Episode 8

A brief guide to “Lestrygonians”

Prepared by Danis Rose

2021 edition Ulysses pages 168-204
2017 edition Ulysses pages 135-164
1922 edition Ulysses pages [144]-175


TITLE and SENSE: Lestrygonians. Dejection.
SCENE: The Lunch
HOUR: 1 p.m.
ORGAN: Esophagus
ART: Architecture
SYMBOL: Constables
TECHNIC: Peristaltic

For Bloom, it is now the dullest hour, the very worst hour of the day. He still has to copy the ad for Keyes over at the National Library and now makes his way there, intending to stop on route and have a bite to eat.

As it happens, after a great deal of reflection on Dublin's policemen and its pigeons, and having rejected alternate possibilities, he ends up in Davy Byrne's quieter “moral” pub where he savours a chunk of gorgonzola cheese with a glass of wine. His thoughts are very much rooted in the past, on happier times when he and Molly were younger and more innocent; naturally, impotently, he is trying to deracinate his thinking about Molly's impending and seemingly inexorable adultery with Boylan: potentially the final nail in the coffin of Bloom's psyche.

At the episode's end, as Bloom approaches the gates of the National Library, the worst possible scenario almost occurs – a direct encounter with Boylan. Boylan is for him the “worst man in Dublin”. Only by skipping into the museum (and thereby, by a parsimonious Joycean sleight of hand, into an earlier Stephen-based book) does he narrowly avoid an encounter fraught with shame. It is worth noting that Bloom has no one more than himself to blame for his plight: he has had business dealings (and a fish supper) in the past with Boylan, and seems half-deliberately to have coaxed the two sinners (he and she) together.


Antiphates = Hunger
The Decoy = Food
Lestrygonians = Teeth
Bloom = Odysseus
Blazes Boylan = Hunger (Appetite) = Antiphrates

The correspondences in this lunchtime episode are generic. Antiphates, leader of the giant and cannibal Lestrygonians, is represented by hunger; the decoying daughter by food; and the cannibals by teeth.h1

The episode proceeds by peristalsis, in keeping with its “organ” (oesophagus) and its theme of digestion. Even the distracted Bloom is affected at what is for him the very worst hour of the day. He feels as if he has been eaten and spewed. In a sense, Dublin City is viewed as a great colon along which the citizens are inexorably pushed in slow peristalsis. Bloom's own slow and punctuated movement across its streets is something like a bolus of food travelling under digestion. The city's constables (“nasty customers to tackle”), meanwhile, serve as the keepers of order, as do the herdsmen and woodsmen of Lestrygonia.h2

Finer details of correspondence emerge on a close reading. Bloom, crossing over O'Connell Bridge, sees (like Odysseus on the cliff top) a puffball of smoke. His revulsion at the coarse and gluttonous eating habits of those he encounters in the Burton is clearly suggestive of the cannibals the Greeks fall among. Bloom's reluctance to enter the restaurant mirrors Odysseus' disinclination to enter the narrow and confined harbour at Lestrygonia, mooring as he does outside it.

Images of blood abound (even concealed in red jujubes) and images of victims. Lastly, just as Odysseus slips off when the fun gets too hot, abandoning his companions to their grisly fate (being masticated as dinner), Bloom eludes his personal Antiphates, Blazes Boylan, by slipping into (being, in a sense, defecated into) the National Museum in Kildare Street to admire “the curves the world admires:” the statues of goddesses there for whom, of course, digestion and anuses are superfluous.

This episode is notable also for Bloom's preoccupation with Molly, especially with her former self at a time when he and she, so much younger, were genuinely happy.

Bloom's bumping into Mrs Breen, elsewhere portrayed as a Calypso-like figure, is significant.

In a sense, Bloom engages in transferred cannibalism in this world of “everybody eating everyone else” in the image of the seed-cake that passes between his and Molly's lips as they lie together among the rhododendrons on Dublin's Hill of Howth.

THE ODYSSEY, 10 (Lestrygonians)

The Decoy (daughter to Antiphates)
The Betrayer (wife to Antiphates, a giantess)
Antiphates (chief man of the cannibal Laestrygonians, a giant)
Setting: City and cliffs of Laestrygonia

Spurned, the Greeks leave the Aeolian Isles and reach dove-covered, gadfly-infested Telepylus, the pasturelands of the industrious Laestrygonians. Their ships enter its narrow harbour, walled about with cliffs, and moor there. As the weather is calm, Odysseus ties his own ship to a rock outside the harbour. He then climbs the adjacent headland to spy out the lie of the land; but he sees nothing of note except some smoke ascending. He sends three men inland to learn what they can.

These scouts come upon a woodman's track, used in hauling wood from the mountains to the city, and following it, come to a fast-flowing stream, Artacia, source of the city's water. At the fountain there they meet the well-fattened daughter of King Antiphates, and ask her who is king in this place and where does he dwell. The woman points out her father's house and the Greeks make their way there to find the king's wife, Antiphates, inside, a huge woman, massive as a mountaintop, colossal in her blubber. The ogress, making excuses, goes to the marketplace and alerts her husband to the presence of the strangers and, on rushing in on them, seizes one and prepares him as a meal. The others, Eurylochos and Polites, flee in fear of his insane hunger.

Antiphates rouses the town with great shouts and his many kinsfolk, all giants, come together. They hurry to the clifftops and cast great boulders down upon the fleet moored below, splintering the eleven ships trapped in the narrow harbour and crushing the men. Then they rush down with spears and lance the dying sailors, foundering like fish out of water, and drag them away, screaming, as food for their loathsome meals.

Odysseus observes all this hostility from afar and quickly cuts the cable securing his ship. In near panic, he and his men thrash the water into spume with the blades of their oars and their ship sails safely out, leaving the other crews behind to their terrible, calamitous end. They are now alone and his command is reduced to a single ship.