The castle was opened

The castle was opened

In Brief

New Style." And whiles they spake the door of the castle was opened...Thanked be Almighty God": in these three paragraphs things get simpler and more fun for Oxen of the Sun's beleaguered readers. The  blur of obscure, shifting voices in the chapter's opening pages here gives way to a consistent style indebted to a single medieval text, the purported Travels of a man called Sir John Mandeville who aped Marco Polo's Travels by recounting the strange sights he encountered in Turkey, Persia, Mesopotamia, India, China, Armenia, Georgia, Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Levant. After first appearing in the middle of the 14th century, these fantastic and compelling tales were translated into various languages, and their popularity endured for a long time: Columbus was avidly reading them a century later, as were Frobisher and other Elizabethans a century after that, and Samuel Johnson recommended them to an explorer two centuries later still. In Joyce's hands, their style transforms a roomful of young men sitting around a table with beers and some poor eats into a gallery of exotic wonders. 

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Though "Mandeville" claimed to be an English knight, there is no historical record of such a man. The Travels were probably not composed in English: the earliest surviving text is in French, and some scholars have inferred that an Anglo-Norman original preceded it. The Middle English version, however, became one of the foundations of English prose, with other late 14th century works by Geoffrey Chaucer and John Wycliffe. Joyce could have encountered it both in George Saintsbury's masterful study of English Prose Rhythm and in William Peacock's English Prose from Mandeville to Ruskin (London, 1903), an anthology chosen "to illustrate the development of English prose" (v). Both Saintsbury and Peacock emphasize the historical importance of the stories' prose, written when the English language was beginning to assume its modern shape.

The style is highly engaging but not highly sophisticated. Saintsbury observes that "On the whole, one may say that Sir John's style is that of the better but simpler class of verse romance—dismetred, freed from rhyme, and from the expletives which were the curse of rhymed verse romance itself; but arranged for the most part in very short sentences, introduced (exactly like those of a child telling stories) by 'And.' I open a page of Halliwell's edition absolutely at random: the sentences are not quite so short as they are sometimes, but there are eleven of them in thirty-three lines of large and widely-spaced print; ten of which begin with 'and,' and the eleventh with 'also.' Every now and then, especially when he comes to the choice things—the 'Lady of the Land,' the 'Watching of the Sparhawk,' the 'Origin of Roses,' the 'Valley of the Devil's Head'—he sometimes expands his sentences and makes them slightly more periodic, but they are still rather cumulative than anything more" (64).

Joyce reproduces this naive effect exactly, while tossing in a few echoes of Chaucerian English and the King James Bible. Of the nineteen sentences before his concluding "Thanked be Almighty God," seventeen begin with "And," one with "Also," and one with "But." The longer sentences are produced either by tacking on additional compounding conjunctions ("and there nighed them," "and he said," "and it was upheld," "but they durst not move") or by using conjunctions to initiate simple explanatory clauses ("sithen it had happed," "for he was sore wounded," "for he was a man of cautels," "though she trowed well," "for he never drank"). This breathless string of conjunctions is well suited to the air of rapturous wonder in which Joyce describes the hospital's common-room: there was a table held up by enchanted dwarves, and it had shining swords and knives on it, and also magical drinking vessels and fishes without heads, and people in the castle made spirits produce bubbles and they made serpents wind themselves around poles!

Saintsbury quotes from one of the four "choice things" he found in the Travels, and Peacock reproduces that story along with two others. It tells of a woman who has taken the shape of a huge dragon, "And they of the Isles call her Lady of the Land. And she lieth in an old castle, in a cave, and sheweth twice or thrice in the year. And she doth no harm to no man, but if men do her harm. And she was thus changed and transformed, from a fair damsel, into likeness of a dragon, by a goddess that was cleped Diana. And men say, that she shall so endure in that form of a dragon, unto the time that a knight come, that is so hardy, that dare come to her and kiss her on the mouth; and then shall she turn again to her own kind, and be a woman again." The story tells how several different knights failed to surmount this challenge and died.

Janusko discounts the influence of this story, since "Joyce does not seem to have copied anything from" it onto his notesheets (60). But it might well have inspired him to imagine the common-room as an ominous "castle" which Bloom tries to avoid entering, and also to recast his bee-sting as a spear-wound received from "a horrible and dreadful dragon." Janusko identifies another likely model in the story "Of a Rich Man, that Made a Marvellous Castle, and Cleped it Paradise; and of His Subtlety." The rich man invites knights into his castle, and Mandeville says that "often-time, he was revenged of his enemies by his subtle deceits and false cautels." In the Oxen passage "subtility" is attributed to Bloom ("a man of cautels and a subtile"), who later in Ulysses will invite Stephen into his house with the crafty intention of involving him with his wife or daughter. Janusko observes that Joyce recorded phrases from yet another of Saintsbury's "choice things," the story "Of the Devil's head in the Valley Perilous," which "concerns the penetration of a marvelous and dangerous place, one of the entries of hell" (61), suggesting that it too could have prompted his fancy of a perilous entrance.

Any or all of these three stories could have inspired Joyce's first paragraph, which tells of a "traveller" who resists the invitation to enter a "marvellous castle." Joyce added some lovely flourishes—he calls Dixon a "learningknight" (Joseph Dixon was a medical student who received his M.D. in December 1904), and he describes Bloom, who has come fresh from his encounter with Gerty Macdowell, as "sore of limb after many marches environing in divers lands and sometime venery"—but he stays within the outlines of Mandeville's conception.

