The Classics at the Wake
Some Aspects of Classical Influence in Joyce's Finnegans Wake

John Dillon

Trinity College

On October 4, 1906, some months after his arrival in Rome, James Joyce wrote, in the course of a letter to his brother Stanislaus: "I wish I knew something of Latin or Roman History. But it's not worthwhile beginning now. So let the ruins rot."[1] Much later, in a letter to Harriet Weaver, on June 24, 1921, he says: I don't even know Greek, though I am spoken of as erudite. My father wanted me to take Greek as a third language, my mother German, my friends Irish. Result, I took Italian. I speak or used to speak Modern Greek not too badly... and have spent a great deal of time with Greeks of all kinds from noblemen down to onionsellers, chiefly the latter. I am superstitious about them. They bring me luck.[2] All this adds up to a confession of little Latin and less Greek -- or, as he puts it in the Wake (25. 15), 'some little laughings and some less of cheeks'. But how seriously are we to take it? My intention on this occasion is to explore certain selected passages of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, to demonstrate just how much Joyce had both retained from his schoolboy Latin and Ancient History, and picked up along the way in later life, of both Latin and Greek.

First of all, how much Latin would he have learned at school? When I was working with the late Brendan O'Hehir on A Classical Lexicon for Finnegans Wake,[3] we found it surprisingly difficult to discover exactly what texts, and in particular, what grammar and elementary readers, Joyce might have had inflicted on him in Clongowes and Belvedere. However, the most useful book[4] of Bruce Bradley (himself a former Classics master at, and subsequently headmaster of, Belvedere) has since dispelled some, though not all, of the mystery. At Clongowes, Joyce will simply have gone through some elementary textbook, such as First Steps in Latin, possibly reinforced by a grammar (probably Kennedy's Latin Primer ), and perhaps a reader, such as Fabulae Faciles. He was only nine when he left, after all. The portrait of Fr. Arnall's Latin class[5] does not suggest that Latin at Clongowes held many happy memories for him.

In Belvedere, we know what his set books and subjects were for each of the three grades of the school, Junior, Middle and Senior, and what he had to do for the Intermediate and Leaving examinations. In the Junior Grade, he read Caesar, De Bello Gallico (selections), and Ovid (selections), and studied early Republican history. In the Intermediate exam, which he did after completing this grade, the set books were De Bello Gallico V and Aeneid V (a rather strange book to pick, perhaps), and the history to be studied was 'Punic Wars to the Gracchi'. As a reader (though in English, rather than in Latin class) we know that Joyce used Charles Lamb's Adventures of Ulysses, and specifically in the edition of John Cooke.[6]

In the Middle Grade, the set books were Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII, in which he would have found the story of Daedalus (line 188 of that book, of course, "Dixit, et ignotas animum dimittit in artes", forms the motto for A Portrait of the Artist ); and Cicero, De Senectute, a gloriously inappropriate work for growing boys to read, on would think, but one which remained a set book in the Irish educational system until quite recent times.[7] In Roman History, one continued from the Gracchi down to Marius and Sulla, presumably in more detail than previously. Latin prosody was also studied, in the textbook of the sixteenth century Portuguese priest, Manoel Alvarez.[8] Carey's Gradus ad Parnassum[9] may also have been used, though it is especially useful for Latin verse composition, which was not, I think, inflicted on Joyce.

In the Senior Grade, the set books were Horace's Odes, Book III, and Book V of Livy's Histories, and on these Joyce did his final school examination, in which he got considerably lower marks in Latin than he had in the examination two years before (560/1200, as opposed to 642 -- neither very distinguished, it must be said!). However, he developed a considerable admiration for Horace, which found expression in a fine translation of Ode III 13, O Fons Bandusiae[10], of which there is an echo in FW, p. 280: "that fount Bandusian shall play liquick music and after odours sigh of musk."

Such a level of schoolboy knowledge cannot account for more than a small proportion of the varied Classical learning which we find in Finnegans Wake, but it does provide a secure foundation on which Joyce could build. All he seems to have learned at the university is dog-Latin ("Ego credo ut vita pauperum est simpliciter atrox, simpliciter sanguinarius atrox, in Liverpoolio," Portrait, p. 195), and some tags of scholastic philosophy ("Ad pulchritudinem tria requiruntur: integritas, consonantia, claritas," ibid. p. 212).

