Sunday, July 03, 2005

Who was the real Ulysses?

Ulysses was that ancient Greek warrior dude who, after lots of heroics in the Trojan War (he was the devious bastard who came up with the wooden horse idea to get inside the gates of Troy), went on that famous Odyssey as told by Homer, trying to get back home to his wife Penelope, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

It was Homer, in writing the Odyssey, who's responsible for the cliché “steering a course between Scylla and Charybdis”, which for some odd reason I've heard at least five times this past week. The monster Scylla snacked on sailors and the whirlpool Charybdis drowned them, and Ulysses had to safely make his way between them. The phrase means having to navigate threatening waters, even if landlocked and stationary, such as when you are seated at a party between your mother-in-law and your boss.

The 19th century poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, taking pity on Ulysses having to hang with his aged wife, sent the old man on further adventures, "to strive, to find, to seek, and not to yield." Excellent words, btw, for a middle-aged fart who is going to read ULYSSES for the first time.

As for James Joyce, I understand (and I could be wrong) that all the characters in his novel have their counterpart in the ancient Homerian epic. So I’m real interested to see what form Joyce’s Trojan Horse takes, not mention how Joyce steered the course between his mother-in-law and his boss.*

*(Was Joyce ever married? Gainfully employed? I guess I should find out, but I am curiously incurious.)

3 Comments:

Blogger Clifford Garstang said...

Richard,
I'm looking forward to seeing your reaction to Ulysses over the coming year. It isn't nearly as unfathomable as you seem to anticipate. Finnegan's Wake is another story, of course. Your blog looks good (and I say that only partly because it looks like mine) and I wouldn't worry about the font on the sidebar . . .
Cliff
p.s. If you ever become more curious about Joyce's life, give Ellmann's biography a try--it's excellent.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Richard Lewis said...

Thanks for the tip, Clifford. I probably will do that. I love non-fiction of all kinds. Sometimes I prefer reading NF above all else (mostly when I'm seriously writing and don't want to get depressed by somebody writing better fiction than me).

3:57 PM  
Blogger Dick_Shane said...

The best study and analysis I have come across (and one which, initially at least, met with Joyce's approval) is 'James Joyce's Ulysees' by Stuart Gilbert, written in 1930.

Have a look at this and you'll discover just how much you're missing on first reading. I know I did! Here's a cute fact I learned from the Ellman bio:

title: Ulysees

first word: Stately

last word: Yes.

Joyce was married, by the way, with a son and a daughter, and lived in incredible poverty while he worked on the book.

6:41 AM  

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