ULYSSES Funmary #6: Hades


Okay, so Saturday turned into Sunday (which is rapidly turning into Monday…) But! we are done with Hades in all of it’s gloominess. The good news is, friends, that we are out of hell. One can only assume that it’s just going to be kittens and rainbows from here on out!

I hope I’m not wrong! Anywho, back to “Hades.” So much has come to light about Bloom throughout this chapter. First I’m going to touch on how it related to its Homeric parallel. There are many bridges you can draw between the two. First of all and most obvious are the four rivers and Odysseus and crew must cross on the way to Hades and the four rivers the Dubliners cross on their way to the cemetery. In “The Odyssey” they are the Archeron, Pyriphlegethon, Cocytos and Styx and in “Ulysses” there is the Dodder, Grand Canal, Liffey and Grand Canal.

Odysseus finds out from Theban Theiresias that  there are a pack of men at his house trying to get there grubby little hands on his stuff and his woman. Right as Bloom is thinking of just such a man, Blazes Boylen passes by. But, unlike Penelope, Molly has (allegedly) accepted his advances.

There are characters from the two chapters that (the internet tells me) directly correspond. But what I find more interesting is the way that the dead appear to both Odysseus and Bloom but in different ways. Down in the real Hades, the dead approach Oddyseus, drink from the pool of blood and address him directly. For Bloom, they appear in his mind. Memories of those who have gone before him are triggered by images on his ride through Dublin and when he contemplates the whole idea of cemeteries and burial. Odysseus’s mother comes to him in Hades and Bloom’s father comes to him in his thoughts. And while Odysseus inquires about what has become of his son, Bloom wonders what would have become of Rudy, had he lived.

Another idea that we know going into this chapter (well, if you looked it up like I did) is that the organ of choice is the heart. Bloom thinks of it repeatedly as a part of the bodies machinery, pumping blood throughout and when it stops, game over. That was how Paddy Dignam died. In fact, Cunningham just says that singular word as an explanation, “Heart”. But there was another fleeting reference to the heart in the way that it relates to Catholic Ireland in their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This brings us to another theme in the book that was really driven home in this chapter and that is Bloom’s alienation from those around him. The greatest factor in this is religion. He is surrounded by (supposedly) practicing Catholics. Not only is he non-practicing but he is ethnically Jewish. And even though his mother is Irish, it seems it is his otherness that people see. There doesn’t seem to be any malicious intent to exclude him, he just exists on a different plane. Death means something completely different to him than it does to the other men. He can not give nor accept the condolences that they do. And the whole action of this chapter, the ride to the cemetery and the perfunctory activities of the requiem mass and burial, are meaningless to him. He believes it is of no consequence to the dead because they have ceased to exist and it is of no consolation to him as one of the living. He is at complete odds with the culture of Ireland in this way. It is also against his nature as a pragmatist. Mush of the chapter is spent with him thinking about how this is all a waste of money, land and other resources and how it could be done in a way that is more beneficial to those who are left on the earth above.

This is not to say that he is not a compassionate individual, though. I think we see just the opposite in this chapter. He notices the people around him, be they the family of the deceased or the people they’re passing in the carriage, and empathizes with them. And even when his first reaction is judgemental, after a moment of reflection, he can be more compassionate. When Simon goes on his Mulligan-induced rant, Bloom initially sees him as loud and pompous. But he turns on a dime when he realizes that, had only Rudy lived, he would probably be just as protective.

So there it is folks. There’s more I could write and I’m sure there’s much I’ve missed. Please fill in my blanks and discuss below. For now, I will leave you with a classic from the band Styx, named after the aforementioned river on the way to Hades. I dare say our friends Odysseus and Bloom might have been singing a tune like this to themselves as they were passing through those glimmering gates, on their way out of the underworld.

NEXT: Sail away with Brendan (new contributor!) as he sets sail for Aeolus!


12 Responses

  1. Strong and interesting funmary, Katie Else. I’m interested to see how the compassionate and earthy Leo will deal with the cold and disconnected Stevie.

  2. Yes, totally agree with Lizaanne. Very good comprehensive work here, Katie. Nicely academic. Where are all the f-bombs and Lost references?

    I forgot just how much Bloom’s isolation from his surroundings is an issue. And more to the point, why he puts up with it. He gets treated like crap everywhere and still manages to be a pretty nice guy. His heroic resilient decency far outmatches the scheming skuzzball Odysseus.

  3. Hey, folks– if anyone wants to add a Wandering Rocks button to their blog, I’ve made one. Just drop me a line & I’ll send along the code.

  4. Oh, don’t you worry, Jer. One of the benefits of reading this book is that it is increasing the depth of my understanding of Lost. I will probably keep that to my personal blog, though.

    I, personally, am more touched by Bloom as the hero than Odysseus. O has is own tribulations, obviously, but while he is targeted by some gods he is protected by others. And people are always telling him how awesome he is.

    Bloom has the simple, everyday kind of heroicism of being a kind, compassionate person in the face of alienation and without any sort of religious structure to guide him. But isn’t that the better option anyhow? To dwell on the negativity or reciprocate the negative behaviour would make him miserable.

    • I certainly wouldn’t know about that.

      And you’re totally right that Bloom kicks Odysseus’ ass when it comes to sympathetic characters. That guy, however divinely sanctioned, was a douche.

      • I’ll second (or third) that. I never anticipated Odysseus would fall into such disfavor after a re-reading of The Odyssey. Bloom is far more sympathetic and far less a drama queen. He sleeps around less too.

        I’ll also second (or third, or fourth) commending Katie on guiding us through Hades. I would have been greatly disappointed had she passed up the opportunity to embed a Styx video. Katie, you did not disappoint.

  5. On a completely different note, congratulations is due to Katie for getting on Car Talk! She’s going to be on next weekend! They told her to junk her car and ask her parents for a loan.

    Real helpful, Click and Clack.

    Should she have asked which car Leopold Bloom would drive? Even though the answer’s obvious (the sensible Toyota Camry), she still should have.

    Nonetheless, this comes after her appearance on the Holy Grail of Public Radio…This American Life. (She’s Act 1 of Episode 306, Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time).

    She’s close to pulling off a Public Radio Hat-Trick. She just needs to win a Listener Limerick Challenge.

  6. We were on Click and Clack once. Our 1996 Jeep Cherokee was making a “mrkgnao!” sound whenever we went above 65 mph. They said we should take the dead body out of the trunk and dump it in the river. Then the sound would go away. Sure enough, it worked! Those guys know everything.

    • Holy moles. Why haven’t you told me this? Can you send the link to episode you were on? I hate those guys!

      • Alas, that particular show was never archived. It was, however, adapted for a German TV show with two private investigators based on Click & Clack. Gunther (Click) is the straight man while Maximilian (Clack) is the cut-up. Enjoy!

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