Apart from Latin learned in class, we have to reckon with Latin learned in church, both in the Mass, where anyone who served Mass would have to know by heart all the responses, and a great deal of what was recited publicly by the priest, from "Introibo ad altare Dei" (Ulysses,[11] p. 1, 565, etc.; cf.FW 336.02: "enterellbo add all taller Danis") to "Ite, Missa est"; and in such ceremonies as Benediction, where the chief hymns, Tantum ergo and O salutaris hostia, show their traces at various point in Ulysses and the Wake.[12]


A large number of other ecclesiastical formulations as well stuck in Joyce's prehensile mind, but I do not propose to concern myself with them on this occasion. Instead, I would like to approach the present topic by taking as a starting point the figure of Pyrrhus, the adventurous and ultimately unfortunate king of Epirus who took on the Romans in 280-79 B.C. , first beating them, but then being in effect defeated at Asculum (his 'Pyrrhic victory'), and having to retreat to Greece, where he was killed in a skirmish in the town of Argos in 272, by a tile thrown from a rooftop by a woman.

The figure of Pyrrhus had a certain fascination for Joyce, who had no doubt learned of his adventures in the course of his Roman History studies in school. In Ulysses, we find Stephen giving a Roman History class in Mr. Deasy's academy (pp. 21-2), and the subject is Pyrrhus. His 'Pyrrhic victory' at Asculum is mentioned, and then Stephen asks about his end. The boy he asks neither knows nor cares anything about Pyrrhus, least of all his end. Stephen reflects: "Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam's hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death? They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted." The significance of Pyrrhus for Joyce becomes plainer later, in the 'Aeolus' episode (p. 124), where Professor MacHugh, in the offices of the Freeman's Journal, launches into an encomium of the Greeks (after lamenting that he is condemned to teach Latin: "I teach the blatant Latin language."). The contrast between Greek and Latin becomes that between the Irish and the English, the 'Saxon':

A smile of light brightened his darkrimmed eyes, lengthened his long lips.

-- The Greek! he said again, Kyrios! Shining word! The vowels the Semite and the Saxon know not. Kyrie! The radiance of the intellect. I ought to profess Greek, the language of the mind. Kyrie eleison! The closetmaker and the cloacamaker will never be lords of our spirit. We are liege subjects of the catholic chivalry of Europe that foundered at Trafalgar and of the empire of the spirit, not an imperium, that went under with the Athenian fleets at Aegospotami. Yes, yes. They went under. Pyrrhus, misled by an oracle, made a last attempt to retrieve the fortunes of Greece. Loyal to a lost cause.

He strode away from them towards the window.

-- They went forth to battle, Mr. O'Madden Burke said greyly, but they always fell. -- Boohoo! Lenihan wept with little noise. Owing to a brick received in the latter half of the matinée. Poor, poor, poor Pyrrhus!

All this, of course, is presented with a considerable degree of irony. Professor MacHugh is a rather absurd figure, and Joyce is at least partly behind Lenehan's derisive keening for Pyrrhus. Nevertheless, there was plainly something about Pyrrhus' adventure, and about his tragic and absurd end, that attracted Joyce, and I suggest that that is because he sees Pyrrhus as a symbol of Greece's relations with Rome, and by implication of Ireland's with England. Mr. O'Madden Burke's remark, "They went forth to battle, but they always fell", is, after all, much more appropriate to the Irish experience than to the Greek.

