Episode 12

A brief guide to “Cyclops”

Prepared by Danis Rose

2021 edition Ulysses pages 325-384
2017 edition Ulysses pages 262-308
1922 edition Ulysses pages [280]-330

Thursday 16 June, 1904: 4.45 to 5.45 p.m., Barney Kiernan's pub, 8-10 Little Britain steet.


TITLE and SENSE: Cyclops. The Egocidal Terror.
SCENE: The Tavern
HOUR: 5 p.m.
ORGAN: Muscle
ART: Politics
SYMBOL: Fenian
TECHNIC: Gigantism

A number of our bedraggled but beloved characters converge like thirst-crazed oxen at a river towards the hostelry of Barney's Kiernan's public house, in 1904 located at numbers 8 to 10 Little Britain Street. There the bellicose, belligerent, bag-of-wind “the Citizen” sits “in his glory hole” on a barstool accompanied by his faithful flea-ridden mongrel wolfhound (that barks curses in Irish).

Meanwhile, drunk as a newt in a corner snug snores little Bob Doran. Thither they come: the unnamed narrator (a debt collector), “I”, who is the nastiest back-biting Dublin tattler of them all, alongside Joe Hynes, the reporter, for their cup of joy; Alf Bergin, who has some hangman's letters in his pocket and is following Mrs Breen for the sheer devilment of watching the poor woman suffer; charitable Bloom; John Wyse Nolan, fresh from the City Hall, and Lenehan, who has just learned of his losses on the horses; and finally Jack Power, Crofton, and Martin Cunningham.

Who drinks what and who pays for what is of interest.
1. The Citizen cadges a total of three pints “off of” Joe, as indeed does the narrator.
2. Joe Hynes, who has on him the three shillings he received earlier in the Freeman 3. Bloom is offered a drink by Joe, but declines, selecting instead a cigar, which he lights and smokes.
4. J.J. O'Molloy buys himself a whiskey and one for Ned Lambert with money he has borrowed from Ned in return, apparently, for O'Molloy's getting him (Ned) off the grand jury list.
5. Nolan orders a half-one (a small whiskey) and a “hands-up” (a bottle of Allsop) for Lenehan and himself.
6. Ned Lambert buys drinks for the late-arrived Cunningham, Crofton, and Power.

In the course of their long-winded conversation, narrated naturally but interspersed with wildly linguistically distorted asides — in what Joyce called an “alternating asymmetry” and a “giganticism” in which we find the descriptive and the natural side by side with the ridiculous (as in “like a sunbeam at 7.48”) — Bloom, falsely suspected of having cleaned up on the horse Throwaway in the Gold Cup and of being too much of a tight-wad to buy a bloody man a bloody drink, is chased out of the pub after an excited altercation with the xenophobic Fenian alias The Citizen. A Jacob's biscuit box (“I'll give him a lottery ticket”) is pegged (but inaccurately) at Bloom's head. Bloom, however, who has stood his ground throughout, is secretly pleased at his status as the sheep with a bit of a bite.

The episode is interrupted twice: first, by a most classic description of the gonorrheal and bladder-distended narrator slipping outside for a sloppy and painful urination (Jesus, razor blades); and, second, by Bloom himself exiting and reappearing.

Bloom, who as we know has not won a brass farthing on any horse of any descriptrion, has called by prearrangement to meet Power and Cunningham at five o'clock at the nearby Green Street Courthouse. He hopes to accompany them on a visit of mercy to the house of mourning of the lately deceased Patrick Dignam. The two men are late, and Bloom passes the intervening time by pacing up and down the street outside, where he knocks into an old flame, Mrs Breen, before being induced to go into the pub, where he is offered, and smokes, a cigar.

Eventually Cunningham, Crofton (an “Orangeman” or Protestant loyalist), and Jack Power turn up on a Castle jaunting car, have their afternoon tipple and decamp with Bloom for the house in Sandymount. Cunningham has the good sense to ship Bloom out of the place before worse happens.

It is a little difficult to follow the various routes taken by the different characters in approaching the pub. Hynes and the narrator move through the “the land of holy Michan” — the parish of St Michan's, named after the Church of St. Michan in Church Street, noted for its vaults and bodies — moving from the Stoneybatter/Arbour Hill intersection onto North Brunswick, New Lisburn (now no more) and Lisburn streets. They then turn right at the Linenhall barracks (or at Lurgan Street) and head down Halston Street, skirting the back of the courthouse at No. 26 Green Street.

