Aeolus

Aeolus

In Brief

Episode 7, "Aeolus," starts at about noon. With the morning hours having been narrated twice, time now moves forward more or less uninterrupted. Bloom shows up in this chapter, back in town from his visit to the cemetery, and somewhat later Stephen does too, in from the seashore, but the action does not center on them as in earlier chapters, and they never interact. As in Wandering Rocks three chapters later, the urban setting itself—the bustle around Sackville Street and inside the nearby newspaper offices—seems as important as the thoughts and feelings of the main characters. Amid all the bustle nothing really happens, except for a little mercantile enterprise on Bloom's part and a little artistic enterprise on Stephen's that both manage to seem inconsequential in context, though they are not. The resulting sense of busy stasis is heightened by an underlying allusion to the Homeric story of winds driving Odysseus' ships nearly home and then back out to sea again. This buried literary analogue generates numerous verbal figures of wind and frustrated journeying. It also resonates with two major thematic preoccupations in the chapter: the art of rhetoric, and the sense of futility in Dublin, capital city of an imperial property.

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After recounting his struggle with the Cyclops at the end of Book 9, Odysseus turns at the beginning of Book 10 to the month he spent on a floating island ruled by Aeolus, whom Zeus put in charge of the winds. At his departure, he says, Aeolus gave him a leather bag containing all the disruptive winds that might blow him off course, leaving Zephyr, the gentle west wind, to blow the ships east toward Ithaca. After nine days of steady sailing, Ithaca came in view and Odysseus, who had been at the tiller the whole time, allowed himself to fall asleep. His men, suspicious that the sack held treasure for him alone, opened it, and the unruly winds blew the ship all the way back to Aeolus' island. When Odysseus asked for assistance once more, Aeolus roared for him to "Get out!," saying that a man so unlucky must be hated by the gods.

In Joyce's reworking of this brief episode, Bloom stands in for Odysseus and editor Myles Crawford plays the part of Aeolus. When Bloom first enters the office of the Evening Telegraph and uses Crawford's telephone to track down a man who may agree to renew an ad in the paper, the mention of productive work elicits wry approval from Crawford: "— Begone! he said. The world is before you." But when Bloom calls the office from his travels, Crawford is busy bragging about a past journalistic triumph and snarls, "Tell him to go to hell." Some time later, as Crawford is leaving the newspaper building, Bloom catches up to him and asks him to help secure the renewal by putting a short paragraph about Keyes' business in the paper. "— Will you tell him he can kiss my arse? Myles Crawford said throwing out his arm for emphasis. . . . — He can kiss my royal Irish arse, Myles Crawford cried loudly over his shoulder. Any time he likes, tell him."

Homer's story informs Joyce's in other ways. The motif of an interrupted or frustrated journey recurs late in the chapter when the busy network of trams around Nelson's pillar stands paralyzed by an electrical outage: "At various points along the eight lines tramcars with motionless trolleys stood in their tracks." Also late in the chapter, J. J. O'Molloy responds to an inspiring speech about Moses by recalling his Odysseus-like failure to enter the land of Canaan after leading the Israelites toward it for forty years: "And yet he died without having entered the land of promise." Stephen later appropriates this detail, naming his little story A Pisgah Sight of Palestine. The impression of paralysis and futility limned by these narrative gestures permeates the chapter, linking to the stagnant careers of O'Molloy and Professor MacHugh, the feckless sycophancy of Lenehan, the drunken stupor of Crawford, the lack of work being accomplished in the editor's office, the ignominious failure of various insurrections, and the millennial frustration of hopes for an Irish nation.