In the second paragraph, though, Joyce gave his imagination freer rein. In the Mandevillean spirit of childlike wonder he asks his readers to suppose that the figures carved into the legs of the wooden table "durst not move for enchantment"; that the forks and knives on the table were forged "by swinking demons out of white flames that they fix in the horns of buffalos and stags"; that the glasses have been blown out of "seasand and the air by a warlock with his breath that he blares into them like to bubbles"; that sardines are "strange fishes withouten heads" held in a "vat of silver that was moved by craft to open"; that bread dough "by aid of certain angry spirits that they do into it swells up wondrously like to a vast mountain"; and that hops plants are serpents trained to "entwine themselves up on long sticks out of the ground" and give up their "scales" so that men may "brew out a beverage like to mead."

Details in the Travels certainly inspired some of these transformations. The tin can "moved by craft" quotes verbatim from chapter 30 of the medieval text, and the "fishes withouten heads" recall Asian creatures in chapter 24: "monsters and folk disfigured, some without heads, some with great ears, some with one eye, some giants, some with horses’ feet, and many other diverse shape against kind." The headless folk appeared in countless illustrations of the Travels in the 1400s and 1500s and inspired Shakespeare's "Anthropophagi, and men whose heads / Do grow beneath their shoulders" (Othello 1.3.144-45). The enchanted dwarves holding up the table likewise may owe something to a passage in chapter 23 that describes the throne of the great Chan of Cathay: "And at four corners of the mountour be four serpents of gold." (This French-derived word is obscure, but The Century Dictionary gives "throne" as one definition of "mounture," citing this very passage.)

Details like these suggest that Joyce read widely in the Travels, far beyond the brief excerpts in Saintsbury and Peacock, but they do not detract from the brilliance of his invention. Mandeville writes matter-of-factly of wonders in far-off lands. Joyce ingeniously suggests that a magical reality may underlie the mundane facts of Dublin life. He outdoes Mandeville at his own game.

Joyce's third paragraph provides an indication of why Bloom regards the "castle" as dangerous (he does not like to drink immoderately, and likes drunken society even less), and of how he is "subtle" (he pours his drink into his neighbor's glass without being detected). The paragraph ends with another clear echo of the Mandevillean text: "Thanked be Almighty God." This phrase appears verbatim in chapters 21 and 31 of the Travels, and near equivalents can be found in the Prologue and chapter 15.

Joyce's extensive reading of Mandeville appears also in the Middle English vocabulary sprinkled throughout these three paragraphs, especially the first one. Some of these words are staples of the Travels:

"mickle" (great, much)
"meat" (food of any kind)
"yclept" ["cleped" or "clept" in Mandeville] (called, named)
"sithen" (since)
"cautels" (craftiness, trickery)
"trowed" (believed)
"contrarious" (opposed)
"list" (will, inclination)
"marches" (walks, but also remote boundary territories)
"environing" (surrounding, extending around)
"durst" (dared)
"full fair" (very beautiful)
"ne" (nor)
"wight" (man)
"natheless" (nevertheless)
"apertly" (openly, clearly)
"no manner" (no kind)
"voided" (emptied)

Joyce threw in other medieval words he knew. Calling Bloom "childe Leopold" makes him a man of noble birth who has not yet attained knighthood. Saying that he "did up his beaver" imagines him raising the lower part of his helmet (the Middle English "bever") to drink beer—or perhaps, as Sam Slote suggests, simply raising his drink (also "bever") to his lips. When the narrative says that nurse Callan "was of his avis," it means that she shared Bloom's "advice" (i.e., counsel, opinion), and her chastisement of Dixon likewise uses an archaic version of a familiar word: "repreved" means simply "reproved." Similarly, "halp" means "helped," and "mandement" means "command." That "the traveller Leopold was couth" to Dixon means that he was known to him. The "swinking demons" are laboring. The neighbor who "nist not of his wile" did not know that Bloom had poured drink into his glass.

Bloom's desire to "go otherwhither" needs no gloss, but this archaic and rare word, cited just once by the OED in a 16th century text, is a philologist's delight. The Lord knows where Joyce found it, but he does seem to be echoing a sentence from Mandeville's Prologue which says that a tribe without a chieftain is like "a flock of sheep without a shepherd; the which departeth and disperseth and wit never whither to go."

JH 2021
 Full-page portrait of Sir John Mandeville ca. 1459, held in the Digital Collections of the New York Public Library. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 Knights meeting a traveler in the sole illustration of the 1492 Bologna edition of Mandeville's book. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Illustration of Mandeville's "flying dragons" in a French text, date and artist unknown. Source:
Illustration of the discovery of Aristotle's tomb in a 15th century manuscript of Mandeville's Travels. Source:
 Woodblock illustration of Mandeville's account of a magical cotton plant in India that grows lambs instead of bolls. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 Woodblock illustration of a headless man in a 1582 English edition of Mandeville's Travels. Source:
 Headless men in South America, shown on engraver Jodocus Hondius' inset map in the 1599 edition of Sir Walter Ralegh's Guiana. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 Digitally altered version of Andrea Bianco's 1436 map showing the headless men living in India. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Hartmann Schedel's woodblock image of the people with "great ears" in the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle. Source: Wikimedia Commons.