests that Bloom has read the Divine Comedy. Here it is Joyce who is bringing Dante into the picture. The author joins Stephen in using structures from the great Christian epic of the Middle Ages to inform human lives in 1904.

JH 2022
Gustave Doré's 1857 illustration of Charon herding souls onto his boat in canto 3 of the Inferno. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Doré's illustration of the hypocrites in canto 23 of the Inferno.