In compensation for this litany of failures, the chapter offers one great Irish accomplishment: ceaseless, brilliant, truculent talk. This feature too draws inspiration from Homer, because the blasts of hot air issuing from human mouths are imaged several times as winds—an old conceit, as can be seen in the first two images here. Bloom makes the connection when Crawford rebuffs him: "A bit nervy. Look out for squalls. All off for a drink. Arm in arm. Lenehan's yachting cap on the cadge beyond. Usual blarney." He similarly scorns the purple prose of Dan Dawson's speech: "High falutin stuff. Bladderbags." Professor MacHugh agrees: "Enough of the inflated windbag!" Through this lens even the words of a great political orator like Daniel O'Connell, rousing unimaginably vast crowds to action, look like wasted breath. Stephen thinks of them as "Gone with the wind. . . . The tribune's words, howled and scattered to the four winds. A people sheltered within his voice. Dead noise."

This concern with the forceful but ephemeral articulation of words gave Joyce an occasion for foregrounding, in Aeolus, both the ancient art of rhetoric and the modern craft of newspaper reporting. Throughout the chapter, blaring all-caps section headings that resemble headlines make the prose itself echo the newspaper business. At the same time, arrangements of words throughout the chapter demonstrate the precepts of ancient rhetoricians. Hundreds of phrases exemplify the rhetorical "Tropes" (one of the "Tecnica" or techniques listed in the Linati schema) that were catalogued by writers like Quintilian: metonymy, ecphonesis, prosopopoeia, and so forth. Three quoted speeches exemplify Aristotle's principal types of oratory, also listed in that section of the schema: "Symbouleutike" (deliberative), "Dikanike" (forensic), and "Epideictic" (praising and blaming). Still other details exemplify the ancient orators' reliance on gestures, and their goal of emotionally moving listeners. Both of Joyce's schemas identify the Organ of the chapter as "Lungs," and its Art as "Rhetoric."

As assiduously as he studded the chapter with rhetorical figures, Joyce also filled it with images of wind. Actual gusts find their way into the newspaper offices: "The door of Ruttledge's office whispered: ee: cree. They always build one door opposite another for the wind to. Way in. Way out." A "mouthorgan" sounds at one point, and a mocking headline turns the bingbang twanging of some dental floss into a "HARP EOLIAN." O'Molloy takes some racing tissues from Lenehan, "blowing them apart gently" as he reads. Newsboys follow Bloom out of the office, "the last zigzagging white on the breeze a mocking kite, a tail of white bowknots." When Bloom returns they appear again, "their white papers fluttering," and then Bloom is seen "breathless, caught in a whirl of wild newsboys." A moment later he is "puffing" from his exertions, a word that is also used when cigarette smoke is expelled: "Myles Crawford blew his first puff violently toward the ceiling." Offstage, other winds blow. O'Molloy remembers "all those trees that were blown down by that cyclone last year," the professor recalls "The sack of windy Troy," and all the trolley cars sit "becalmed." Bloom thinks of inquiries mailed to the paper: "Dear Mr Editor, what is a good cure for flatulence?"

Amid these many physical movements, a still greater number of metaphorical expressions agitate the literary atmosphere: "Windfall when he kicks out," "What's in the wind," "raise the wind," "get some wind off my chest," "Reaping the whirlwind," "Weathercocks," "Wetherup," "all blows over," "Big blowout," "the breath of fresh life," "take my breath away," "the wheeze." Collectively, these figures underline the impression of hot air created by the men's breezy talk. But through its protagonists the chapter also suggests that intelligently deployed language can move the world forward. The "little puff" that Bloom wants for Keyes' business has proved to be sound marketing strategy in the 20th century, and Stephen's little story, although breezy and insubstantial, shows him preparing for a career in prose fiction. The "divine afflatus" that Mr. O'Madden Burke hears in one of the recited speeches becomes something more than a dead cliché when one considers that the word comes from a Latin root meaning "to blow." It evokes the idea of inspiration from ancient times, when gods "breathed" truth into human vessels. Channeling Genesis, Stephen resolves to become such a vessel: "On now. Dare it. Let there be life."

JH 2020
Johannes Stradanus, Ulysses and Aeolus in the Cave of the Winds, brown ink drawing with blue and white wash ca. 1600-05, held in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Source: www.boijmans.nl.
Pericles Gives the Funeral Speech, 1852 oil painting by Philipp Foltz. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Source: paintingvalley.com.