Into my eye

In Brief

We have only just met our unnamed narrator, but the first sentence of the chapter usually called Cyclops comically alerts us to the fact he is a member of this tribe of one-eyed giants who threatened the lives of Odysseus and his men. Trapped in the cave of a murderous Cyclop named Polyphemos, Homer's Greeks blind the giant with a sharpened log that they have heated in a fire. Joyce's narrator starts his tale in medias res by saying that he was carrying on a pleasant conversation in the street "and be damned but a bloody sweep came along and he near drove his gear into my eye."

Read More

This echo of the climactic action in the Cyclop's cave anticipates the coming conflict between our Odysseus, Bloom, and his principal antagonist, the Citizen. Pressed to accept an alcoholic beverage, the abstemious Bloom resists, "saying he wouldn't and he couldn't and excuse him no offence and all to that and then he said well he'd just take a cigar." The narrator later refers to this lit log in Bloom's hands as a "knockmedown cigar," and when Bloom courageously asserts that his Jewish people have been just as badly persecuted as have the Irish, the image of a stick in the eye seems always to be hovering nearby. The narrator paints a picture of "J. J. and the citizen arguing about law and history with Bloom sticking in an odd word," and then he quotes one of those words that Bloom sticks in: "— Some people, says Bloom, can see the mote in others' eyes but they can't see the beam in their own." The Citizen indeed cannot see the beam that has just been thrust in his eye: "— Raimeis, says the citizen. There's no-one as blind as the fellow that won't see, if you know what that means. Where are our missing twenty millions of Irish should be here today instead of four, our lost tribes?" Bloom's weapons are words, and this thrust was too subtle to be felt.

JH 2014
Odysseus and his men blinding Polyphemos, on a proto-attic amphora, ca. 650 BC, held in the museum of Eleusis. Source: www.hellenicaworld.com.