Bloom, as we know, has come up from his sobering experiences in the Ormond Hotel by way of the quays as far as Dodd's Corner, perhaps, or the Four Courts, where he turns right. At the rear of the Four Courts, he traverses Pill Lane (now Chancery Street), where he passes the time eyeing up the fish guts in the markets of the “shining palace”: the North City (Fruit and Vegetable) Market located off Chancery Street. The “herds innumerable” of which Joyce lyrically writes are the droves of lowing beasts on their way to the Cattle Market adjacent to the City Arms Hotel in Prussia Street. Bloom's exact route is opaque, but it should seem he most likely skipped up Greek Street, nipped right into Mary's Lane, and then hopped left into Little Green Street, which crosses Little Britain Street.

The time-axis, moreover, is seriously misleading. The actual narration is that of the unnamed narrator filling the ear of an even more obscure and obscured unnamed listener in an unknown pub about events that have already happened: that is, those of 4.45 p.m. — 5.45 p.m. Joyce's surrealism is imperfect: the episode of the narrator's long and painful urination happens impossibly in both space-time frames: in Kiernan's and in the innomimate pub, at once earlier and later. (This is crossing over a literary bridge too far.)

In the course of his giving shape to the episode, Joyce erased a number of characters he had at first intended to include among the pub group: Stephen Dedalus, O'Madden Burke and Professor MacHugh. Even more fascinating (in the early-draft version) is Joyce's unrealized intention of having Molly Bloom's mother alive and well and living in Dublin, with Bloom sucking up to her, and, indeed, of Bloom's taking active steps legally to divorce Molly. Yet another fascinating, conceptualized but unrealized fiction is the matter of the Citizen's canine (originally named Leary) that was to utter its poetry in perfect Irish — in contrast to the clich├ęs spoken by the bar flies. As it fell out, perhaps as Joyce was not up to the translation, the dog was destined instead to articulate the King's English.

Despite the dense convolution of its genesis, the episode is surely one of Joyce's best pieces of writing in Ulysses. On reading it, the usually critical Ezra Pound fairly grunted “Our Joyce is a grrreat man”.


Bloom = Odysseus
Narrator = “I” = Noman
The irascible “Citizen” = The shepherd Polyphemus
Garryown = Herds
Cigar = Sweep's brush = Stake
Challenge = Apotheosis
Barney Kiernan's = The cave

Joyce interprets the encounter of the Greeks with the Cyclopes as one of civilized men encountering barbarians, though the tradition suggests otherwise.

Bloom is shown hanging around Little Britain Street, pacing up and down the street outside Barney Kiernan's public house. This neatly balances Odysseus' premeditative overnight stay on an island adjacent to the Cyclopes'. The instrument of terrible torture, the scorched stake, is symbolized in the episode as the cigar Bloom is offered and accepts, and also in the opening as the sweep's gear. The ascribed brutality of the giant can be seen in the illiterate letters of the hangman that little Alf Bergan, solicitor's clerk, pulls out of his pocket.

As Odysseus passes sacks of wine to the giant in his lair, so the participants in the public-house drama are given to purchasing and / or accepting drinks. The single eye of the Cyclops gives rise to the namelessness of the narrator (he is merely “I”: his anonymity duplicates that of “No-man” as assumed by Odysseus), and also to the constant use of the nautical “aye.”

After the altercation involving the troglodytes (as the giants technically are, and by extension as are those ensconced in the bar) ending in the lesser man taunting the bested bigger man, Polyphemus, enraged, hurls a piece of cliff at the fleeing ship. This is parodied in the Citizen, momentarily blinded by the sharp sun, throwing a Jacobs' biscuit tin at Bloom as he hastens from the pub, not on a ship but on a chariot: a horse and cart intended to sweep him and his companions down to Paddy Dignam's house of mourning.

The style of the episode, “giganticism,” with its peaks and troughs of exaggerated journalese, is perhaps an imbalance Joyce imagined could accompany the visual state of single-eyed perception, much as the Circe episode is framed to reflect the pathology of progressive locomotor ataxia. The style here also mirrors the core tropes of cannibalism, politics and de-mythification.

Joyce's inclusion of Galatea among the persons involved in the episode is inexplicable.n1

THE ODYSSEY, 9 (Cyclops)

The cannibal Polyphemos, son of the sea-god Poseidon
Setting: The cyclops' cave

Sailing due north and leaving the indolent lotophagoi behind, the Achaeans come to an island close to the land of the one-eyed giants, whose home island [Sicily] is drenched in frequent rain, and vines thrive there, and deep meadows, and wheat and barley, and trees of every description, and no man needs to plough there, or sow or reap, but each is a law unto himself, and each dwells in a cave and tends his own flocks.

Entering the natural harbour of the island on a murky night, with the moon occluded by cloud and a heavy mist upon the waters, the curved ships of the Greeks beach; and the men sleep. At dawn, the nymph-disturbed wild goats tumble onto the long lances of the Greeks and enough are slain to afford nine goats to each of the twelve ships under Odysseus' command, and ten goats for him. So all day till nightfall they feast, drinking the wine taken from the Kikones, and they look across the short sea to the island of the Cyclopes, who know nothing of planks and oars and sails but live in desolate isolation; and when night comes they sleep.

