Episode 2

A brief guide to “Nestor”

Prepared by Danis Rose

2021 edition Ulysses pages 28-41
2017 edition Ulysses pages 24-35
1922 edition Ulysses pages 24-36

Thursday 16 June, 1904: 9.45 to 10.30 a.m., The School, Dalkey.

He felt himself alone in the theatreb1

Nature always acts in the view of some end (Aristotle)


TITLE and SENSE: Nestor. The Wisdom of the Old World.
SCENE: The School
HOUR: 10 a.m.
ART: History
TECHNIC: Catechism (personal)

James Joyce was employed for a few weeks early in 1904 as a gentleman usher at the Clifton School, a private enterprise at Summerfield Lodge, 63 Dalkey Avenue, founded and run by Francis Irwin, Esq., a graduate of Trinity College. Irving was unmarried and an alcoholic. He is one of the models for Joyce's character, Mr Deasy. While the reader may wrongly surmise that Deasy, like Irwin, is a single man and a misogynist, he has a wife — “the bloodiest old tartar God ever made” who, according to Crawford in Aeolus, “had the foot-and-mouth disease and no mistake”. A second model for Deasy is Mr Henry Blackwood Price, a married Ulsterman with whom Joyce became acquainted while living in Trieste. Price was inordinately proud of his Northern-Irish lineage and had a keen interest in the hoof-and-mouth disease.

The episode opens with Stephen in mid-class, his mind on other things, tutoring boys in the small private school in Dalkey, a well-off seaside suburb remote from the city centre.

When the class ends, he is paid wages of three shillings in coins after a brief anecdotal conversation with Mr Deasy, who offers him unsolicited wisdom and advice. He also presses on Stephen a letter he has penned on the foot-and-mouth disease for him to pass on to his friends in the newspaper world. For his part, as the sun moves its light across the morning world, Stephen moves inwardly towards a fulfillment of his own great goal: to forge, with a steel pen as a hammer, in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race.


Stephen = Telemachus
Nestor = Mr Deasy = Nestor
Cyril Sargent (schoolboy) = Peisistratus (Nestor's son)
Kitty O'Shea (of Parnell fame) = Helen
Deasy's school in Dalkey = Pylos

Pylos is close to Ithaca, and, given favourable winds, a ship could sail between them in less than a day. Telemachus sails there to learn from Nestor the history of his father Odysseus. In relating to him his memories, Nestor is indeed a kind of historian; but the history is highly personalised and he cannot answer the core question: Is Odysseus alive?

Stephen walks the short distance from the Sandycove Tower to Deasy's private school for Protestant boys in Dalkey. He goes forth to teach (Roman history in particular) and only peripherally to learn (though he has much, much to learn).

Deasy warns Stephen against the grasping nature of the Jews. Nestor warns Telemachus against treachery and cites the brutal murder of Agamemnon by his wife, aided by her lover. Deasy speculates as to the nature of history itself, which he sees as a great teleological movement towards one great goal. On both counts Stephen is unimpressed: he is indifferent to Deasy's anti-Semitism and, searcher as he is for the epiphanic within the mundane, sees the telos, the manifestation of the godhead, in the immanent and ordinary: a shout in the street.

The horses and cattle historically associated with Pylos are reflected in Deasy's preoccupation with the foot-and-mouth disease in cattle. His general interest in horse-racing is evident. He has framed portraits of vanished horses, with elfin riders in the saddle, on the walls of his study. Like Nestor, he is portrayed as having reached a great age (“I saw three generations” and “I remember the famine”), yet considers himself still a warrior (“old as I am” … “I like to break a lance”).

Stephen's sitting noiselessly (godlessly) before the princely presence may reflect Telemachus' temerity in addressing the aged hero.

Deasy's damnation of women in general and of Mrs Kitty O'Shea in particular (he holds her responsible for the ruination of Ireland's greatest politician, Charles Stewart Parnell) suggests the ruination of Troy brought about by the faithlessness of Menelaus' wife, Helen.b2 In Hades, the ghost of Agamemnon also warns Odysseus to be wary of all women.

The identification in Joyce's schema of Peisistratus with the unprepossessing schoolboy Cyril Sargent has little to recommend it. Joyce is over-reaching here. He has Stephen see in the laggard a kindred soul. “Like him I was, these sloping shoulders, this gracelessness.” In Homer, Peisistratus and Telemachus, both sons of powerful men, are much of an age and act like brothers.

Peisistratus is the first to greet Telemachus on his arrival, and he accompanies him on his journey to Pylos and Sparta and back. He is the last person to see Telemachus on his return to Ithaca. Sargent has remained behind in the classroom for some reason or other after the other schoolboys have left to play sports in the yard. The boy is not the last to see Stephen before he leaves, as Stephen, while collecting his wages for the week, converses with Deasy after the lesson.

THE ODYSSEY, 3 (Nestor)

Nestor (king of Pylos)
Peisistratus (son of Nestor)
Setting: Seashore at Pylos

Guided by Athene (still in the form of Mentor), having sailed overnight, the ship bearing Telemachos reaches the sandy beach of cattle-rich Pylos where old Nestor, the lord of horses, lives with his sons Peisistratus and Thrasymedes. When he arrives they are engaged in killing and roasting black bulls to supplicate and propitiate the dark-haired sea-god Poseidon.b3

There suppliant to the lord of the waves in nine groups the Pylians stand,
Five hundred in each and at each station nine oxen on the sand lay slain.
They eat the entrails, and load the altars with the smoking thighs.b4

Telemachos, on his arrival, is taken into the company of the king and his retinue and declares the occasion and purpose of his visit. Nestor then relates the events, as he understands them, that followed upon the sack of Troy: how the different fleets were separated, and how he has heard nothing of the fate of Odysseus since that time. He then speaks of the murder of Agamemnon and the revenge of Orestes. Nestor, unable otherwise to assist the boy, advises him to go to Sparta and inquire further of Menelaos, the brother of Agamemnon.b5

At the coming of night the hecatomb (the slaughter of the bulls) is done, and Telemachos is taken to the palace where, having drunk some choice eleven-year-old wine, he is given a bed. The next day, on rising he is bathed and anointed by Polycaste, Nestor's youngest daughter.

When Telemachos has eaten his fill and duly made sacrifice to Athene, accompanied by Nestor's sixth and youngest son, Peisistratus, he sets out overland in a chariot to reach Sparta.