Postscript: Lo giorno Bloom

Approaching the middle of my life it occurred to me I should try to plough an epic furrow.  This meant getting my teeth into Dante for the first time, who started his journey there.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita.

To approach, in the middle of the journey of our life, what seems in old Italian a pretty dark wood (selva oscura) requires, as well as a merciful English parallel text, the reading of Dante’s guide, Virgil; whose sense of tradition demanded a return to all the long long stories that came before.  Hence probably notes from the Iliad pop up in previous posts.  This is to be an epic year of reading, beginning with the plains and seas of Homer and ending maybe somewhere in the hills with Pound.  Nor will I be able to leave out Joyce, who found in the Odyssey a quintessentially middle-aged fable.

Approaching the middle of his life Joyce considered the quarrels and jousts of the Iliad juvenile, or at least adolescent.  Not so much that he concerned himself with the stoic, heroic individual of Chapman’s Odysseyan translation, although showing man accommodating  life’s tribulations was part of his plan for Ulysses (1922).  His Odysseus would be thoroughly middle-aged; in his own way lost, perhaps, the straight path (la diritta via) nowhere to be found; a family man, with the ties and worries and resignation of his breed.  Moreover, a pacifist, someone who could never subscribe to the posing and aggrandizement of the Greek heroes, all the sound and fury represented by Achilles’s wrath, which to a Joyce who was bounced around Europe during the Great War was just the worst of young male pride harnessed to disguise economic manipulation.  This is what (in August 1917) he said about the subject to George Borach, one of his language students, who as such had to take down all sorts of odd and wilful dictations:

Now, in mezzo del cammin I find the subject of Ulysses the most human in world literature.  Ulysses didn’t want to go off to Troy; he knew that the official reason for the war, the dissemination of the culture of the Hellas, was only a pretext for the Greek merchants, who were seeking new markets.  When the recruiting officers arrived, he happened to be ploughing.  He pretended to be mad.  Thereupon they placed his little two-year-old son in the furrow. Observe the beauty of the motifs: the only man in Hellas who is against the war, and the father.

In Joyce’s version the pacifist has the wisdom of the father; hardly Odyssean cunning, rather the sense to see behind the agitation and to accept things, not always cheerfully, as they are, as they must be.  I don’t know yet if this really represents wisdom but I do think it expresses the perfect attitude of the football supporter, whose team must surely (as do they all but one) find a way to lose.

~ by thebicyclops on July 6, 2010.

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