Pyrrhus does not, as such, figure in the Wake, but he may be discerned, I think, as a component of the figure of Burrus, of the pair of twins, Burrus and Caseous, who dominate especially the latter part of Ch. 6 (pp. 161-8).[13] On the basic level, of course, this pair are Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. Caesar is one of the basic 'father figures' who represent Earwicker in history, and they are the warring, antithetical twins, Shem and Shaun, who nevertheless combine to assault their father. However, Brutus and Cassius, while providing a good pair, have nothing very antithetical about them. They were in fact of rather different character, Brutus being the more upright of the two, but they never quarrelled, and went down to destruction together. Burrus and Caseous, however, are contrasted in the Wake (we must bear in mind that they are also burro and caseus, 'butter' and 'cheese') in a rather curious way: Burrus, let us like to imagine, is a genuine prime, the real choice, full of natural greace, the mildest of milkstoffs yet unbeaten as a risicide and, of course, obsolutely unadulterous whereat Caseous is obversely the revise of him and in fact not an ideal choose by any meals, though the betterman of the two is meltingly addicted to the casual side of the arrivaliste case and, let me say it at once, as zealous over him as is passably he (p. 161). That Burrus is "full of natural greace" is, I think, not simply due ot his buttery nature, but to the fact that, as noted above, Burrus is the archaic Latin transcription of Pyrrhos, and that Pyrrhus is being at least glancingly evoked here. It can only be a glance, though, since Pyrrhus did not have a rival or opponent who sounds anything like Caseous,[14] but he is there in the background nonetheless. A little later on (p. 162), we get some further clues. Burrus, we are told, "has the lac of wisdom under every dent in his lofter", and just below he is described as "a king off duty and a jaw for ever."

It sounds to me as if Joyce had been reading Plutarch's Life of Pyrrhus. There we learn, early on (ch. 3), the curious fact that Pyrrhus "did not have a regular set of teeth, but his upper jaw was formed of one continuous bone which had depressions in it, which resembled the intervals between a row of teeth". This was regarded as a sign of magical power, and he was credited with the ability to cure diseases ("the lac of wisdom").[15] Pyrrhus also had a very disturbed childhood, losing his kingdom as an infant, when his father was overthrown, being restored to it at the age of twelve, then being overthrown himself at the age of seventeen, and only winning it back at the age of twenty-two. He was thus, for much of his early life, "a king off duty" as well as "a jaw for ever".

But I do not want to asphyxiate you with pedantry, if I can help it. The purpose of this investigation of Pyrrhus is to demonstrate the sort of ingenuity that Joyce's method provokes in his admirers, among whom I would include myself. This ingenuity may well, in some cases, be misplaced. I would not be completely surprised to learn that Joyce did not have Pyrrhus in mind at all in this passage, and my clues are just coincidences. The phrase 'lac of wisdom', after all, could be understood to refer merely to the Irish story of Finn MacCool and the Salmon (Norse lax ) of Wisdom, though the 'jaw for ever' would be left unexplained.

However, Pyrrhus we at least know to have been a figure with whom Joyce was acquainted. A different problem arises, it seems to me, with another character who is undoubtedly prominent in the Wake, HCE's opponent and detractor, Hosty. In the Claasical Lexicon, O'Hehir and I discerned as a component in the character of Hosty a notorious Roman nobleman of the Augustan Age, one Hostius Quadra, who particular hobby was viewing himself from all angles in a series of mirrors while he committed, and submitted to, all manner of sexual acts with both males and females. What is more, these mirrors were magnifying mirrors.[16]

Now such a figure would certainly have delighted Joyce, had he known of him. But did he? Pyrrhus, after all, would certainly form part of any school course in Roman History, but equally certainly Hostius Quadra would not. Nor is Seneca's Naturales Quaestiones, which is our only source for Quadra (I 16), the sort of work which would naturally fall into Joyce's hands. He may, of course, have learned of Quadra's exploits from some work of pornography (such a Mr. Bloom paws through in secondhand bookstores along the quays), and that would be an interesting line of research, which O'Hehir and I did not follow up. But on the basis of the evidence available to me, I remain somewhat uneasy about the identification.

However, such an identification does seem to me to add to the significance of Hosty. William York Tindall, in his Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake (p. 61), can only propose the following: "Hosty, who figures most conspicuously throughout the rest of the rambling tale, is connected here by wood, beach, self-abuse, and solipsism, with Shem, but he comes to be associated with H.C.E. As the Shem-side of H.C.E., Hosty is the lad who has taken his place. Writer of the ballad of H.C.E., Hosty is the creator or father, at once the Master Builder and "littlebilker". Exposing H.C.E., he exposes himself.[17] Hosty's name shows his composite nature. As the Host (hostia ) or Eucharist, Hosty is God. As hostis or enemy, he is the Devil. As a host, he keeps a pub; and as a host he is a multitude. Never was Joyce's talent for concentration shown more happily." If O'Hehir and I are right, though, Joyce's talent for concentration is shown even more happily than Tindall thinks. Indeed, the remark that I have emphasised above is particularly significant, considering that Tindall has never heard of Hostius Quadra and his magnifying mirrors. If one wanted to find an element in Quadra's behaviour that would have appealed to Joyce in this connection, it would surely be that he exposed both himself and others. If you commit an indiscretion, as did Earwicker, then Hostius Quadra is just the man to expose it, in multiple, magnified and distorted reproductions.

