Episode 12: Cyclops
The “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses narrates what occurred in Barney Kiernan’s pub between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 on June 16, 1904 from the narrative perspective of a working class Dubliner. I want to emphasize the past tense of “occurred” in the previous sentence because the nameless narrator (referred to as the Nameless One) is telling this story in a pub at some later point - since he lacks financial means, storytelling is the currency he exchanges for drinks. Perhaps the closest the novel approaches to moralizing, the “Cyclops” episode directly engages questions of nationalism and prejudice, love and hate, violence and injustice, but Joyce only provides the opportunity to engage these lofty topics while viewing Bloom through the eyes of someone prejudiced against him.
If not the climax of the novel, the “Cyclops” episode certainly represents a significant flashpoint in the events of Bloomsday. The anti-Semitism that has lingered in the background of many of Bloom’s social interactions throughout the day emerges as an overt and aggressive force, principally represented in the character of the Citizen, an Irish nationalist with an eyepatch and a myopic view of who qualifies as truly Irish. This man, in the cave of Barney Kiernan’s pub, is the cyclops our Odysseus/Bloom must overcome. During this hour, rumors about Bloom are hashed out, and misunderstandings lead to seething resentment. Bloom scores a few points in his debates with the other men in the pub, but he is not competing with equals.
We might do well here to remember the corresponding story in The Odyssey:
Odysseus and his crew land on an island and decide to explore a cave and discover whether its inhabitants are civilized and generous to guests. The cyclops, named Polyphemus, answers this question without ambiguity by eating some of Odysseus’s men and trapping the rest of them in the cave. Odysseus tells the cyclops his name is “Nobody,” then devises a plan to get Polyphemus drunk before stabbing out his eye with the hot point of a stick. Polyphemus calls for help from his fellow cyclops on the island, hollering that “Nobody is killing me,” to which the other cyclops holler back, “Well, if nobody is killing you, then it must be a plague, and there’s no way I’m coming to help you and risk getting myself infected. Sorry.” As he sails away, Odysseus, too impressed by his own cleverness, calls back to taunt Polyphemus and reveals his true identity. Enraged, the cyclops hurls a boulder at Odysseus as he sails away but misses; he then prays to his father, Poseidon, to hound Odysseus for the rest of his journey.
In terms of style, The Nameless One’s narrative (told by one big “I” (another cyclops)) is frequently interrupted and undercut by parodies inserted by the Arranger. These interruptions - sometimes absurdly formal, sometimes mythologizing, sometimes elevating the events to an ethereal plane, - employ irony to reveal just how commonplace the proceedings really are.
The Nameless One begins his narrative on the street, describing a close brush with a chimney sweep’s gear and then his meeting of Joe Hynes (who we have seen in “Hades” and “Aeolus” - remember that he owes Bloom three shillings). The Nameless One reveals that he is currently employed as a debt collector (an ignominious profession) and that he’s currently working a job on behalf of a Jewish tea merchant (Herzog) owed money by a man called Geraghty. Then, the Arranger interrupts the narrative with a parody of legal proceedings related to the Herzog-Geraghty dispute. The normal narrative resumes with Hynes inviting the Nameless One to accompany him to Barney Kiernan’s pub so that he can tell the Citizen about a meeting he’s just attended on Foot and Mouth Disease. The narrator notes that Hynes is generous when he has money, but he rarely has money. The narrative is interrupted by a mock-heroic description of the city, wherein the pub is recast as a “shining palace” (12.87).
The two men enter Barney Kiernan’s, where the Citizen is passing time with a mangy dog called Garryowen, waiting on someone to arrive with money enough to stand rounds. The Citizen is what’s called a sponger - someone without money who’ll drink up whatever someone else will buy for him. So too, for that matter, is the Nameless One. Hynes offers to buy a round, and the men place their orders.
In an interruption, the Citizen is described in fantastic terms: a middle-aged former shot-putter becomes a “broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freelyfreckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero” with “rocklike mountainous knees” and whose “heart thundered rumblingly causing the ground, the summit of the lofty tower and the still loftier walls of the cave to vibrate and tremble” (12.151-67). The technique listed for this episode in the schema is “gigantism,” as this passage exemplifies.
Terry, the publican, brings the three pints, and Joe Hynes puts down a £1 coin to the amazement of the Nameless One. The Citizen then reads the marriage announcements and obituaries from the newspaper. As the narrator takes his first sip, he offers a truly wonderful string of phrases to describe the satisfaction of his thirst: “Ah! Ow! Don’t be talking! I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. Declare to God I could hear it hit the pit of my stomach with a click” (12.242-43).
Inside, the Nameless One notices Bob Doran, who is rumored to be on a bender, passed out and snoring in the corner of the pub. Outside, Denis and Josie Breen pass by, amusing Alf Bergan, who shares the gossip about the U.p: up postcard and Denis Breen’s pursuit of legal recourse. Bob Doran rouses from his stupor and tries to catch up with the conversation.
In a parody, Alf Bergan pays for a round of drinks: he “could ill brook to be outdone in generous deeds” (12.290-91), which prompts an explanation of the notion of “an economy of expenditure” as applied by Mark Osteen in his excellent chapter on the “Cyclops” episode in his book The Economy of Ulysses. In Osteen’s explanation, Dublin pub culture featured a practice of men projecting their social and economic strength by treating other men in the pub to rounds of drinks. In this sort of potlatch culture, Osteen explains:
Power and prestige accrue not through investing, saving money or acquiring goods, as in bourgeois economies, but through expenditures and loss of goods. But the gifts in a potlatch only seem voluntary; actually there are three intersecting obligations - to give, to receive, and to reciprocate. To fail in any of the three is to suffer social humiliation and loss of honor. The potlatch constructs the boundaries of the social group and solidifies its hierarchies: those who give or destroy wealth are included, and those who do not are cast out; those who cannot reciprocate by giving back a larger gift than the one they have received lose social status. The greater the loss, the greater the prestige. (Osteen 262-63)
In short, men can promote a comfortable financial situation by cavalierly spending money. Of course, if one man stands a round, then others (like Alf Bergan above) are compelled to reciprocate the act, leading to a tit-for-tat competition of strength, wealth, generosity, and, ultimately, masculinity. The yield of this practice: everyone ends up drunker and poorer than if they simply paid for their own drinks (as promoted by the anti-treating league).
The Citizen growls at Bloom pacing outside of the pub; he is waiting on Martin Cunningham and is reluctant to enter. Eager to label and delineate, the Citizen identifies Bloom as a freemason. Alf Bergan says that he just saw Paddy Dignam; Joe Hynes shares with him the bad news that Dignam is dead. Alf is shocked and is certain he just saw Dignam minutes before, prompting us to wonder how well these men really know each other. Bob Doran, hammered drunk, is trailing the conversation by a few beats and tries to catch up with the news of Dignam’s death. We have an interruption of a parodied theosophical seance raising Dignam from the dead. The Citizen then sees Bloom again. Bob Doran disparages Christ, gets told off by the publican for that kind of talk, and then weeps over “poor little Willy [sic] Dignam” (12.392). The men in Barney Kiernan’s pub (which is decorated with various hangman’s photographs, which strikes me as rather odd) read a letter written by a hangman, H. Rumbold.
After lingering outside for a time, Bloom enters the pub and is immediately pressed to order a drink (and thus join the potlatch already underway). Bloom, ever the “prudent member” (12.437), ducks this pressure by asking for a cigar, a deft move which politely accepts Hynes’s offer of a gift while avoiding the obligation to reciprocate by standing a round of drinks for everyone already in the pub.
