Odyssey Funmaries #14: Wandering Rocks (Book XII.LXI-LXXX)


Today’s Funmary takes us backward in chapter 12, to Circe’s speech to Odysseus after he has ascended from Hades but before he encounters the Sirens, Scylla & Charybdis and the Oxen of the Sun (coming tomorrow!). The text amounts to a mere 19 lines, and yet Jerry Grit has chosen these lines to be the metaphor for our collective assault on the treacherous cliffs of Mt. Ulysses. And he has assigned me to write about them, even though he has already done so. It’s time we finally pulled the curtain back on this joker.


Jerry Grit, the College Years. (That’s my butt he’s touching.)

Let’s look at exactly how Circe describes the Wandering Rocks (or “Clashing Rocks” in the Fagles translation, although some scholars contend that the Wandering Rocks and Clashing Rocks [or Symplegades] are similar but in different locations):

But once your crew has rowed you past the Sirens
a choice of routes is yours. I cannot advise you
which to take, or lead you through it all —
you must decide for yourself —
but I can tell you the ways of either course.
On one side beetling cliffs shoot up, and against them
pound the huge roaring breakers of blue-eyed Amphirite —
the Clashing Rocks they’re called by all the blissful gods.
Not even birds can escape them, no, not even the doves
that veer and fly ambrosia home to Father Zeus:
even of those the sheer Rocks always pick off one
and Father wings one more to keep the number up.
No ship of men has ever approached and slipped past —
always some disaster — big timbers and sailors’ corpses
whirled away by the waves and lethal blasts of fire.
One ship alone, one deep-sea craft sailed clear,
the Argo, sung by the world, when heading home
from Aeetes’ shores. And she would have crashed
against those giant rocks and sunk at once if Hera,
for love of Jason, has not sped her through. (XII.LXI-LXX)

Translation: It’s your choice, Odysseus, but you’re dead meat if you sail for the rocks. Better go the other way even though that’ll probably kill you too.

The Jason and Hera reference is illuminating. You remember Jason and the Argonauts. Let’s pad this funmary watch the trailer. (Pay close attention to the “treacherous, falling rocks” at 0:53!)

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie (and shame on you if not), Jason releases a dove to fly through the Clashing Rocks. It passes through but not without losing a few tail feathers. Surmising that they’ll be fine since they don’t have tail feathers, the Argonauts paddle really hard and pass through as well, except for losing part of the stern (the mascot). (The scene where Mr. Argonaut gives them a tongue-lashing for smashing up the family boat was left on the cutting room floor.) Once they have passed, the Rocks never Clash again. (The Clash, however, will never cease to Rock.)

So why does Circe tell Odysseus that “not even birds can escape [the Rocks], no, not even the doves”? Because she knows he won’t make it? Because, like many immortals, she can’t stop meddling with her mortal boy toy (although she’ll make a big production out of how the mortals have free will to decide as they please)? 

Whatever her motivation, Circe ensures that the Wandering Rocks, while mentioned, never make an appearance in The Odyssey. This begs the question: Why on earth did Joyce include them in Ulysses? I guess we’ll find out, unless Jerry wants to just tell us all now.

What should we make of the fact that Odysseus chose to avoid the Wandering Rocks and yet we humble tillers are sailing straight for them? Are we suicidal? Possibly. To some, most definitely. But given the pedestal I had put Odysseus on during my collegiate years, and given the drop in stature (both on a moral level but even more so on a basic competency level) Odysseus has suffered in this re-reading, dare I say that I’m excited to take the path Odysseus did not? Is this hubris? Will this be my hamartia?

This also begs the question: Who have you invited to Wandering Rocks

Countdown to Bloomsday…

 Page 1 of Ulysses awaits us next Tuesday!

Wandering Rocks won’t crush you if you just paddle really hard!


6 Responses

  1. It’s been some time since I’ve seen J of the A, so I have to ask: Do they really surmise “that they’ll be fine since they don’t have tail feathers.” It’s funny either way. But if true, it would be insanely funny.

    Just want to know how loud I should guffaw.

  2. The surmising isn’t explicit in the movie, so temper your guffaw. But the astute viewer will correctly read the facial expressions of the Argonauts to reveal that they are in fact thinking this.

    Why don’t you touch my butt like you used to?

  3. That someone is named Scooter-Thomas and he only has four fingers.

  4. BTW…I’m glad the astute viewer shows up here. I look forward to his partner, the astute reader, putting in an appearance or two.

  5. Thank you, by the way, for the visual illustration of the Clashing Rocks. I don’t think I would be able to move forward with this reading without it.

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