At dawn, Odysseus decides to sail to the island to see what is the source of the plumes of smoke they see and from whom arises the shouting that they hear. On reaching shore, they find a deep cave overhung with laurels at the cliff's edge, with herds of sheep and goats penned nearby and round the cave a raised yard walled by deep-set stones, tall pines, and a high-crowned oak tree. Selecting twelve men to accompany him, Odysseus enters the cave to find it unoccupied, the owner is out with his flocks. In the huge cave they find pens with ewes and suckling lambs, and baskets of cheese, and vats of whey.

The men want Odysseus to steal what they can carry and flee; but he wishes to see the giant and ascertain its nature. And so, foolishly, they remain inside the cave, light a fire and gorge on the cheese there. The giant then appears, hauling in wood for his fire, and the sailors are gripped with terror at his wild appearance and shrink into a corner and hide. The giant then closes the door behind him with a boulder, too massive for a man to move.

Sitting down and beginning his daily business of milking the ewes, the giant fails to notice the uninvited guests cowering in the corner, till, spying them, he inquires of them the nature of their business in his house, asking if they are pirates and set on doing evil. Odysseus answers that that is not so, they are Achaeans; and he seeks hospitality in the name of Zeus; but the Cyclops says he has no need of Zeus and asks where their ship is moored. Odysseus warily replies that they have none, having lost it to a storm.

At this news, the Cyclops jumps up and seizes hold of two of the seamen. He dashes their brains out against the ground and devours them, leaving nothing behind, neither bone nor entrails, and all the while drinking milk. And after his gristly meal he sleeps.

The following morning, the round-eye rises, prepares the fire and milks the ewes and bleating goats. When he has seen to these things, he seizes another two of the Greeks and greedily devours them also, before making off on his rounds, opening and closing the great stone door behind him.

Imprisoned inside, Odysseus comes upon the giant's massive club — bigger than a ship's mast — and cuts off a length of some six feet, which he gives to his men to smoothen while he himself sharpens one end to a point. He then hardens the point in the fire and conceals the stake under the dung lying thickly scattered all around.

On his return in the evening, the giant seizes yet another two men and begins to chew on them, but Odysseus approaches him proffering the strong wine that he has brought with him. Finding the taste delectable, the Cyclops demands a further libation. More! Odysseus gives him a second sack of wine, and a third, telling him meanwhile that his own name is Nobody.n2 The giant is inebriated at this time and replies that, as a courtesy, he will eat Nobody last. With this, regurgitating in dribbles shredded flesh along with wine, he falls drunkenly asleep.

As he sleeps, Odysseus and four others take the pointed stake, scorch it in the fire and plunge it deep into the beast's eye, and the burst eye hisses. Odysseus then twists it like a drill, while the monster squeals in agony. He rips out the stake and in anguish roars out to his fellow giants outside. Alerted, they come to the boulder and inquire what is going on: is anybody stealing from him or trying to harm him. But he answers that Nobody is trying to kill him, and the brother giants leave, believing their kinsman unsound of mind, being given thus to roaring.

Though the Cyclops has been blinded, the Achaeans are still trapped within the cave. Come dawn when the giant in his brutish kindness opens the door and releases his animals to graze in the pasture outside, the Greeks slip past him by a ruse: they cling fast to the underbelly of his fleecy rams, three yoked together for each man: rams whose backs only the giant fondles as they go out into the fields.

Once outside, Odysseus and his men drive the animals down to and onto the ship and board it. When it is underway, Odysseus, unable to contain his cleverness, shouts out in mockery. On hearing this, in his rage Polyphemos snaps off a peak of the cliff itself and hurls it at the blue-prowed ship below. Landing seaward, the resultant swell causes the vessel to be driven back onto the shore, and it is only with panic and terror that the men regain open water. And yet again Odysseus taunts the giant, boasting that it is he, Odysseus, son of Laertes, who has blinded him.

This time, the giant understands that it is fate that has blinded him, as it was foretold by a prophet that a man named Odysseus would come and blind him; but he thought this would be a man of stature, not a snivelling liar and a coward; and he implores then of his father, Poseidon, he that rules the oceans, that Odysseus fail ever to reach his home, or, if he does, that he reaches it alone, with all his companions dead, and finds there only strife.

And with this lamentation and this imprecation the giant lifts up another great boulder and hurls it at the fleeing ship, and it crashes into the water behind the stern and its swell pushes the boat out, and so onwards the Achaeans sail, heavy-hearted at the loss of their fellows to the appetite of the cannibal.