The men continue their conversation, and Bloom is quick to interject with his opinion and erudition (or at least that’s how the Nameless One tells the story; we might be shrewd to question his reliability - when and to whom is he telling this story? What are his audience’s prejudices? Might the Nameless One be shading his narrative against Bloom to best position himself for drinks from his listeners?). In any event, Bloom wants to talk about scientific phenomenon and the Citizen wants to talk about Irish nationalist heroes. Bob Doran clumsily plays with Garryowen.
Bloom and the Citizen get into a bit of an argument, and the Nameless One veers to mention Molly (“a nice old phenomenon” (12.503)) and recounts a few rumors about the Blooms from their time in the City Arms Hotel years ago. One has to do with Bloom angling for an inheritance in the will of Mrs. Riordan (Dante from Portrait). A few have to do with drinking. All are shadowy. None are flattering to the Blooms.
The narrative returns to the bubbling tension between the Citizen (who is becoming belligerent) and Bloom (who seems oblivious to the danger he’s tempting). Because we have seen Bloom be rather reserved in key moments throughout the day, it seems strange for him to emerges as so willfully argumentative here.
A further note about the interruptions: lot of interesting scholarship has been devoted to the forms and functions of these interruptions - they parody the events taking place in the foregrounded narration, they inflate what’s taking place just as the Nameless One tears everything down, they are fun-house mirrors that distort reality. Because they abide their own rules and function independently from the dominant text, they have been explained by Fritz Senn as emblems of Irish home rule. Robert Colson, by contrast, suggests that these interruptions are immigrants who don’t really belong in the Citizen’s conception of an Irish nation. So on and so forth.
While these interruptions are simultaneously fascinating, fanciful, funny, and frustrating, they might not be of immediate necessity to the first time reader. So, you might want simply to skim the longer ones, appreciating the different flavors they bring to the episode while not getting bogged down in them. The newspaper parody that spans lines 525-678 might be one such opportunity for skimming.
When we return to the narrative, the Citizen and Bloom are trading points about the factors limiting Ireland: the Citizen feels that the Irish aren’t Irish enough, and Bloom highlights alcoholism. Bloom mentions the anti-treating league, and the Nameless One faults Bloom for drinking off others and not standing rounds; of course, Bloom has just declined a drink and the Nameless One himself has already leeched multiple beers off Joe...so we again must question the reliability and biases of this narrator.
Garryowen noses over toward the Nameless One, and the Citizen senses that the dog makes him anxious. An interruption parodies a newspaper advertisement paragraph for an exhibition of Garryowen as a dog who can speak. Pretty funny. Funnier still, in my mind, is the joke at line 757: when asked if he’d like another pint, the Nameless One replies, “Could a swim duck?”. That’s gold.
Joe again asks Bloom if he’d like a drink, Bloom again declines and explains that he’s waiting on Martin Cunningham to working through the Dignam’s insurance situation (apparently Paddy Dignam had mortgaged the policy, so now there are complications in the widow recovering the payout). As Bloom muddles through his explanation of these technicalities, the Nameless One remembers Bloom getting into some legal hot water over selling Hungarian lottery tickets. Again, suspicion and rumor cloud over Bloom’s reputation in this city. Also, Bloom has a bit of a Freudian slip, saying “wife’s admirers” rather than “wife’s advisors” (12.767, 769). Obviously, his own wife’s admirer weighs heavy on his mind today.
Bob Doran continues his “bloody foolery” (12.784), bewailing the passing of “poor little Willy” Dignam and imploring Bloom to pass along his condolences to Mrs. Dignam. The text then repeats this conversation in high formality (“Let me so far presume upon our acquaintance…” (12.786)) before returning to the Nameless One’s narration of these rather low events (“And off with him and out trying to walk straight. Boosed at five o’clock” (12.800)). He offers some gossip about Bob Doran’s prior benders and how his brother-in-law (Jack Mooney) promised violence if Bob didn’t marry his sister, Polly. Now, we’ve read “The Boarding House” in Dubliners and saw Jack’s menacing glare down the staircase, but he didn’t overtly threaten to “kick the shite out of” Bob Doran if he didn’t marry Polly, as the Nameless One reports. Again, we would be wise to question the storyteller in this episode - his version of events is proximate to the truth, but he’s trading almost exclusively in gossip and rumor.
