Little man

Little man

In Brief

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.

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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 two chapters.)

The ancient Egyptians theorized roughly half a dozen different components of the human soul. The most essential of these, the Ka and the , 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 , 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 '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 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.

John Hunt 2020
Photograph of a grey-headed flying fox, Australia's largest native bat, by David McKellar. Source:
Ancient Egyptian depiction of the Bâ hovering over a mummy in a tomb. Source:
Ancient Egyptian depiction of the Bâ hovering over a corpse. Source:
The Book of the Dead text recovered from the papyrus of Ani, published in many different editions. Source: