ULYSSES pp. 24-30, “Nestor”


I have attempted to replicate Jerry’s Eric’s exemplary twreading skills. (Emphasis on “attempted.”) Let’s revisit the tweets before launching into the analysis:

  • p24. SD teaches remedial History. One student thinks Pyrrhus was a pier. Classmates chortle.
  • p25. SD perplexes class with “a disappointed bridge.” Indulges in reverie about Aristotle, gets swarthy kid named Talbot to read Milton.
  • p26. More Aristotle: “Thought is the thought of thought.” Class winds down and asks for a riddle. SD tells a terrible one.
  • p27. punchline: “The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush.” Wah-wahhh. SD misses his mom. Ugly kid fails math but mom loves him.
  • p28. Torturous math problem. Makes SD think about Hamlet again. Ugly kid just wants to go outside and play hockey.
  • p29. Enter Deasy. He’s our Nestor: Blowhard, also pompous, self-righteous and misogynist. Now he’s the teacher and SD is the student.
  • p30. Deasy pays SD, says “Money is power,” takes Shakespeare out of context. Deasy paid his way — the pride of the English!

Some observations:

Stephen is not teaching AP History.  He’s got some rowdy kids in his class, but he’s not much of a disciplinarian either. A student named Armstrong gets a laugh out of answering that Pyrrhus (he of the Pyrrhic victory) is a pier. Stephen seems like that poor teacher who can’t translate what’s in his head to how he teaches. Nor does he seem able to steer discussion down any constructive path, leading to a terrible riddle (which Ulysses Annotated notes “is a joke at the expense of riddles, since it is unanswerable unless the answer is already known”). This made me recall the section of John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise entitled, “Jokes That Have Never Produced Laughter.” He lists five; I will choose my two favorite:

A duck goes into a pharmacy. He says to the pharmacist, “I need some ointment for my beak. It is very chapped.” The pharmacist says, “We have nothing for ducks here.”


A man goes into a bar. He has a dog with him. The dog is wearing an eye patch. The man says to the bartender, “Ask me about my dog.” Unfortunately, the bartender does not hear him, because he was deaf in one ear as a child. He serves a woman at the other end of the bar. When he comes around to the man with the dog again, the man orders an imported beer. He forgets what he was going to say about the dog. 

Stephen sure misses his dead mom. So why does he tell this terrible riddle? It hints at not just his extremely poor sense of comic timing but also the fact he’s still grieving. (To the grief-stricken, morbidity does acquire a certain hilarity.) Stephen’s one redeeming moment with a student is after class with the “ugly and futile” Sargent. As Sargent reworks a math problem, Stephen notes the boy’s physical oddities (a “lean neck and tangled hair”) but then reflects “yet someone had loved him, borne him in her arms and in her heart. … She had loved his weak watery blood drained from her own. Was that then real? The only true thing in life?” We’re back at the grace and miracle of a mother’s love (amor matris), something Stephen no longer has.

Deasy is a pompous windbag. He’s Joyce’s Nestor. (In all fairness, Homer’s Nestor is far less pompous.) He’s also the school headmaster. The first physical trait we see of him is his “angry white moustache.” Joyce doesn’t say as much, but I get the impression Deasy is a large man. (Joyce refers to him several times as “old,” and at the end of the chapter we see Deasy running after Stephen and “breathing hard,” suggesting he’s out of shape. Then he coughs up “a rattling chain of phlegm.”) Deasy, who is pro-British (and anti-Semitic … more on this tomorrow), pays Stephen and delivers a lecture entitled “Money is Power.” While there are merits to Deasy’s thrift and self-reliance (he tells Stephen the Englishman’s proudest boast is I paid my way), certain flourishes in his speech suggest Deasy is a self-righteous blowhard. He begins his speech, after all, with the dreaded “When you have lived as long as I have…,” then takes Shakespeare out of context (quoting Iago unironically, which Stephen calls him on). Now we have Stephen, previously the (mostly ineffectual) teacher, sitting as the pupil under another (mostly ineffectual) teacher.

