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Monday, February 3, 2014


I just finished re-reading the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Odyssey and this weekend I began reading James Joyce's Ulysses and started Ulysses by Hugh Kenner and Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd.

I read The Odyssey again because I wanted to have it fresh in my mind before reading Ulysses. When I read it this time, I was struck by how it could be read as a tribute to barbecue. Over and over again, the action stops while everyone gorges on meat from a freshly-slaughtered animal. Usually the epic specifies that bread is served on the side, just as in a Southern barbecue joint. I subscribe to the email list for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review,  which just ran a review of a book called The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey by Egbert J. Bakker (only $90 from Oxford University Press). The reviewer, Jeremy McInerney, mentions a suggestion by one scholar, Andrew Dalby, "that the emphasis on heroic meat-eating is an instance of wish-fulfillment aimed at an audience of subsistence farmers."

I also was struck by how the description of the behavior of Ulysses and his crew (and by extension, Greeks on ships in general) reminded me of the Vikings. The Odyssey describes how Ulysses and his force, early in their attempt to return to Ithaca, attack and sack a city of the Cicones, apparently because they could. Greeks aboard ships, as colonizers, founded cities all over the Mediterranean and environs, including in Italy, Sicily, southern France and the Black Sea. This would seem to be the biggest explosion of ship-borne peoples until the time of the Vikings, who ranged from North America to deep inside Russia. Dublin, very early in its history, was a Viking settlement.

When I was in high school, I read Dubliners. I started Ulysses the summer after I graduated from high school but was unable to finish it. I finally read Ulysses a few years ago and finished it, but had the feeling that I wasn't really understanding much of it.

My original plan was to re-read Ulysses and, at the same time, read the Kenner and Kiberd books. I've gotten interested in Ulysses, however, and I think I will finish it before I resume the two books of criticism. I'd like to think I can read it as I read any other novel, and get something out of it.

Speaking of James Joyce, PQ published a lovely birthday tribute to Joyce Sunday.


gacord said...

I think you can. I think we like to recommend all these extra books as a crutch for those that confess to "making the big effort." Besides, with each new reading more and more of Joyce's art shines through (or jumps out, depending on you and the section you find yourself in.) Onward! Into the Light! Enjoy!

michael said...

What a fine post. When I've read the Odyssey (I like Fitzgerald's translation too) I can't keep from thinking of anthropology, and your riffs on meat were tasty.

In school the Profs I had always toned down the conqueror/imperialist part of the Greeks. The Vikings: yes. But they were outside the Great Tradition, I guess.

As I re-read Ulysses, earlier grapplings of church heretics, correspondences with Hamlet, imitations of earlier English authors, etc: inform my reading w/o having to reach for a secondary or tertiary source. However, there are always aspects of the book that are "deep" for me, which is what I want. I agree with RAW that the main thing I want in my great books that I re-read throughout my life: inexhaustibility.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


I'm glad my approach apparently work, as you are more of a Joycean than I


When I think about it, my favorite books have always been the ones that reward reading over and over.

chas said...

How funny! I just started my 2nd attempt at Ulysses on Monday (Immediately upon finishing Illuminatus!, which primed me up I think)! My post undergrad attempt didn't get far beyond Telemachus--although I do have a memory of Leo frying kidneys.

Have you read "Cooked" by Bay Area food writer Michael Pollan? 1/4 the book is about barbecue and he goes on a bit about Homer (unless my memory is all out of joint).

Unknown said...

I found this whilst rooting around the Orson Welles archives.

As you see at one point he was making character notes on Ulysses

I imagine Uncle Bob would have exploded with joy at the thought of Welles directing a film of Ulysses

Imagine the glory that could have been?

PQ said...

Would love to get a look at those Orson Welles Ulysses notes.