- “Szombathely, Vienna, Budapest”Epic Geography and the Austro-Hungarian Dimension of James Joyce’s Ulysses
It is well known that James Joyce’s Ulysses transfers the Greek epic of Odysseus to Ireland and the Jewish Diaspora, and that the link between these three cultures is provided by the Jewish Irishman Leopold Bloom, whose movement through Dublin follows the structural pattern of the Homeric Odyssey. In contrast to the scrupulous study of Bloom’s urban migrations within the Hibernian metropolis, however, scholars have turned a comparatively blind eye to a much longer journey represented within the scope of Ulysses. To shed light on this neglected journey, this article will examine the travels of Bloom and Odysseus in relation to those of the Virags—Bloom’s Jewish ancestors who emigrated from the Holy Land to Ireland.
Whereas the Homeric Ulysses and Bloom move in a cyclical way and end their voyages where they begin them, the Virags proceed in a linear route from the southeast to the northwest of Europe. Their journey westwards leads them through the center of the European continent: They travel through the Austro-Hungarian cities of Szombathely, Vienna, and Budapest (U 17. 535) before making a detour through Milan and Florence in order to reach London and Dublin. The exact geographical information that we get about this voyage comes in the “Ithaca” episode:
Rudolph Bloom (deceased) narrated to his son Leopold Bloom (aged 6) a retrospective arrangement of migrations and settlements in and between Dublin, London, Florence, Milan, Vienna, Budapest, Szombathely with statements of satisfaction (his grandfather having seen Maria Theresia, empress of Austria, queen of Hungary), with [End Page 203] commercial advice [ . . . ]. Leopold Bloom (aged 6) had accompanied these narrations by constant consultation of a geographical map of Europe.(U 17. 1906–13, my emphasis)
In the paragraphs that follow, the information provided in this passage will be integrated into the larger mythopoetic landscape of Ulysses. Like young Bloom, who had accompanied his father’s narrations “by constant consultation of a geographical map of Europe,”—I will trace the Virags’ journey from their Jewish original home in the Holy Land to Dublin. The “Ithaca” passage’s intriguing reference to “settlements in and between” invites us not only to explore the explicitly mentioned locations, but also to reconstruct some of the unmentioned spaces in the family’s travels. All the places under examination will be considered not so much as actual landmarks but rather as symbolic elements of an epic landscape1 analogous and complementary to the classical one that we know from Joyce’s intertextual dialogue with Homer’s Odyssey and Dante’s Divine Comedy. In accordance with Joyce’s “medieval” method, as elucidated by Umberto Eco,2 I will read the Virags’ progress from Palestine to Ireland primarily as an allegorical journey that is motivated not so much by the rules of verisimilitude, but by the principles of analogy, scriptural exegesis, and the syncretic combination of the classical, Jewish, and Christian traditions within the Irish context of Ulysses.
As with epic geography in general, the Virag odyssey through Europe constitutes a mind-map of collective memory3 and thus contributes to Joyce’s exploration of the archaeology of the roots of contemporary Western civilization: Greco-Roman Hellenism and Jewish Hebraism.4 As we will see, the sequence of cities where Bloom’s ancestors lived serve as memorials that shed light on how these roots from the world of the ancients were appropriated by Christianity in the wake of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The family’s dwelling places illuminate how the founding fathers of the Church rewrote pagan culture, welded it with the Jewish tradition and created the Christian western hemisphere represented by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which fashioned itself as the successor of imperial Rome in the Dark and Middle Ages. The main part of the Virag journey under examination occurs within the Habsburg territory of the Holy Roman Empire, which was transformed into the realm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire two years before the Holy Roman mother-state collapsed in 1806.5 Thus, the epic landscape of Ulysses includes an important Austro-Hungarian dimension...