Once one accepts that Hostius Quadra is lurking in the background of the figure of Hosty, certain otherwise obscure details become significant. First of all, in Hosty's Ballad of Persse O'Reilly, on p. 46, we find this: "It was during some fresh water garden pumping
Or, according to the Nursing Mirror, while admiring the monkeys
That our heavyweight heathen Humpharey
Made bold a maid to woo..." Now there may indeed have been such as an organ as the Nursing Mirror, but why drag it in, one asks, if not for the mirror? Again, much later, at 372. 23, we find this: "Last ye, lundsmin, hasty hosty! For an anondation of mirification and lutification of our paludination." Of course, the more obvious level of meaning here is 'water' and 'marsh' (unda, lutum, palus ), with the German Meer, presumably, but are we too ingenious in seeing a reference also to mirrors?

Again, at 467. 30, just after a mention of 'auracles' and 'parses orileys', both 'earwig' words, we find: "Twas the quadra sent him and Trinity too," followed, in turn, by a reference to "tullying my hostilities" -- on the primary level a reference to the early king of Rome, Tullus Hostilius, but with Hostius possibly in the background.[18]

Any of these clues by themselves would hardly, I think, constitute compelling evidence of anything ('quadra', for instance, conjoined with 'Trinity', embodies primarily, no doubt, a reference to the quadrivium and trivium, the basic divisions of the mediaeval curriculum), but cumulatively they acquire a certain force. It still seems to me, however, that Joyce, if he had indeed come upon Hostius Quadra somewhere, is indulging in a relatively private joke here at the reader's expense. He is certainly not concerned to make things easy for us.


After these excursions into ingenuity, let us turn to more straightforward matters. Classical learning, as we know, pervades Finnegans Wake. The 514 pages of our Lexicon bear witness to that. I would like on this occasion just to pick out certain amusing aspects of that learning, beginning with some elementary grammar.

As I said at the beginning, Joyce, like many other generations of Irish schoolboys down to my own days, had to learn declensions and conjugations off by heart, and he learned them out of a grammar either identical with or very similar to the one that I learned out of, Kennedy's Latin Primer. A distinctive aspect of that work is a collection of mnemonic rhymes at the end of the book, designed to implant certain peculiarities of Latin grammar firmly in one's head. One of these concerns third declension nouns ending in -is which are masculine. It runs as follows: "Many nouns in -is we find
to the masculine assigned:
amnis, axis, caulis, collis,
clunis, crinis, fascis, follis,
fustis, ignis, orbis, ensis,
panis, piscis, postis, mensis,
torris, inguis and canalis,
vectis, vermis and natalis,
sanguis, pulvis, cucumis,
lapis, cassis, Manes, glis." -- a veritable masterpiece of scholastic ingenuity; and, one must admit, it has quite a swing to it. I had to learn this off by heart, and so, it would seem, did the young Joyce. We find, on p. 468. 10f. of the Wake, in a rather grammatical passage, the following jingle: "Hammisandivis axes colles waxes warmes like sodulles"[19] No one who does not know Kennedy's Latin Primer could possibly comprehend this.

This is actually the only rhyme from the back of Kennedy that I have discovered in the Wake, but there may be more. One that is not, on the other hand, but which was recited to us by our Latin teacher in prep school, and plainly to Joyce by his, concerns the peculiarities of nemo. It runs as follows: "From nemo let me never see
Neminis or nemine. There is, on other words, no genitive or ablative of nemo in use (one must use nullius and nullo ). This plainly stuck in Joyce's mind, and it pops up in ridiculous guises at various points in the Wake. At 270. 15, for example, we find: "from Nabob see you never stray who'll nimm you nice and name the day"; and at 468. 18-19 (just below the reference to the rhyme from Kennedy): "Fond namer, let me never see thee blame a kiss for shame a knee."

