Episode 4: Calypso
Just as Book 5 of The Odyssey leaves Telemachus and restarts the narrative from the perspective of Odysseus, the “Calypso” episode of Ulysses leaves Stephen and begins the day with Mr. Leopold Bloom. We join him at 8:00 am in the kitchen of his home at 7 Eccles Street, where he is preparing breakfast for his wife and bidding good morning to his cat.
On the first page, you will see many images which echo the “Telemachus” episode: Buck/Bloom preparing breakfast, a tower, green stones, cat/panther, milk, and so on. However, you’ll feel relief from heavy resonances: rather than a metaphor for English colonization of Ireland, the green stones are Bloom’s cat’s eyes; rather than an omphalos of an Irish literary renaissance, the tower figures into Bloom’s curiosity about his cat’s perception of his height; rather than the milkwoman representing Athena and the decrepitude of Irish culture, Bloom’s milk jug was just filled by Hanlon’s milkman.
Other contrasts between the two opening episodes are obvious. Buck spouts blasphemies while preparing the breakfast while Bloom thoughtfully makes a plate for his wife, Molly Bloom. Stephen brings volumes of knowledge to every thought while Bloom brings wonder. Bloom’s mind has a lighter air than Stephen’s, but it is no less active.
He considers his breakfast options then calls upstairs to his sleepy wife to make sure she doesn’t want anything from the butcher’s. Ever rooted in sensory experience, Bloom hears the jingle of loose quoits on the bed and considers Molly’s childhood in Gibraltar where her father, Tweedy, was an officer.
On his way out, Bloom grabs his Plasto’s high grade ha (the “t” has worn off), and checks inside the headband to make sure that the “white slip of paper” (4.70) remains hidden there. Let me solve this little mystery for you: Bloom has a secret post office box under the name Henry Flower, and this little hidden card allows him access to it (more on this in the next episode). He takes further inventory: he has his shrunken potato talisman, but his key to the house remains in his other pants (he is wearing his black suit for Paddy Dignam’s funeral later this morning).
Mr. Bloom enters the streets of Dublin this sunny morning and we begin to see the city through his eyes. He possesses tireless powers of observation – in this encounter with just his own block of his own neighborhood, he notices details of a neighbor’s “loose cellarflap,” the steeple of George’s church, and a bread van, amidst curiosity about why you feel hotter in a black suit as well as thoughts of his wife’s preference for day-old loafs and new undergarments, intertwined with a reverie of walking though a Middle Eastern market that he quickly dismisses as overly romanticized. Get used to this agile sort of mental activity – we will spend the better part of 10 episodes with Mr. Bloom, frequently accessing his inner monologue.
As Bloom anticipates, he sees Larry O’Rourke (the proprietor of his local pub) as he turns the corner from Eccles to Dorset Street on his way to Dluglacz’s butcher shop. He contemplates the economics of pubs but gets distracted from his math as he passes Saint Joseph’s National school and hears the ABCs recited through the open windows.
He arrives at Dluglacz’s and is pleased to wait behind a young woman as she places an order for sausages. He admires “her vigorous hips” (4.148) and hopes to hurry with his own order so that he can walk behind her “moving hams” (4.172). Bloom is a bit of a letch.
He receives his kidney (remember, “Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls (4.1-2)) wrapped in butcher’s paper and heads home, reading a prospectus for Agendath Netaim, a Zionist investment opportunity, which touts the land’s fertility.
Then, “a cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly” (4.218) – the same cloud that covered the sun in the “Telemachus” episode (see 1.248). This cloud represents our first direct incident of parallax, the idea of the same object being observed from different viewpoints (like Wayne’s World: “camera 1, camera 2”). We will see this concept employed throughout the day as Stephen and Bloom both think about and experience the same things from their own unique perspectives.
In any event, the cloud casts a shadow on Bloom’s mind (just as it does to Stephen’s), and he thinks of Israel as a dried up, barren, old, dead land as opposed to the idyllic portrayal in the Agendath Netaim ad as a land teeming with life. Horrified by the image his mind creates, he hurries home, thinking “Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now” (4.232-33), asserting his identity as an Irishman despite his Jewish ethnicity.
