Episode 5

A brief guide to “Lotus Eaters”

Prepared by Danis Rose

2021 edition Ulysses pages 79-97
2017 edition Ulysses pages 65-79
1922 edition Ulysses pages [68]-83

Thursday 16 June, 1904: 9.45 to 10.00 a.m., City streets.


TITLE and SENSE: Lotus Eaters. The Seduction of the Faith.
SCENE: The Bath
HOUR: 10 a.m.
ORGAN: Genitals
ART: Botany, Chemistry
SYMBOL: Eucharist
TECHNIC: Narcissism

Bloom makes his way to the chemist's pharmacy to purchase a bar of soap and some white wax for ointment for his wife, Molly. He had earlier (outside the narrative) purchased a copy of the Freeman's Journal for one penny. He never reads it, except cursorily to check the time of his friend Paddy Dignam's funeral, and dumps it, still unread, in the bar in Sirens.e1

On his way to the shop, Bloom collects from the post office a letter addressed to Henry Flower, Esq. (Yes, it is he, Bloom, thinly disguised.) It is from “Martha Clifford”, a woman with whom he is engaged in a clandestine, amatory correspondence. Slipping into a church, bang in the middle of a Mass, he reflects on religion, the opiate of the people.e2

The episode concludes with Bloom (the “adorer of the adulterous rump”) approaching the Hammam Public Baths at 11 Leinster Street and imagining his languid immersion, soon to be realized, in a chalice of hot, scented water. The story of the bath and gratification, costing him a hefty one shilling and sixpence, is nowhere related. It should be remembered that the Blooms, like the rest of Dublin at the time, have no bath tub as such (in the modern sense), or indeed inside toilet, at their home.

He crosses Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street and passes along the right-hand side of Westland Row to halt before the window of the Belfast and Oriental Tea Company under the railway bridge. He then saunters across the road to the post office to pick up an anticipated letter (containing, alongside a letter, a pressed and pinned odourless flower he mistakes for a daisy). Boylan also receives (purloins) a flower: a red carnation. Miss Douce and Molly both wonder half-jealously who gave him the flower.

Emerging from the post office and turning to the right, Bloom bumps into C. P. M'Coy. M'Coy, like Bloom, is a canvasser for advertisements. While idly chatting to him, Bloom greedily eyes a woman in silk stockings in the distance revealingly climb aboard a carriage parked outside the Grosvenor Hotel. Shaking himself free of M'Coy, who makes him uncomfortable, Bloom strolls on, turns right into Brunswick Street and right again into Cumberland Street, where, in the lee of the station wall, he opens his “naughty boy” letter. Having read it and torn it into shreds, he walks on to reach the open back door of All Hallows.e3 He enters the church and tarries a little, seated, listening to the priest recite Mass. He then leaves by the front door that opens onto Westland Row, just beside the post office.

Once outside, he veers left onto Westland Row and at the intersection of this with Lincoln Place goes into Sweny's the chemist's shop. He orders a preparation for a skin lotion for his wife, promising to collect it later. (He never does.) He also buys, for four pence, with payment deferred, a cake of lemon soap. This he pockets. Leaving, he encounters Bantam Lyons and inadvertently gives him a tip for the Ascot horserace (for an outsider, Throwaway). Unexpectedly, Throwaway wins the race.

Lyons heads off with the intention of placing a bet on Throwaway, but, to his later dismay he changes his mind.

Bloom walks on, passing by the disused Lincoln Place Baths and pushes on purposefully towards the oriental edifice of the Turkish and Warm Baths at 11, Leinster Street.

Bloom's rambling route, if drawn on a piece of letter-paper, roughly traces out a question mark (?), then another question mark (?), then a crooked line, and is certainly not as the crow might fly. He seems at this point to be somewhat unfocussed, fly-like, indecisive and directionless.

After the close of this episode, and earlier than the opening of the next, his ablution over, cleansed but sexually unrelieved, in badly darned socks Bloom quits the bathhouse at 11, Leinster Street and, boarding at the tram-stop immediately outside, takes the tram to Sandymount. The fare is one penny. He walks from the tram-stop at Sandymount to join the funeral cort├Ęge waiting outside Paddy Dignam's house (the home of a man he hardly knows) at 9 Newbridge Avenue, precisely as Stephen makes his way to Sandymount Strand to initiate his walk in the direction of continental Europe and, poetically speaking, eternity.

