ULYSSES readalong Ch 14: Oxen of the Sun


[Personal note: Bass Ale was my favorite beer when I was drinking, before I became a teetotaller who favors ginger cordials. I used to drink it at The Black Rooster Pub, at 1919 L Street NW in Washington DC with my friends who went to George Washington, and condescended to hang out with me even if I did go to Georgetown.]

Sorry, but I’m still researching this chapter, trying to figure out why all the women wanted to have sex with a bull, whether those guys were getting drunk in a hospital, and whether Mrs. Purefoy and her baby lived. So if you are ahead of me, and understand more of it, comment away!

Proper entry to come. 11yo Drake just got over strep, 9yo Guppy got pneumonia, I got pinkeye, and G. Grod become very afraid. Things have not been very good in the plague house but we’re on the mend, so things should be back on track soon.

This was really not my ideal week to read chapter 14, which I found extremely challenging. Maybe I was just feeling Cyclopean from the pinkeye. I hope you all had an easier time parsing this one than I did.


[imagined version of Buck Mulligan’s from Romping Through Ulysses)

EDITED TO ADD: I strongly recommend the summary and analysis at Schmoop this week. It notes that Oxen of the Sun is perhaps the hardest chapter, perhaps more so coming right after Nausicaa, one of the more accessible.

Also, my husband G. Grod and I borrowed a copy of Harry Blamires’ The Bloomsday Book from our local library, and it’s short chapter on this long one helped immensely. It’s more intelligent than schmoop, and more helpful in understanding content than the Gifford, in my opinion. BUT hard to find at library. Pro tip: use Interlibrary loan via MnLINK.

Yes, they WERE drinking in the hospital, and had to be told more than once by the nurse to whisht. Mrs. Purefoy had a boy and both are alive and well for the moment. And the bull was a metaphor for Henry VIII, among others, hence many women wanting to have sex with him. Glad I got those questions cleared up.

Interesting analog to the Odyssey is that the Oxen of the Sun episode is Odysseus’ worst point, and Nausicaa is a chapter in which he’s fed, clothed, lauded and sent on his way. This is another example of how super-meta this chapter is. I did not enjoy reading it (cue recording of me whinging: “it was HARD!”) but can’t argue that’s it’s bloody brilliant. It’s written to mimic about 20 different styles of English/Irish literature, and so shows a progression of literary history. Also, the styles and substance are married, so they mirror one another. Also, the chapter progresses as does a woman through pregnancy and labor. I’m stopping here, because the list of also’s from this chapter is, perhaps, infinite.

Important takeaways: Bloom (and presumably Joyce) has sympathy for women especially around pregnancy and birth. Bloom and Stephen connect in this chapter. Bloom feels paternally to Stephen, and they’re both shown as outsiders, lonely, and Stephen perhaps smarter than the rest, Bloom more empathetic and kinder than the rest.

How about this for an example sentence:

An exquisite dulcet epithalame of most mollificative suadency for juveniles amatory whom the odoriferous flambeaus of the paranymphs have escorted to the quadrupedal proscenium of connubial communion. (14:351-354)

Gifford’s Annotated Ulysses has almost nothing on this, but that it imitates work by the aforementioned Fletcher and Beaumont, and I think means roughly:

a pretty poem to persuade young lovers whom the witnesses with flaming herbal torches escort to the bridal bed for sex.

Which I think means that the pretty poem makes the sex sound much more nicer than the awkward painful, excretion-filled mess it’s about to be.

For those of us who read Moby Dick there was a mention of spermacetic oil in line 600.

And for those of us who read David Copperfield, that was nodded to both in style and substance from lines 1310 beginning:

Meanwhile the skill and patience of the physician had brought about a happy accouchement.

And the homage is cemented with the use of Doady (Dora’s nickname for David) and the phrase “with the old shake of her pretty head” similar to what Dickens wrote of Dora on her deathbed.

On the re-read, I think my favorite sentence is:

The aged sisters draw us into life: we wail, batten, sport, clip, clasp, sunder, dwindle, die: over us dead they bend. (14.392-3)

The notes in Gifford says this equates the midwives with the three fates, which are familiar to those of you who participated in the #SandMN readalong: mother, maiden, crone.

