Odyssey Circe Casts A Spell English Literature Essay

Joyce's "Circe"

In Homer's Odyssey Circe casts a spell over the crew of Odysseus and transforms almost all of them into swines by poisoning the meal that the sailors were to eat. Circe lives on the island of Aeaea and is surrounded by docile lions and wolves (previous victims of Circe's magical abilities). Being warned of the treacherous deed of Circe, Odysseus who remained back to guard the ships, sets up to a heroic quest to free his men. He is intercepted by Hermes who advice him to not trust Circe and gives him the holy herb moly to protect himself from Circe's potion. Odysseus manages to protect himself, and to overcome her (deed that impress Circe), and after a year spent in the company of the witch on her island he manages to free his sailors and he sails back home.

At a cursory glance Circe's episode told by Homer has almost nothing in common with Joyce's episode with the same name from his masterpiece work "Ulysses". "Circe" chapter (written in dramatic form with stage directions and by far the longest in the book) takes place in the Nighttown and is an important part of the Homeric framework of the novel, still the parallelism with Homer is not easy to spot because in Homer's epic Circe is "a beautiful enchantress, granddaughter of the Ocean, daughter of the Sun, sister of a wizard, and she dwells in luxury upon an island" [1] . By setting the chapter in the part of Dublin where whorehouses are concentrated Joyce identifies "the witch" of Homer with the prostitute, which is a broadly correspondence at a first glance. Beside that in this chapter he uses a great number of terms belonging to a porcine lexicon, for example: "weak hams", "pork kidney", "pig’s feet", "swine fat", "pork sausages", "pig’s whisper", "perfect pig", "butcher’s shop"and many others; lexicon which emphasize the Homeric parallel. Even if Joyce's heroes are not literally transformed in pigs in this episode the surreal experience and the unleashed sexuality transforms everybody into animals. On the other hand Bloom's potato (for him, a talisman) can play the role of a comical amulet that protects him in the red-light district, like Odysseus' plant protected him from the charms of Circe.

Joyce arranges the "Circe" chapter in the form of a drama work because in my opinion this form is the only form that could represent something so abstract as the stream of consciousness or the flow of the instinctive activity in a tangible form. In a prose form the description of such a web of feelings, nightmares, visions and dissimulations would have been almost undecipherable. During the whole episode he operates with a dramatic technique that he called hallucination. Bloom shifts from one world to another he transforms into a woman, a phoenix or in a true leader. On the other hand Stephen is confronted with his dead mother and all this apparently authentic experiences are combined with glimpses from the real world. Any object from the material world can be enliven by the affected mind and the exterior perception can feed the inner hallucination. The border between what is real and what is not in "Circe" is so thin that, as some critics stated, the only one in the end that can be said it is really "hallucinating" is the reader of the novel because he is not able to discern the real Nighttown from the unconscious experience of the characters as well as he is not able sometimes to discern to whom, Bloom or Stephen, a certain phantasmagoria belongs.

Bloom and Stephen enter into a grotesque carnival during their visit in the Nighttown. Both of them are facing their most intimate thoughts, fears, sins and intriguing personal history events. Joyce analyses their inner psyche (in a way that remembers to the reader of the Freudian psychoanalysis) and brings to surface ghosts that haunts them. By facing these chimeras of their past and present both of them suffer a purification. This is why some critics considered Nighttown to be a corespondent of a modern purgatory where the two protagonists purify their existence by resurrecting painful chaotic images. Joyce's language has humorous accents and the whole experience can be seen as a way in which he decided to show that fears are nothing but painted images which can be eradicated through reiteration as Suzette A. Henke stated: "The psychodrama of Nighttown enables Bloom to purge his repressions through exaggerated reenactment of psychological horror" [2] . Odysseus descended to the Underworld following the directions indicated by Circe; Stephen and Bloom also descend but they descend in a sort of modern Hades represented by their voyage into "the subterranean world of unconscious" [3] .

The first part of "Circe" features mainly Bloom's hallucinations and his struggle located in the real world to follow Stephen and protect him (pursuit which is shattered by violent dissimulations). In one of his first illusions Bloom sees his dead father and after that he is placed on trial for being an "Irish Don Juan". In another vision he sees himself as a monarch, a true savior or kind of "proletarian Messiah" of the Irish nation but his hallucination crumbles, following the classic pattern of a regime "doomed to explode in anarchy and chaos" [4] . This passage brings to front some of Bloom's social frustrations and the typical Irish political problems deepened by his own Jewish ones. It can be said that Bloom in "Circe" finds himself accused and put in trial for all his abnormalities and obsessions. He must resist under the pressure of all his sexual desires and aberrations that ever crossed his body. Every figure that is connected with his past, including his dead father, his dead grandfather, and the women that showed him for the first time the pleasures of carnal love takes clothing of an accuser or even a torturer.