The spongers drink another pint on Joe’s tab. We have a moment of parallax with Joe’s discussion of foot and mouth disease and its effect on the cattle trade, and then the Nameless One passes on another rumor about Bloom getting fired from a previous job with Cuffe’s for talking too much and superciliously to a rancher. Indeed, the Nameless One has characterized Bloom as “Mister Knowall” (12.838) throughout the episode. Anyhow, Councillor Nannetti is currently on his way to London to speak before parliament on the problem of foot and mouth disease. For Bloom, Nannetti leaving town presents a problem - he is still trying to to nail down the Keyes ad and will ultimately need Nannetti’s approval to seal the deal.
The men raise the topic of Irish games (Gaelic football, hurling, etc.) being banned by the British, who wanted the Irish to play English games like rugby and cricket. This topic turns attention back to the Citizen, who led a revival of Gaelic sports as part of the Irish independence movement and who himself was a champion shot-putter. The men debate health and athletics, and Bloom again is portrayed as a loquacious contrarian. An interruption parodies the discussion as formal meeting minutes. The men then discuss the Keogh-Bennett boxing match on which Blazes Boylan is rumored to have won £100 (and the same fight young Patrick Dignam saw a poster for back in “Wandering Rocks”); Bloom tries to turn the topic back to lawn tennis. There’s a brief allusion to a rumor about Boylan and/or his father gaining wealth by cooperating with the English. Anyhow, the men discuss the fight, and an interruption parodies sports journalism.
The discussion returns to Boylan and the concert tour he is planning. Joe Hynes, already knowing that Molly is part of Boylan’s plans (indeed), prods Bloom to discuss the tour. We’ve previously seen other men around town insinuate about Molly and Boylan, but this intrigue comes as news to the Nameless One - somewhat surprising, given his penchant for gossip. “Hoho begob … Blazes doing the tootle on the flute” (12.996-98) - safe to say that he is amused by this revelation
In walks Ned Lambert and J. J. O’Molloy, they order drinks, and the Nameless One wonders what they were up to together. You might recall that J. J. O’Molloy visited Ned back in “Wandering Rocks” to ask for money, and the Nameless One suggests that a quid pro quo was agreed; in exchange for a loan, J. J. O’Molloy will use his access to the legal apparatus to get Lambert off the grand jury list. (I mean, who doesn’t want to get out of jury duty?)
Denis Breen and the U. p: up postcard are discussed, and Joe asks Alf Bergen if he wrote it. J. J. brings some legal knowledge to the conversation, but all seem to agree that Mr. Breen is crazy. Bloom clearly has a soft spot for Josie Breen and expresses his pity for her in being married to a nut. The Nameless One drops some gossip about the Breens. The men drink. Breen walks past again. J. J. gives some updates on other legal cases, mentions Reuben J. Dodd, and mocks an overly merciful judge.
After an interruption, the Citizen ramps up his racism and xenophobia, referring to foreigners (and specifically Jews) as “bugs” (12.1142). Blooms pretends not to have heard and starts talking to Joe Hynes, reminding him of the money he owes him (even while excusing him from the debt for the moment) while exacting a bit of usurious interest in the form of Joe speaking to Miles Crawford back at the newspaper office about the Keyes ad. Hynes promises to help. By working this new angle, Bloom might be able to seal the deal without Nannetti after all!
