Ulysses: Aeolus

Aeolus is the Greek god of the winds. There is a brief story in Book X of Homer’s The Odyssey in which Aeolus gives Odysseus all four winds in a bag to help get him home. Odysseus uses the Western wind do blow his ships homeward and they come within sight of Ithaca. However, suspicion and jealousy get the better of the crew and one of the men tears open the bag – thinking it contained gold and silver – only to unleash all four winds, which blow them all the way back to Aeolia. This time, Aeolus refuses to help Odysseus because he believes the gods are set against the Achaean. Short on wind, the men row to the land of the Laestrygonians, who are powerful giants that make a meal out of Odysseus’ scouts and sink all but Odysseus’ ship by throwing boulders at them.

As in The Odyssey, Aeolus represents a tumultuous time in Ulysses. The Aeolus episode is set in the Freeman newspaper offices. The text in the book is offset by newspaper style headlines which, for me, give the episode a hurried kind of energy. There are a lot of characters as well. Bloom and both Dedalus men, City Councillor Nanetti, Hynes, Ned Lambert, Professor MacHugh, JJ O’Molloy, Myles Crawford, Lenehan, and O’Madden Burke are all featured. Like the winds of Aeolus, the men are all blowing about with their various interests and commentaries, which makes the episode challenging to follow.

Much like in Hades; however, we see that Bloom is still an outsider. Bloom is making a genuine attempt to get his Keyes ad placed in the Freeman, but the rest of the cast seems disinterested in business. Ned Lambert puts on a mocking performance of Dan Dawson’s speech discussed in the carriage on the way to Dignam’s funeral in the Hades episode. The elder Dedalus and Lambert depart for a drink and shortly thereafter Stephen Dedalus arrives to turn in Mr. Deasy’s letter on foot and mouth disease from the Nestor episode. Crawford agrees to publish it. Crawford then asks Stephen if he’ll write something sharp for the paper, but Stephen will snub the idea. On the other hand, Bloom is trying to get Crawford’s attention to get the Keyes ad settled, but Crawford is distant. At Stephen’s suggestion, all the men gather up and head to a pub.

Themes:

Several prominent themes are reinforced in this chaotic, wind-blown episode:

  • Bloom the outcast / inferior: Throughout the episode Bloom plays the part of the inferior. Bloom runs into Hynes, who owes him three shillings, but who also told him at Dignam’s funeral he didn’t know his first name. Bloom tries to tactfully remind Hynes about the 3 quid but Hynes doesn’t catch on. Then, Bloom works hard on designing and landing the ad for Keyes. He works with Nanetti on the ad design and then runs off to call Keyes to secure the three month’s renewal. As he runs off he gets mocked by some boys for his jerky stride. Lenehan then imitates him too. Upon his return, Bloom struggles for the attention of Crawford, who is flippant in dismissing Blooms request to get the Keyes ad for two month’s renewal rather than three. Instead, Crawford is focused on Stephen, who doesn’t work for the paper.
  • Molly the object of lustful attention: Bloom and Molly are inseparable in people’s minds. When people talk about Bloom they routinely make a comment about Molly – usually in a sexual nature. This holds true in Aeolus as well. When Crawford comments on the gathering of many talents in the room, MacHugh mentions that Bloom would represent the art of advertising. O’Madden Burke immediately jumps to Molly, whom he says would add vocal talent. Lenehan then coughs and makes an off-color remark about catching a cold in the park, implying some impropriety involving Molly.
  • English vs. Home Rule: This theme is never far away in any part of Ulysses, just as I imagine that it would a prominent topic of discussion in any gathering of men in Dublin in the early 1900s. In helping to develop the ad for Keyes, Bloom invokes the Isle of Man and the dream of Irish home rule. Later, Crawford and O’Molloy bring up the Romans which prompts MacHugh to compare the Irish under English rule to the Jews under Roman rule.

As I close the review of this episode, I must admit that it wasn’t one of my favorites to read. It bounces around with the sizable cast of characters playing off of one another. However, as with most episodes, once I’ve had a chance to contextualize it with its Homeric counterpart, I understand and appreciate it more. While the actual movement of air was minimal, the whirring of the machines and the collection of windbags certainly created a good bit of tumult for our hero Bloom to operate in. I know it took Joyce 5 years to write Ulysses. It will probably take me at least that long to fully appreciate it. What a book!

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