A little man
A little man
The "little bat" that appears in the evening
sky in Nausicaa is described naturalistically in
Gerty's portion of the chapter: "a bat flew forth from the
ivied belfry through the dusk, hither, thither, with a tiny
lost cry"; "something queer was flying about through the air,
a soft thing, to and fro, dark"; "there was none to know or
tell save the little bat that flew so softly through the
evening to and fro." Bloom, however, imagines it as "Like a
little man," prompting thoughts of "Metempsychosis,"
and the truncated form
that the word takes four times in a paragraph and a half of
his interior monologue, "Ba," is an Egyptian
term for a part of the human soul that lives on after death.
These thoughts suggest, outlandishly, either that "poor little
Paddy Dignam" has been reincarnated, or that his soul is
hovering about his earthly haunts.
Gerty and Bloom sit on Sandymount Strand not far from 9 Newbridge Avenue, Sandymount
where Paddy Dignam lived. Bloom has just visited this house on
his mission of mercy to the family, and his thoughts about the
bat seem strangely suited to the missing paterfamilias: "Ba.
What is that flying about? Swallow? Bat probably. . . . Metempsychosis.
They believed you could be changed into a tree from
grief. Weeping willow. Ba. There he goes. Funny
little beggar. Wonder where he lives. Belfry up
there. Very likely. Hanging by his heels in the odour of
sanctity. Bell scared him out, I suppose. . . . Like
a little man in a cloak he is with tiny hands. Weeny
bones." Bloom has blurred the distinction between metempsychosis and metamorphosis
in Calypso, and now he employs the concepts
interchangeably, eliding reincarnation with the thought from
Greek myth that "you could be changed into a tree from grief."
In the previous chapter, Cyclops, Dignam appeared
in a passage where Theosophical ideas of the afterlife were
parodied, commenting on living conditions in the astral realm
and displaying continuing interest in earthly life. His final
words concern footwear: "Before departing he requested that it
should be told to his dear son Patsy that the other boot
which he had been looking for was at present under the
commode in the return room and that the pair should be sent to
Cullen's to be soled only as the heels were still good.
He stated that this had greatly perturbed his peace of mind in
the other region and earnestly requested that his desire
should be made known." Nausicaa shows him comfortably
wrapped in "a cloak," but hanging in the belfry "by his
heels." It appears that the loss of his boots with the
"still good" heels has left him shoeless in the afterlife.
(Thanks to Senan Molony for noting this connection between the
The ancient Egyptians theorized roughly half a dozen
different components of the human soul. The most essential of
these, the Ka and the Bâ, departed the body at
death and could reunite to let the individual survive
extinction. The Ka was the vital essence, spirit, or
spark that animated the body, making it a living thing. The Bâ,
which was typically depicted as a bird with a human head
hovering over the body of the deceased, or flying away to join
the Ka, was the individual personality or character.
Food and drink offerings sustained the Ka, and priests
performed rites to break the Bâ's attachment to its
physical body, so that the two spiritual principles could
unite once again in the afterlife.
Another way of understanding the bat, then, is to see it as
Paddy Dignam's soul hovering near his house in Sandymount,
having not yet broken its attachments to this life. That
reading is supported by the fact that, in other sentences in
the same passage, Bloom ponders the little mammal more
scientifically by thinking of birds: "Ba. What is that
flying about? Swallow? Bat probably. Thinks I'm a
tree, so blind. Have birds no smell? . . . Ba.
Again. Wonder why they come out at night like mice. They're a
mixed breed. Birds are like hopping mice.
What frightens them, light or noise? Better sit still. All
instinct like the bird in drouth got water out of the
end of a jar by throwing in pebbles. . . . Ba.
Who knows what they're always flying for. Insects? That bee
last week got into the room playing with his shadow on the
ceiling. Might be the one bit me, come back to see. Birds
too never find out what they say. . . . Nerve they have
to fly over the ocean and back. Lots must be killed in storms,
telegraph wires." The prominence of birds after each repeated
mention of the "Ba" serves as a virtual illustration of
the Egyptian soul-principle.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead (there were many
different ones, and individualized copies were placed in
coffins and burial chambers) has been recognized as an
influence on Finnegans Wake. Joyce acknowledged the
influence and told Frank Budgen that the Wake could be
regarded as his own Book of the Dead. That intertextual
dialogue lies far beyond the scope of this Ulysses
note, but it is worth observing that the later work does seem
to perpetuate the interest in Egyptian soul-principles that
began with Nausicaa. The Ondt says, "Nor to Ba's
berial nether, thon sloghard, this oldeborre's yaar ablong
as there's a khul on a khat" (415.31-32),
referring not only to the Bâ but also, it seems, to
the Ib or Ab (the spiritual "heart"), the Akh
or Khu (an immortal, "shining" part), and the Khat
(the physical body or flesh).
For other appearances of Egyptian soul-principles in Finnegans
Wake, see Clive Hart, "His Good Smetterling of
Entymology," A Wake Newslitter 4.1 (1977): 14-24.