Truth be told, Joyce’s novel Ulysses contains the work of a lifetime. Although not always easy to understand, the novel is created so that readers have to search throughout the novel to find answers. With a fascination for the supernatural and the macabre, “Hades” was by far the most intriguing chapter to analyse. Not only do we get a glimpse of Joyce’s idea of Hell, but also Bloom’s descent, and escape, from the Underworld. All great heroes must undergo a journey. However, a hero’s voyage cannot be completed without said hero facing great dangers. The ultimate danger lies within death; the worst failure in a journey is when the hero falls to the fiery grasp of Hell. Much like Odysseus – a Greek hero whose tale can be found in The Odyssey – Leopold Bloom travels into Hades in episode six of Ulysses. The theme of death is a constant reoccurrence throughout Ulysses, and “Hades”, as its name implies, is the one chapter where death reigns. But “Hades” centers more on escaping Hell and returning to the land of the living. The heroes, in the face of death, come back to life. Odysseus and Bloom are mirrored characters, and they both have managed to escape the Underworld. This essay’s main goal will be to analyse the Homeric parallels between Odysseus’ journey in the Underworld and Bloom’s travel to Paddy Dignam’s funeral, a real-life journey into the depths of Hell.
First of all, the Homeric parallels in episode six begin with the use of the number eleven. (I should note right away that the funeral for Paddy Dignam begins at eleven a.m.) Eleven is an essential piece of the episode, since it is a number that represents sin and death. To understand why eleven is considered a bad number, we must go back to old times. In ancient societies, specifically Christian and/or Catholic cultures, the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, was used as a reference into writing laws. The number ten was considered a holy number, because there were ten fundamental laws to be followed in Catholic communities. Seeing as the number eleven oversteps ten, it was considered by many to be a “transgression of law and of sin” (Saint-Augustine, 464). Both Homer and Joyce were aware of the symbolism of the number eleven. The two authors went out of their way to weave the number into their works. However, the two writers did not use eleven as a symbol of sin, but rather death. For example, in Homer’s The Iliad, Achilles grants the Trojans eleven days to complete Hector’s funeral rites before the battle recommences. (Bell, 404) If we were to compare The Iliad with The Odyssey, we would see a similarity in the funeral rites. When Odysseus descends into the Underworld, he meets the ghost of one of his men, Elpenor, who had fallen to his death when he fell asleep in the tower on Circe’s island. Elpenor begs Odysseus to give him a proper funeral, just as Hector had received. Let’s now switch over to Ulysses: because Dignam’s funeral begins at eleven o’clock, Dignam is a parallel to Elpenor, who is a parallel of Hector. These parallels explain why Joyce uses the number eleven in “Hades”. But enough about numbers. Let’s discuss parallels in the novel. Joyce has a habit of linking each chapter in some way or another. By this, I mean themes and concepts from previous chapters parallel chapters further on in the novel. For example, “Sirens” focused on the element of sound, whereas “Cyclops” contrasts and concentrates on sight. Similarly, “Hades” is a parallel to “Proteus” with its life and death themes. At the beginning of episode three, the themes of life and birth appear immediately. Stephen encounters a midwife carrying a bag; he thinks the bag holds a “missbirth with a trailing navelcord, hushed in ruddy wool.” (3.36) Midwives are seen as a symbol of birth, because they assist women giving birth. However, the chapter’s theme quickly switches when Stephen realizes the baby is deceased. The “ruddy wool” solidifies this mood change; in chapter four, we learn...
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