He arrives home and collects the morning mail: a card from Milly to Molly, a letter from Milly to Bloom, and a letter to Molly in the “bold hand” (4.244) of Blazes Boylan, the manager of Molly’s upcoming concert tour (Molly is a prominent soprano in the Dublin music scene). Boylan addresses his letter to Mrs. Marion Bloom, when her name should properly appear as Mrs. Leopold Bloom; therefore, Boylan has effectively removed Leopold from the marriage. Indeed, Blazes Boylan will have sex with Molly this very afternoon, cuckolding Mr. Bloom and making good on that envelope’s clerical promise. Molly tucks the letter under her pillow to read in private later.
On his way back downstairs to finish making breakfast, Molly tells (commands?) Bloom to “scald the teapot” (4.270). Molly calls him Poldy, short for Leopold, perhaps de-lionizing him by removing the Leo from his name.
Bloom does as commanded, puts the kidney in the pan on the coals, and then opens and skims Milly’s letter before returning to the stove and taking the tray up to Molly in bed. There, he notices Molly’s ample figure and “a strip of torn envelope peep[ing] from under the dimpled pillow” (4.308), evidence that she has read Boylan’s letter while he was downstairs. Knowing full well who it was from, he asks anyway, and Molly tells that Boylan is going to come by the house that afternoon to review the tour programme. We also learn that Bloom will attend a funeral for his friend Paddy Dignam later in the morning.
Molly then asks Bloom to explain a word she read in a book. The word is metempsychosis, and Bloom initially explains that it is Greek, meaning “the transmigration of souls” (4.342), but Molly dismisses this erudite definition, saying “O, rocks! [...] Tell us in plain words” (4.343). Bloom goes on to explain reincarnation in simpler terms, and he also collects Molly’s book (Ruby: the Pride of the Ring - a cheap romance novel about a circus) to return for her. Molly smells burn, and Bloom hurries back downstairs, having forgotten about his kidney on the stove.
He salvages his breakfast and sits down with a cup of tea. There, he opens and reads his daughter’s letter to him, thanking him for her birthday presents (she turned 15 yesterday (June 15th)) and giving a brief update on her social life down in Mullingar, where she is working in a photography shop. One detail stands out to Mr. Bloom: “there is a young student comes here some evenings named Bannon” (4.4.406-7). Likewise, this bit of information should catch our attention, as Buck learns from Haines in the “Telemachus” episode that his friend Bannon “found a sweet young thing down there. Photo girl he calls her” (1.684-85). So, in another instance of parallax, Bloom’s daughter Milly is involved with a young man in Buck Mulligan’s circle of friends. Even without knowing anything about Bannon, Bloom, like any good father, appropriately responds to this development “with troubled affection” (4.432).
Milly also mentions a song that will return to Bloom’s mind over the course of the day: “Seaside Girls.” Singing a few lines of the song to himself, Bloom’s mind conflates Milly’s blossoming sexuality with his wife’s impending sexual encounter with Boylan: “a soft qualm, regret, flowed down his backbone, increasing. Will happen, yes. Prevent. Useless: can’t move” (4.447-48). We might admire Bloom’s wisdom in passivity here: if Molly wants to have an affair, he is ultimately powerless to stop her. She will find a way. Same thing with Milly’s involvement with the Bannon boy. Bloom will later think, “Woman. As easy stop the sea” (11.641).
His memory of running to the midwife's house on the morning of Milly's birth turn his mind to the birth of his son Rudy, who would be eleven years old now had he lived beyond his eleven days. The pang of this loss will rise to the consciousness of both Bloom and Molly throughout the day.
Bloom, as physical as Stephen is cerebral, feels his bowels loosen and grabs some reading material for a trip to the outhouse. In his yard, he thinks about some gardening and a few other snippets return from the day thus far, then he sits down with a short story, “Matcham’s Masterstroke” by Mr. Philip Beaufoy, and takes a dump.
Just as at the conclusion of “Telemachus,” we hear the three bells signalling 8:45. Whereas Stephen’s mind translated them into three verses of a Catholic prayer for the dying, Bloom hears them as
Heigho! Heigho! (4.546-48)
This further instance of parallax (responding differently to the same bells) demonstrates that, again, Bloom and Stephen are going to encounter the same things but through different perspectives. This contrast is emphasized in Mr. Bloom’s last words of the episode: “Poor Dignam!” (4.551). Whereas Stephen’s last word is the self-centered “Usurper” (1.743), Mr. Bloom is thinking of others with a spirit of charity and compassion.
We may consider this impulse in Mr. Bloom as an important reference point as Joyce begins to redefine the notion of the epic hero.