It is in Hades, the dull colourless descensus Averni of the book, that Bloom first crosses the paths of lithe Stephen Dedalus (he glimpses him briefly from the carriage window), and his own nemesis, the bill-sticking bounder “Blazes” Boylan, at whom, vacantly, he avoids looking. He suspects.


Lotuseaters = Cabhorses, Communicants, Soldiers, Eunuchs, Bather, Watchers of Cricket
Bloom = Odysseus
Host, Perfume = Lotus

The ignoble piracy of the Achaeans on the unsuspecting Ciconians (entailing the slaughter of men and the rape of women) as related by Homer is entirely omitted by Joyce. Evidently he found it too difficult to fit into his general scheme of things. He skips it and focuses rather on the Greeks' subsequent brief encounter with the indolent eaters of the lotus plant.e4

This episode finds Bloom in various locales. First in a post-office, where he collects a quasi-love-letter addressed to a nom de plume, Henry Flower. The folded letter, when opened, reveals a dried (species-ambiguous) flower. Moving on, Bloom finds himself in a church in mid-Mass and reflects on the dulling and calming effect of ritual per se on the minds of the common people. Next he visits a chemist's shop, with its lily-pots of tobacco (another narcotic), orders some sweet-smelling lotion for his wife and purchases a bar of lemon soap. Finally, just past the edge of the episode (and thus unwritten) he relaxes in a Turkish bath.

As Bloom saunters rudderless through the episode he encounters either directly or indirectly repeated examples of idleness (the way of life of Homer's lotus-eaters): cab-horses, communicants, soldiers, eunuchs, bathers, watchers of cricket, all perceived in heavenly weather. The sentiment of the episode is one of weakness, mo164y, and lack of definition. The central symbol is the sacramental host or housel), which Joyce sees as especially equivalent to the lotus: those who eat of it become one family and no-one is forbidden it (the priest will proffer it to any chap who turns up). Bloom, like Odysseus, believes none of this bosh.e5 By the end of the episode he foresees himself as metamorphosed, buoyant host-like in a chalice of liquid: as a type of giant floating nenuphar, his flaccid penis afloat and his pubic hairs spreading out like saxifrage. This watery florification of Bloom can be contrasted with Molly'squasi-metamorphosis into a rose in Penelope.

THE ODYSSEY, 9 (The Lotus Eaters)

The Achaeans
The Kikones
The Lotus-eaters
Setting: Land of the Kikones, Land of the Lotus-eaters

While still enjoying the hospitality of the Phaeacians in Scherie, Odysseus relates to King Alkinoos his troubles on leaving Troy.

On sailing first to Ismara, the chief town of the Kikones, and coming upon it poorly defended, the Achaeans slaughtered all of the men there and divided among themselves the women and the booty, including casks of wine. They lingered overmuch, and other Kikones, better fit to fight, arrived and exacted revenge, killing six men from each ship. The survivors fled to their boats to escape their wrath.e6

Storm-driven, the Achaeans sailed on with heavy hearts, for in their rush to escape they left their dead comrades unburied on the beach, and for two days they struck the sails, so violent was the wind; but when soft-tressed dawn gave birth to the third day they hoisted up the masts again.

They made good going, and could well have reached Ithaca without incident; but, on rounding Cape Malea, deep currents and adverse winds pushed the boats off course and on past the island of Cythera. For nine days an intransigent gale filled the sails.e7 By the tenth, the voyagers were driven by the North wind to the land of the Lotophagoi, the Lotus-eaters, and, going ashore, drew water there, and wary of the place, they ate close to their ships.e8 >

He himself sent three scouts inland to see what kind of men lived in the place. And when these scouts met the inhabitants they were given the honey-sweet flowery lotus-plant to eat and, on eating it, they ceased to care for their instructions or even the desire to reach home. He dragged these malingerers back to the ships, unwilling though they were to leave their stupor and indolence, and he bound them to the rowing-benches. He ordered all to board and set sail swiftly, each man taking his place on the bench, striking the grey water with his oar.e9