John Wyse Nolan and Lenehan enter the pub in bad moods, disappointed by the result of the Gold Cup (the dark horse Throwaway won the race; the men had all wagered on either Sceptre or Zinfandel - more on that in a bit). The Citizen continues to rail against immigrants and the English strangers in the Irish house, directing his nasty speech toward Bloom, who is doing his best to ignore these provocations. Nationalism and colonialism are discussed, and the Citizen continues to berate the English for cultural deficiencies. The men worry about deforestation, hope for a return to direct trade with Europe, order more drinks, and discuss hazing practices in the British navy. The topic turns to Irish revolt and the French’s unfulfilled promises in support of the Irish cause, followed by comments on the English monarchy. The men order another round - the drinks are adding up, and they are all surely buzzed by this point.
Bloom and John Wyse Nolan are debating nationalism, persecution, and hatred, and Nolan asks Bloom to define what a nation is: “the same people living in the same place” (12.1422-23), Bloom replies. The men poke holes in this definition and laugh. The Citizen’s seething hatred for Bloom takes center stage as he asks Bloom directly “what is your nation?”: Bloom responds, “Ireland. I was born here. Ireland.” (12.1430-31). The Citizen hawks and spits with disgust at Bloom’s answer. Drinks are served and an interruption provides some comic relief in describing the Citizen’s handkerchief in elevated detail.
Bloom continues, identifying himself with the Jewish race in addition to his Irish nationality, and states that his race suffers from hate, persecution, and injustice. John Wyse Nolan suggests the Jews stand up for themselves with force, but Bloom rejects this solution on very simple yet profound grounds: “Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life [...]. Love, the opposite of hatred” (12.1481-5). The text responds spastically to the mention of love. Bloom then leaves abruptly to search for Martin Cunningham back at the courthouse. In his absence, the men debate Bloom’s treatise on love and have another drink.
Lenehan claims that Bloom is in fact out to collect his winnings from the Gold Cup - remember the unwitting tip (“I was just going to throw it away” (5.534)) Bloom gave Bantam Lyons at the end of “Lotus-Eaters”? And remember in “Lestrygonians” that Bantam Lyons told the other men in Davy Byrnes Pub that Bloom had tipped him off on Throwaway? Lyons also told Lenehan, and Lenehan now tells the men in Barney Kiernan’s that he supposes Bloom won 100 shillings on a 5 shilling wager (the odds on Throwaway were 20-1).
The Nameless One goes out back to take a leak, and when he returns rumors about Bloom are swirling about his involvement with Sinn Fein (a revolutionary independence party). Martin Cunningham finally arrives and asks where Bloom is. The men ask Martin about Bloom and Sinn Fein, and Martin confirms Bloom’s role in introducing “the Hungarian system” of subverting colonial institutions (whereby Hungary successfully achieved independence from Austrian rule) into the practices of Sinn Fein. This exchange also contains another of my favorite jokes in the novel: “Who made those allegations? says Alf. / I, says Joe. I’m the alligator” (12.1625-26).
Anti-Semitic comments fly, and then Ned Lambert tells a story, making fun of Bloom for preparing for the birth of his child...the Citizen uses this story to challenge Bloom’s masculinity...Joe Hynes wonders if Bloom has ever had sex...the Citizen questions the legitimacy of Bloom’s children...the Nameless One suggests killing Bloom would be “justifiable homicide” (12.1662). The men order more drinks. There’s a long interruption with a list of names.
Bloom returns in a hurry seeking Martin. Everyone in the pub assumes he has just collected his winnings from the Gold Cup, making Bloom’s reluctance to pay for a round of drinks all the more infuriating. The Citizen begins to confront Bloom, and Martin, seeing trouble coming, starts to shuffle Bloom out of the pub. As they leave, the Citizen gets up and pursues Bloom with a mocking cheer for Israel. Here, the Nameless One starts to condemn the Citizen’s belligerence (or he at least expresses exasperation). Bloom retorts back to the Citizen by naming famous Jewish philosophers and artists, Jesus chief among them. This sends the Citizen over the edge - he goes back inside the pub, grabs the biscuit tin, and hurls it at Bloom as the carriage drives away. An interruption describes the event in seismic terms, and the episode concludes with a description of Bloom’s safe departure with imagery of biblical rapture.