Such things stick in a schoolboy's mind. But most schoolboys are also amused by basic declensions, such as hic, haec, hoc. Certainly Joyce was. The declension of hic and qui appears quite frequently in the Wake, always looking ridiculous, e.g. 33. 27:"Hay, hay, hay! Hoq, hoq, hoq!"; 71, 15: "Hoary hairy hoax"; 275. L: "Quick quake quokes the parrotbook of dates"; or 454. 15: "hicky hecky hock, huges huges huges, hughy hughy hughy."

A number of these grammatical references occur, as one would expect, in ch. 10 (pp. 260 - 308), where the twins, Shem and Shaun, are doing their homework, though they are by no means confined to that chapter. Mock declensions occur throughout the work. At 17. 09, we find: "Rooks roarum rex roome" (a mock declension of rex ); at 90. 26: "Thos Thoris Thomar's Thom" (mixing Thomas with thus, thuris, 'incense'); and at 603. 05 we find the pronoun tu given the same treatment: "Tay, tibby, tanny, tummy, tasty, tosty, tay."

This is all the schoolboy in Joyce coming through. Another thing which plainly fascinated him, however, was something he could only have learned of later in life, and that is the sound changes which operate in Indo-European. Indo-European philology would not have formed part of the school curriculum (though Kennedy makes some elementary observations in his Primer)[20]. It is in fact a subject quite germane to Joyce's linguistic project in the Wake (though his interests extend far beyond the confines of Indo-European!), and we find him playing games with a number of well-known sound-laws which are relevant to Latin and Greek, as well as others of more general relevance.

Most notable, perhaps, is that concerning the development of labiovelars (qw- or gw- sounds) in Greek, where they change into labials (p/b ) or dentals (t/d ) before front vowels (e, i ). This development is not peculiar to Greek, of course -- it occurs in Italic and Celtic as well (Oscan and Umbrian are p- dialects, Latin is q; in Celtic, Welsh is p, Irish is q ) -- but it falls under the purview of a Classicist. To begin with, we assume that "cued peteet peas" at 19. 02 is a reference to this sound-law. Joyce has most fun, however, with such a phrase as 'Roman Catholic', which he is able to change into 'roman Pathorick' (27. 02), or 'Patholic' (611. 07 & 10 &24), in either case achieving a pleasing effect -- in the first case (with the help of a further feature of IE, the alternation between l and r ) incorporating a reference to our patron saint, as well as to Irish 'Paddies', in the second a reference to the pathological nature of Irish Catholicism. Again, we find a reference to Christopher Columbus as 'Pristopher Polombos' (120. 02) or 'Prestopher Palumbus' (484. 32) -- in the latter case paired with a character named Porvus Parrio (alias corvus carrio, or 'carrion crow').[21] This piece of foolery would particularly delight Joyce because both columba and palumba are in fact Latin words, for 'dove' and 'wood-pigeon' respectively, which are on opposite sides of the p/k split (palumba being, presumably, a loan-word from Oscan-Umbrian).[22] Other pleasing bits of nonsense are 'quotatoes' (183. 22); 'plumbsily' (149. 29 -- with overtones of plumbum, 'lead'), 'Mr. T.M. Finnegan, R.I.C. (221. 27 -- Royal Irish Constabulary, for Requiescat in Pace ); and a burst of Latin at 496. 36ff.: "Quis est qui non novit Quinnigan?" and "Qui quae quot at Quinnigan's Quake").

It will be noted that some of these contortions involve also an interchange between l and r, which is not so general a sound-change, but which is exemplified in some differences between Greek and Latin (e.g. Greek leirion, 'lily', Latin lilium; Greek barbaros, 'a non-Greek-speaker', Latin balbus, 'stammerer'). Some further examples are 'vikelegal' for 'viceregal', 131. 22; 'Climate' for 'Primate' -- as in "I hope it'll pour prais the Climate of all Ireland" (141. 36); "a culius impression" (248 F. 2), which is not only a curious impression, but an impression on the posterior (culus ); while "How culious an epiphany!" (508. 11) refers to the appearance of Earwicker's posterior when his trousers had fallen down.