Finally, a couple small sidenotes:

  • It is noteworthy that Stephen’s students play hockey, an English game, and not something more authentically Irish like hurling. Here’s a picture of a large man hurling:


“I accidentally put my jersey in the dryer!”

  • Stephen thinks a lot about Aristotle, and I would try to flesh some of this out tomorrow (specifically about Stephen’s reading of Aristotle as it relates to questions of history) if not for the fact I’d have no idea what I was talking about. So I open the floor to any Aristotelian scholars who would like to shed greater light on these themes.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is a disappointed bridge? 
  2. Does Stephen’s identification with Sargent ( “like him was I, these sloping shoulders, this gracelessness”) explain why their encounter appears to be the only connection between a student and teacher in this episode?
  3. Why don’t pharmacists sell beak ointment?

We’ll tackle the rest of “Nestor” tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m off to intramural hurling!


7 Responses

  1. Excellent job, my friend. I was just about to read the pages for today, but felt like I had to finish Cluetrain Manifesto instead (which reads stream of consciousness, anyways). After your fine summary and observations, reading Ulysses seems superfluous. I feel free to join you in that pick-up hurling match. I hope there’s not a quiz.

  2. Finnegans Wake ends without an end, a pause in Joyce’s musical sentence that can be picked up again at the beginning of the novel; a novel that bends back on itself.
    If I am reading him correctly, Stuart Gilbert, in his study of Ulysses, seems to suggest that you have to read Ulysses *at least* twice to get the full spectrum of all the allusions, that most of the allusions happen in reverse, a case of hysteron proteron (Hey! look at the book the W-pedia folks use as an example here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hysteron-proteron ).
    Jerric (my amazing new nickname for our double-named moderator!), having read it as least once, do you agree or disagree? Or just hate my new nickname so much that you will remain silent?

    • This is closer to my third reading. I disagree with Gilbert that subsequent readings grant you the full spectrum of allusions. Instead, in my experience, this reading allows me to relax a little to focus on the things that I know will matter, and not caring about getting the full range (but this matter of relaxing may also have something to do with not having the burden of a 100-page thesis that I was completely ill-equipped to write).

      As far as hysteron proteron…in all honesty, I’m pretty hungover and I’m having a hard time getting my puffy, aching head around the idea of an allusion happening in reverse.

      And “Jerric”? [sigh] I will take my lumps.

  3. I agree that SD identifies himself with poor, awkward Sargent, and so connects with him. However, I see Sargent as staying behind & avoiding hockey deliberately, wanting the attention of an adult and not wanting to have to play the loud, rough game. After all, his mother “saved him from being trampled under foot” (28).
    Speaking of kids– did anyone else find it rather pathetic that SD is jealous of the perceived sex lives of his students? (25) He did a lot of this sort of thing in “Portrait.”
    I find SD’s comparison of himself to a jester (25) revealing of Joyce’s motives in the novel. After all, a jester can cry in jest things no other person in the court would dare to whisper.

  4. Harry Blamires notes that Pyrrhus was “another hero who suffered from usurpation” and that he’s “one of a series of heroes referred to in Ulysses who were frustrated in trying to lead a chosen people out of bondage.” Blamires also says the disappointed bridge = Stephen’s failed escape from Ireland. Makes sense.

  5. Upon my first reading my annotations on the bridge read:
    “Pier becomes a symbol of a failure to cross; lack of unification – Anglo-Irish relations?”
    Thus the pier becomes a symbol for a breakdown of communications – a disillusionment with progressive ideas, and the repression within a Catholic society that leads to the stiffling of hopes and dreams.
    However, I like voreblog’s contribution of Blamires, with the sea as a barrier stopping his escape. In PotA the water is associated with revelation and epiphany because crossing it gives you freedom, whereas here it becomes a force keeping SD isolated in Ireland. This reflects on the disillusionment my reading yielded …
    On an unrelated note, I really like the way history becomes a ghoststory. Very spinetingle when you link it to Stephen’s personal history of his mother haunting him, especially with the Milton quote referencing water (tears?), drowning; ergo her green bile as mother dies, the same colour as water … God he’s got a right old hang up about that!

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