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G&S Typesetters PDF proof Joyce Studies Annual, Volume 14, Summer 2003© 2003 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, Texas 78713-7819 For the visionary David Grene, who inspired my own odyssey from Homer to Joyce. 1 All translations in this essay are mine from T. W. Allen’s Greek edition of Homer’s Odyssey. THE OXYMORON OF FIDELITY IN HOMER’S ODYSSEY AND JOYCE’S ULYSSES KERI ELIZABETH AMES O, weeping God, the things I married into! (U 3.65) In Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom wonders about the state and fate of his marriage as he prepares to return home to his unfaithful wife, Molly: The eternal question of the life connubial, needless to say, cropped up. Can real love, supposing there happens to be another chap in the case, exist between married folk? (U 16.1384 –6) Infidelity is an even more imperative problem for Odysseus in Homer ’s Odyssey, because Agamemnon warns Odysseus in Hades that death by murder can be one danger presented by an unfaithful wife. Even though Agamemnon assures Odysseus that death will not come to him from his wife and then praises Penelope as circumspect (perivfrwn , Od. 11.444 – 446), he still advises Odysseus to return home in secret to guard against any ambush, because “no longer is there trust in women” (Od. 11.456).1 Thus Leopold worries about whether he has lost “real love,” while Odysseus worries about losing not only 07-T2928 3/3/04 11:02 AM Page 132 G&S Typesetters PDF proof keri elizabeth ames 133 2 Doherty later defends her argument while providing valuable analyses of other recent approaches to understanding Penelope’s character (1999). By disputing her claim that Joyce is cultivating an irony that explains the tensions and contradictions between Homer’s Penelope and Joyce’s Molly, I accept her invitation to continue the dialogue on the issue while acknowledging the value of her insights to the inquiry at hand. 3 Joyce was acquainted with many other versions of the story in which Penelope is unfaithful , as Philip Herring proves (Herring 1972, 65–66). Stuart Gilbert (1955, 395) and W. B. Stanford (1968, 217) suggest Joyce was relying upon one of these variants in writing Ulysses, but Herring disagrees, insisting Joyce was “not content with anchoring Molly to the post-Homeric tradition of the unfaithful Penelope” (Herring 1972, 69). Certainly Joyce’s consideration of other unfaithful Penelopes does not automatically indicate his embrace of that model. I am interested in the ways in which Joyce’s portrayal of a wanton, lusty, and ambivalent Penelope may emerge from Homer’s own portrayal rather than from subsequent depictions. An extended, earlier version of the present essay can be found in my doctoral dissertation (2003). I thank Wendy Doniger, Paul Friedrich, David Grene, Anthony C. Yu, and Fritz Senn for their wonderful advice on earlier versions of this essay. I am also grateful for the comments I received when I presented this work in progress at the University of Chicago , at Harvard University, at the Tulsa 2003 North American Joyce conference, and at University College Dublin. real love but his life. Yet the actual infidelity that threatens Odysseus ’ marriage is not committed by Penelope with any other “chaps,” namely the suitors, but by Odysseus himself with the goddesses Kalypso and Kirke. In contrast, in Ulysses, it is Molly’s assignation with Blazes Boylan that traumatizes her husband. Joyce, then, has exploited the privilege of retelling Homer’s poem in order to switch the gender of the adulterous spouse. Hence, at first glance, the incongruity between Homer’s faithful Penelope and Joyce’s adulterous Molly is undeniable and problematic. For this reason, Lillian Doherty characterizes Joyce’s Molly as a complete contradiction of Homer’s portrayal of Penelope, asserting that “Joyce’s use of the Penelope figure is, in the first place, ironic. For his [ Joyce’s Molly] is an unfaithful Penelope—a mythical oxymoron ” (Doherty 1990, 343).2 Yet are Molly and Penelope as irreconcilably different as they initially appear? In my ensuing analysis of the justifications for adultery presented by Penelope, Molly, and Leopold , I seek to reveal why Joyce’s...


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