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Joyce, Lucian, and Menippus: An Undiscovered Rewriting of the Ulysses Archetype
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Joyce, Lucian, and Menippus:
An Undiscovered Rewriting of the Ulysses Archetype

It is axiomatic that Homer's epic poem about Odysseus does not provide the only structural pattern for James Joyce's Ulysses. Joyce, after all, refers not just to Homer's Ulysses but also to the hero's adaptation by Dante, William Shakespeare, Alfred Tennyson, and others,1 and even to nonfictional persons who carry the Greek adventurer's name, such as "Ulysses Browne" and "Ulysses Grant" (U 12.1383, 18.682). Through that variety of allusions, Joyce provides a synthesis of a "Great Tradition" of learning and emphasizes his favorite character's most distinctive feature: a universal adaptability or many-sidedness (JJII 435-36).2 Although the post-Homeric versions of Odysseus and their Joycean appropriation have been carefully studied, additional sources may still be found. In order to shed light upon one of these, this note reveals a yet undiscovered rewriting of Ulysses.

In Lucian's "Necyomantia"—a text from the second century A.D., which is subtitled "Menippus or the Descent into Hades"3—a Hellenistic caricature of the Greek wanderer from Ithaca appears. In order to visit the realm of the dead while yet alive, the central character—who is modeled on the third century B.C. Cynic philosopher and satirist Menippus of Gadara—camouflages himself as a hybrid of the three persons from Greek antiquity who are said to have succeeded in undertaking this dangerous challenge: Orpheus, who travels to the Underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice; Heracles, who goes there to kidnap Cerberus; and Ulysses, who descends into Hades to hear a prophecy from Teiresias. In imitation of these characters, Menippus carries Orpheus's lyre along with him, is dressed in Heracles's lion skin, and wears the hat of Odysseus—a felt cap, or pilos (πιλος), which has become the Homeric hero's emblem in ancient pictorial art:4

A Friend:

Isn't this Menippus the Cynic? . . . Then what is the meaning of that strange costume—a felt cap, a lyre, and a lion's skin? . . . Good day, Menippus; where under the sun have you come from? . . .


I come from Dead Men's Lair and Darkness Gate Where Hades dwells, remote from other gods.

(4:73) [End Page 140]

My study will look closely at Lucian's portrayal of Menippus as a parody of the Homeric Odysseus and show that this comic variant of the Odysseus archetype reoccurs in Ulysses. Joyce's rewriting of the Lucianic Menippus includes the blending of Odysseus, Heracles, and Orpheus within that persona, a structurally significant aspect of Ulysses. Menippus is relevant not only as an imitator of these three characters but also as a character in his own right.

Menippus and Bloom

Wearing the cap attributed to the original Odysseus and traveling in the Underworld, Lucian's Menippus is presented as an imitator of the Homeric archetype who descends into Hades under the guidance of Circe the sorceress. Joyce's Ulysses simultaneously stresses and blurs this link by referring to it not in "Hades" but as a part of the "Circe" episode. There, Leopold Bloom represents both the Homeric Ulysses and his Lucianic counterpart Menippus, whose persona subdivides into Orpheus, Heracles, and Odysseus—the three famous subterranean visitors from Greek mythology.

When Bloom approaches Dublin's red-light district of Nighttown, "he walks on towards hellsgates" (U 15.577-78), a phrase symbolizing his visit to the Underworld. Like Heracles, who has to outwit the three-faced guardian dog, Cerberus, Bloom meets a number of dogs as he enters and leaves the realm of the dead (U 15.577, 659-60, 4722). Bloom's first name, Leopold, itself also alludes to the Heraclean aspect of the Lucianic Menippus and his lion-skinned coat. Most significant, however, is the fact that he is called "Lionel" in "Circe" and is reminded of the occasion when he was "the lion of the night" (U 15.753, 447). As a parallel to Odysseus and his famous hat, Bloom and his ancestors are described as wearing a large number of extravagant head-coverings throughout this episode, for instance, a "smokingcap" (249), "brown Alpine hat" (270), "purple Napoleon...