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What Era’s O’ering?: The Precession of the Equinoxes in Finnegans Wake

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 1, Fall 2010
pp. 111-128 | 10.1353/jjq.2010.0024



The precession of the equinoxes and the myths that it has produced have been studied by George de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill and Thomas D. Worthen in The Myth of Replacement. In this study, I examine its role in Finnegans Wake. The great year that corresponds to the precessional cycle and the myth of replacement that arises from the replacement of one pole star with another are, in the context of the Wake, another way of telling the story of generational conflict and cyclical return. I also analyze the appearance in the Wake of such authors as Plato, Cicero, Giordano Bruno, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, and W. B. Yeats whose representations of cyclical change drew on the mythology of the precession. Finally, I show how such heroes of the precession as Noah, Manu, and Arthur who survive the flood of chaos—the chaotic period between pole stars and between eras—become, in the Wake, avatars of HCE in his struggle to rear his kingdom on the ruins of time.

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