His dishonored past is turning against him and confronts him. For example early that day he lusted after the "moving hams" of a young woman and now during one of his visions Bello (the grotesque metamorphosed image from woman to a man of the whore-mistress) transforms, him after he aswell transmogrify his sexual gender, in an erotic pleasure. Moreover Bello taunts Bloom reminding him of his wife's fornication with another man. At the arrival of Bella/Bello take place probably one of the most significant hallucination; a lot of masochistic scenes take place here but one of the most important things is that Bloom realises the vulgarity of his entire situation. Ulysses transforms his return into a bloodbath. What Jennifer Levine observes is the fact that "Bloom, after all does not kill his wife suitor(s)" [5] , as a matter of fact Bloom being aware of his wife's adultery has a rather cowardly way of behaving by avoiding or even hiding in order to preclude a meeting with Boylan. But "the nearest thing to a confrontation between him and Boylan is dramatized in Circe" [6] Bloom's hallucinations have roots in his sentiment of guilt, he feels guilty because his father commited suicide and because his child died after just 11 days from his birth, but the most pronounced factor of his melodramatic existence is the result that he's child death produced and namely his unstable marital relation with Molly.

The other part of the dramatic episode concerns the hallucinant visions of Stephen Daedalus who being drunk and having consumed absinthe will face in almost the same manner, as Bloom faced, his most intimate fears. Stephen's visions do not have a disparate place in the scenery, they form a compound parallel world bended by his and Bloom's mind. Stephen and Bloom share during the "Circe" episode a common consciousness, a consciousness that can be considered to be common even to Joyce himself. The three of the form in this way an image of a trinity image that will be strongly emphasized in Bloom's final hallucination and the final of the chapter when he will see the image of his dead son. Joyce draws the path which is used by Bloom and Daedalus to cross the Nighttown and forces them to expose their inner selves, the entire remembrance of the past takes the form of a confession for both of them and in the end will serve as a rebirth for them; the mind will finally take control over guilt and terror.

The most representative hallucination that Stephen has is his encounter wit his death mother. If Bloom feels guilt for his dead son and his father's suicide, Daedalus feel guilt for his mother's death; the reader takes in account this fact from the first chapter by observing Stephen's behaviour after an unfriendly remark about his mother expressed by his friend Buck Muligham. In the brothel Bloom starts to profess his protective intentions on Stephen by recovering the money that he wrongfully spent there, but he can not protect him against his own mind and Daedalus is assaulted by the resurrected image of Mary Daedalus, his mother: "she rises stark through the floor in leper grey with a wreath of faded orange blossoms and a torn bridal veil, her face worn and noseless, green with grave mould." Is curious the fact that Stephen does not scream because of the fear but because he believes that the whole scene is just a trick. The grotesque image is the result of a tormented mind and Stephen can not escape for the moment. His mother taunts him about family relations and delivers a memento mori remembering to his son that he is just a mortal and his end will eventually find him wherever he would be. Stephens tries to shift his culpability and blames firstly the time for the death of his mother and after that cancer (as a sign of destiny) but his mother image can not be persuated. What follows is the turning point of the entire episode; the fact that his mother's phantasm does not want to listen drives him to a sort of rebellion. All the hallucinations until now kept prisoners the minds of the two heroes; but in this case Stephen manages to exit from the unreal world and has a moment of lucidity .

If Bloom had a symbolic death and he came back to life transforming himself into a Phoenix in one of his hallucination, Stephen experiences, as well, a symbolic death loosing his consciousness afer being hit by a soldier on the street. Both heroes enter the Nighttown to face their fears an nightmares; their minds recreate grotesque scenarios and purify themselves by becoming aware of unconscious guilt. Stephen and Bloom suffer at the end of "Circe" a spiritual rebirth, Joyce unfolds the inner nature of Bloom's to Stephen and of Stephen's to Bloom enabling them to grow as a whole. In his last hallucination Bloom while helping an unconscious Stephen sees his death son. Being reconciliated with his past, he is ready to adopt a new paternity and Stephen will be from now on his adoptive son. In "Circe" both of them suffer a psychical deconstruction, they face the phantoms of their past and defeat them, they cultivate an interpersonal relation and the entire experience proves to be cathartic and liberating.

Joyce anticipated that "Circe" will keep busy for centuries those who will try to decipher the sense of it and he was right because the number of connections with history, society problems, religion, his own life, Homer, Shakespeare, Hamlet and much others that can be found in this episode is practically endless.