Episode 1

A brief guide to “Telemachus”

Prepared by Danis Rose

2021 edition Ulysses pages 5-27
2017 edition Ulysses pages 5-23
1922 edition Ulysses pages [3]-23

Thursday 16 June, 1904: 8.00 to 8.45 a.m., The Tower, Sandycove.

The plump shaven face and the sullen oval jowl recall some prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages.a1

Gogarty's hooked nose and pointed chin and rotund form remind me of Punch. He wears a Punch-built waistcoat.a2

Listen to Oliver St. John Gogarty, the original of Buck Mulligan, describe the night he spent in the Tower with Joyce.


TITLE and SENSE: Telemachus. The Dispossessed Son in Struggle.
SCENE: The Tower
HOUR: 8 a.m.
ART: Theology
COLOUR: White, Gold
TECHNIC: Narrative (young)

Stephen Dedalus, a wild lapwing returned from Paris, the painful death of his god-fearing mother and his own apostasy preying on his mind, muses in semi-melancholic self-obsession in the early-morning sunlight at the Martello Tower at Sandycove Point. Mulligan, having shaved, and his English house-guest, Haines, enjoy a light banter with him, the non-Irish-speaking Irish peasant bard, over a breakfast of tea, rashers, and eggs. An obsequious crone - the secret spirit of the nation - delivers milk and collects (with some difficulty) the few pennies owed to her.

Breakfast over, Stephen, with ash-plant in hand, prepares for his short walk to the nearby 'school kip’ where he has a temporary position as a teacher.

Mulligan, whose stateliness is entirely affected and whose family are better off than Stephen's, who has a real career (as a physician) ahead of him, opens his ribald mocking day with a dip in the freezing water of the Forty Foot swimming-hole in the creek close to the tower. Stephen, who is afraid of water, dogs, guns, religion and state, quietly watches from the wings.

Haines, bemused by all things Irish, and ever condescending, sits on a stone and puffs cigarettes drawn from a silver cigarette-case adorned with an emerald-green gem.


Stephen = Telemachus, Hamlet
Buck Mulligan = Antinous
Milkwoman = Mentor
Haines = Eurymachos
The Tower, Sandymount = Odysseus' Palace

In the three opening episodes of Ulysses, the so-called Telemachiad, the Homeric connection was retrospectively orchestrated (retro-fitted); these pages are compositionally tied to an earlier planned, part-written but ultimately never completed extension to the autobiographical Stephen-Dedalus-centered A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. There is nothing in this abandoned text relating to Homer. It is not until he launches properly into the sea of “Calypso” and begins Bloom's urban wanderings that Joyce convincingly begins to interlink the two texts.

As it stands, Stephen can only distantly be viewed as Telemachus. Both are young men (‘thoughtful’ Telemachus was perhaps twenty years of age at the time of his journey to Pylos) and both oppressed and deeply unhappy at their current situation in life. Both are financially in dire straits yet aspire to nobility, if not kingship. To achieve this end requires for Stephen a leaving: exile; for Telemachus, it necessitates a leaving and a return. Stephen goes forth, however, not to search for a father and an avenger (as Telemachus does) but to forge a conscience.

Between each and his aspirations stand other men: for Telemachus the young and would-be murderous Antinous, in particular; for Stephen the arch-mocker Buck Mulligan. But here the strands untwine. Mulligan has no desire to seduce Stephen's mother and seize the house spoils. She is in fact dead.

It is not until we reach the true beginning of Ulysses, the Calypso episode, when Joyce sang of the complicated man, that the strands connecting Joyce and Homer are more dexterously woven. Here a credible figure can stand in for the prudent Penelope: Molly. And another figure for Antinous: the carnal and cuckolding Hugh Boylan. He indeed lusts after Molly and threatens to displace Bloom from his own bed.

The Tower is, as the book opens, Stephen's away-from-home residence.a3 The Tower's literal identification with the Omphalos of the Greeks (a plum-pudding-shaped stone at the oracle at Delphi marking the imagined centre of the world) simply confuses the issue.

Homer has Telemachus still living with his mother in the palace, in his own bedroom with an elevated view. Home for Stephen is a motherless house in Cabra ruled over by a drunken father. The palace of Ithaca is much more credibly re-relocated at 7, Eccles Street, once Stephen is off-stage.

The milk-woman who arrives at the Tower seeking to be paid is identified in Joyce's guide (his schemata) as an Athena-Mentor figure. Athena was the owl-eyed goddess of wisdom, worshipped especially in Athens. The keening crone at the Tower more properly symbolises priest-secreting Ireland: the proverbial hard-done-by silk of the kine, otherwise the shan van vocht, otherwise Rosaleen dubh (dark Rosaleen).

Athena, she who inspires, is more exactly immured in Stephen's self-imagined heroic genius.

As Homer's account opens, there is a much gluttonous eating and drinking going on: hence, perhaps, the emphasis in Telemachus on the bread-and-butter-and-rasher-rich breakfast.

Homer's initial invocation of the Muse (Sing in me) is reflected in Mulligan's mocking, priestly gestures and invocations.

The Suitors, the local and imported despoiling nobles at Ithaca, can perhaps (to stretch the imagination to snapping point) be seen in the unfortunate character Haines, a kind of foreign (Anglo-Irish) patronising usurper, and also in Mulligan, another usurper, and perhaps the chief one; and, on another axis, perhaps abstractly in the (Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic) Church and (British) State, each of which dominators Stephen, unwilling to serve, defiantly repudiates: non serviam!