I wondered at this:

First saved from water of old Nile, among bulrushes…at last the cavity of a mountain, an occulted sepulchre. (14.394-5)

The Gifford says both the beginning and end reference Moses, but the latter brought to mind Merlin to me, trapped in his cave by Nimue.

I think that’s all I have for this week, but I haven’t yet re-read the pages, and am girding my loins to do so.

I have not yet figured out how we’ll take the behemoth 15 online, but I’ll keep you posted. Ideas welcome; email them or put them in comments.

What did everyone else think of 14? Do you feel you lived through a giant ordeal?

Future and past:

(3 weeks to read the very long section 15 which we’ll spit into three chunks)
5/18/15 read, then discuss and tweet all of section 15
5/25/15 discuss and tweet section 16
(extra week to read the longer section 17)
6/8/15 read then discuss and tweet section 17
6/15/15 discuss and tweet section 18
6/16/15 Bloomsday!

Past posts:

Week 1: books 1 and 2
Week 2: books 3 and 4
Week 3: books 5, 6
Week 4: book 7
Week 5: book 8
Week 6: book 9
Week 7: book 10
Week 8: book 11
Week 9: book 12
Week 10: book 13

7 Responses to “ULYSSES readalong Ch 14: Oxen of the Sun”

  1. crystal Says:

    Have not quite finished this week’s episode yet. But what stuck out for me was the mention of Zarathustra and also the bull as fertility god.

    A note I made:

    We are borne of this fragile world miraculously.  Take heed of this gift…

    Also best phrase so far:
    “Never shit on shamrocks”(p. 399)

  2. crystal Says:

    Also I wondered if “the rose upon the rood of time”(p. 391), was a nod to the Yeats poem of the same name?


  3. girldetective Says:

    Crystal, it is a direct reference to the Yeats poem. From Gifford’s Annotated Ulysses: “‘To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time’ is the dedicatory poem of Yeats’s volume The Rose (1893)…The poem evokes the rose as muse and contemplates the rose as the intersection between temporal and eternal beauty, as what makes it possible to see “In all poor foolish things that lie a day/Eternal beauty wandering on her way” (lines 11-12)

    A quick search makes the mention of Zarathustra at line 14.362 gives the nod to Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and was mentioned in book 1 to line 1.708 alluding that Buck Mulligan is Adam, and thus the uber mensch, or superman.

  4. Heidi Says:

    Really challenging episode to read. Understand Joyce’s achievement in emulating all these various historic prose forms but holy cow what a slog!

    Did add a metric shedload of new unfamiliar words to my Ulysses glossary, so there’s that. Also liked the last few pages of the episode when language turned to colorful dialect and slang. And our Poldy, post *ahem* fireworks *ahem* shows himself to be the only one in the bunch of drunken rowdy men who shows empathy and care about the womenfolk at the HELLO, MATERNITY HOSPITAL NOT A BLUGGY PUB!

    A few great passages of writing (always my favorite stuff):

    “…a vat of silver that was moved by craft to open in the which lay strange fishes withouten heads…” (sardine tin!!!) [ML 1946, p.381]

    “What of those Godpossibled souls that we nightly impossibilise” (um, I think you all get what this is about) [p.383]

    “They moan, passing upon the clouds, horned and Capricorned, the trumpeted with the tusked, the lionmaned and the giantantlered, snouter and crawler, rodent, ruminant and pachyderm, all their moving moaning multitude, murderers of the sun.” [p.407]

    “Come on, you winefizzling, ginsizzling, booseguzzling existences! Come on, you doggone, bullnecked, beetlebrowed, hogjowled, peanutbrained, weaseleyed fourflushers, false alarms and excess baggage! Come on, you triple extract of infamy!” [p.420-421]

    And rather too many to count euphemisms for condoms.

  5. crystal Says:

    There are so many wonderful rabbit holes to fall into on this one! It’s climbing back out that’s the problem. ;)

  6. Janet Says:

    I’m just getting ready to tackle this section (I am mortified at my lagging behind on this. I’m usually compulsively punctual in everything. Oh well.). I’m glad for the comments above so I can figure out what the heck I’m reading here! Thanks to those that did the heavy lifting for me. I will get caught up if it kills me. And it might. ;)

  7. V Says:

    Oy. Just finished. I’ll take a Bass, please.