Deshil holles

In Brief

Episode 14, usually called Oxen of the Sun, develops chronologically through a succession of prose styles modeled on English prose writers through the ages—and, here at the beginning, on Latin prose from the time before England became English. The percussive opening paragraphs, beginning with "Deshil Holles Eamus," are chanted in a style suggestive of late Latin fertility rites. [Succeeding styles will be marked with orange links, most of them at the beginning of a paragraph, leading to notes that begin with the heading "New Style."]

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According to Stuart Gilbert (James Joyce's Ulysses, 1930), the first three paragraphs are written in the style of the Fratres Arvales or Arval Brethren, a so-called college of twelve Roman priests who conducted fertility ceremonies dedicated to Ceres and other pagan gods. Gifford notes that the Arval ceremonies involved an incantatory hymn written in the early 200s AD and rediscovered in the late 19th century. Each of its lines was sounded three times, and it concluded with a Triumphe or "Hurrah." Joyce has modeled his opening on this triune structure, making it triply triune and concluding with "Hoopsa."

Joyce's representation of the evolution of English prose is interesting on many levels, not least in embracing the language of the conqueror. His inclusion of late Latin styles as precursors to English highlights the fact that only once in the chapter, in the first word, does he imitate the Celtic languages of early Britain and early Ireland. "Deshil," according to Gifford, is an Anglicization of "the Irish deasil, deisiol, turning to the right, clockwise, sunwise; a ritual gesture to attract good fortune, and an act of consecration when repeated three times (P. W. Joyce, A Social History of Ancient Ireland [London, 1913], vol. 1, p. 301)." The Irish word fits, then, with the mood of ancient peoples performing sacred rituals. "Eamus" is Latin for "Let us go," so Deshil Eamus means something like Let us turn ceremonially to the right.

Where? to "Holles" Street, where Dublin's National Maternity Hospital is located. This place consecrated to facilitating childbirth will be the site where the mysteries of fertility are played out.

JH 2014
Marble head of a flamen (a pagan priest), ca. 250-260 AD, held in the Louvre, Paris. Source: Wikimedia Commons.