The tropes of listlessness and indecisiveness are perhaps the only realistic common threads running between the figures of Joyce's Stephen and Homer's Telemachus. Stephen's dread of water perhaps associates with Telemachus' fear of taking to the ocean in search of his long-lost father. Also, his slipping away by stealth at night is a Stephen-like evasion.

THE ODYSSEY, 1-2 (Telemachus)

Telemachos (a dispossessed, diffident and disesteemed son of Odysseus)
Athene (a goddess & mistress of disguises)
The Suitors (the usurpers)
Antinoos & Eurymachos (suitors hostile to Telemachos)
Penelope (wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachos)
Eurycleia (an old faithful slave, keeper of the palace provisions)
Initial Setting: Mount Olympus, The Palace at Ithaca

Homer's immortal epic opens with an invocation to the Muse to inspire the story that is to follow.

Sing, Muse, in me of the man, the man of twists and turns,
Hard-driven, time and again, off course
Once he had pillaged the hallowed heights of Troy.

The narrative begins at a point ten years after the sacking of Troy by the Greeks, a war that forms the subject matter of the earlier sister epic, the Iliad. All of the Greeks that have not been killed at Troy have by now returned home except Odysseus, lord of the Ionian isles, of Ithaca, of Cephallenia, Neritum, Crocylea, Aegilips, Same and of Zacynthus. He languishes disconsolate in the island of Ogygia, kept there by the goddess Kalypso, daughter of malevolent Atlas.

From this opening scene, which is near the end of the story proper, less than fifty days are to elapse before Odysseus is to re-arrive in Ithaca.

In that narrow and rocky island kingdom, suitors — princes and nobles of the isles — lay waste to the cattle and the sheep of the kingdom, and drink its wine, while Penelope, wife to Odysseus, procrastinates in taking one of them as her second husband. This is so even though she believes, as all believe, that Odysseus had drowned many years before.

His plight frustrates the goddess Athene. She appeals to Zeus to intervene and allow Odysseus to return to his family; but the cloud-gatherering god refuses: blue Poseidon of the oceans forbids it. For Odysseus blinded his son, Polyphemos, greatest of the cyclopes, and he must suffer the consequences of this malevolent deed.

But, he adds, Poseidon's will is not inexorable: if all the other gods defy him, he must relent; and grey-eyed Athene could address this. Perhaps Odysseus is not without hope.

The goddess decides to visit Ithaca and embolden the overburdened Telemachos. She arrives, embodied as a man, and lingers at the porch of the palace as a banquet is underway. Telemachos notices her from his seat and invites her (as Mentes) to share in the meal and to talk, privately, away from the clamour of the others. Athene tells him that she is named Mentes, is a Taphian on a voyage to trade bronze for iron and an old acquaintance of his father from a time before he embarked for Troy. When Telemachos bemoans his present haplessness, the goddess chides him that he must act like a man and decide his own fate. She advises him to go to Pylos where Nestor rules and to Sparta, home of gold-haired Menelaos, and inquire of them news of his father. If he learns that he still lives, he must continue to await his return; if he is dead, he must arrange a funeral and settle the question of the remarriage. As for her, she must be off. Postponing until another time the offer of a gift from Telemachos, as giving was the custom when strangers visit, she changes into a bird and flies away. At this, Telemachos is astonished, recognizes the stranger as a god or goddess and is affirmed.

As they speak, the banquet carries on: the suitors feast and listen to the lyrist and rhapsode who sings one of the poems of return.a4 Penelope descends from her bedroom with her slave girls and listens to him, and asks the bard to sing some other song, as her heart is made heavy by his words and the memory of her own loss. Telemachos upbraids her, saying that the bard should sing what he likes, and she should be off and about women's business upstairs. Astonished at his loss of temerity, Penelope does as he says.

He then turns to the others and demands their attention. He wishes, he says, to address them on the morrow, as he has something of importance to say.

The next day, as dawn first stains the sky pink with its pale roseate hues, Telemachos rises to address the crowd gathered outside the palace and, after the elder Aegyptius has spoken well of him to the mocking suitors, chief among them Antinoos, he voices his complaints, urges the suitors to leave or to go directly to Icarios, Penelope's father, and ask him for her hand rather than continue to loll about in his house like parasites.

Antinoos refutes this accusation and lays the blame for their presence on Penelope's indecisiveness. She solicits their attentions, he says, only to disabuse them. To postpone a day of decision as to whom she will marry, she demurs until she completes the weaving of a death-shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes; but this shroud is never finished: they have discovered that she knits it by day and unravels it by night. So let her go now to Sparta, he insists, and settle the matter.

Telemachos believes to do this would offend Icarios and, moreover, to banish his own mother would bring shame upon him. Let the suitors leave of their own will: if they remain unwanted guests they risk becoming a victim not of his strength, for he is few and they are many, but of the gods' wrath.

At this accusation, two eagles circle above the forecourt and, stooping, tear at the faces of the crowd before flying off to the right. Halitaerses, a soothsayer and expert in bird-lore, interprets this omen to foretell Odysseus' imminent return.

That night all the long-haired Achaeans sleep an untroubled sleep of dreams induced by Athene, all except Telemachos. His mind is set on his planned voyage in quest of answers.

On the following day, Athene, this time got up as Mentor, another guest-friend of his father, revisits the boy and she predicts success for Telemachos' venture. She then sets out, now in the shape of Telemachos himself, to arrange for a ship, to engage a loyal crew of twenty and to push his business on.

Telemachos discloses his plan to none except the trusted old nursemaid, Eurycleia.

When ready, he makes his way down to the sea and embarks secretly, setting sail under cover of darkness.