Joyce also delighted in the possibilities of the digamma[23], that lost w- sound whose presence was discovered in Homer by the eighteenth-century British classical scholar Richard Bentley; and in reduplication, which can be made to sound like Earwicker's embarrassed stutter[24]. he also derives some value from the peculiarity of the loss of initial IE s in Greek, where it is retained in Latin (e.g. Latin sex, 'six'; Greek hex ). We find e.g. 'histher' for 'sister' at 22. 02, and 'heventh' for 'seventh' at 28A. 10 -- and, by reversing the principle, 'Sibernian' for 'Hibernian' at 567. 35 (with a hint of 'Siberian').


But let us not get bogged down in grammar or comparative philology. The point has been adequately made, I think. I would like to end by turning to a literary legacy from his schooldays, the poems of Horace. I have counted seventeen references to Horace's poetry in the Wake, apart from the honourable mention of the man himself in the margin of p. 307 (as a gloss on the rubric 'Advantages of the Penny Post', presumably an allusion to the Epistles ). This is the largest volume of references to any Latin author, considerably more than, say, Vergil or Ovid, and it attests to Joyce's fondness for Horace. In Portrait of the Artist, p. 208, we are told that "the pages of his (sc. Stephen's) timeworn Horace never felt cold to the touch even when his own fingers were cold"; and "even for so poor a Latinist as he, the dusky verses were as fragrant as though they had lain all those years in myrtle and lavender and vervain." This is the spirit that led to the translation of 'O Fons Bandusiae' which I mentioned earlier (above, p. 3).

All the references to Horace's poetry in the Wake, it must be said, are to well-known tags, which could have been picked up in a dictionary of quotations, but since we know that Joyce loved Horace, we can assume that they are in fact remembered from his schooldays. Early on, at p. 6. 04, we have a reference to Odes III 29, 12: fumum et opes strepitumque Romae, in "the fumes and the hopes and the strumpithump of his ville's indigenous romekeepers". At 19. 32, we have a reference to the rather better-known parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus of Ars Poetica 139, in "mightmountain Penn still groaned for the micies to let flee". Even more famous is Exegi monumentum aere perennius (Odes III 30, 1), recalled at 57. 22 as "our notional gullery is now completely complacent, an exegious monument, aerily perennious"; and on the next page, 58. 18, we find an allusion to Odes II 14, 1, Eheu fugaces, in "Eheu, for gassies!".

To turn from the Odes to the Satires, at 116. 15 ("Est modest in verbos"), and 523. 19 ("The Mod needs a rebus"), we have a reference to Satires I i. 106, Est modus in rebus; and at 128. 14 he employs an earlier line from the same satire (69), Quid rides? Mutato nomine de te/ fabula narratur, for "quid rides to Titius, Caius and Sempronius". By that line there actually hangs a tale, which Joyce was familiar with. It formed the subject of an amusing response by the famous Dublin orator and wit of the late eighteenth century, John Philpot Curran, to a wealthy tobacco merchant, one Lundy Foot, who had built himself a country house and become a gentleman, and asked Curran to propose a suitable motto to inscribe on the door of his carriage. Curran gave the motto 'Quid rides'.[25] Again, that is just the sort of story calculated to delight Joyce, and he drops the clue that he knew it a few lines earlier (128. 13), where he presents the phrase "gave his mundyfoot to Miserius". In this case, then, it is probably the anecdote rather than Horace's line that is uppermost in Joyce's mind. Another famous line of Horace, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit (Epist. II i. 157), gets an airing in two places. At 246. 19 we find "And lead raptivity captive"[26]; and at 318. 11 "The Annexandrian captive conquest", which incorporates also the idea of woman capturing her captor man.[27]

Other than this, we have the simple mention of a number of Horatian girls at 229. 10; "the lalage of lyonesses" (Lalage, of Odes I 22 and II 5), and 236. 1-2: "Charmeuses chloes, glycering jewells, lydialight fans and puffumed cynarettes" (Chloe, Odes I 23, III 9, and 19, Glycera, Odes I 19and III 19, Lydia, Odes I 25 and III 9, and Cynara, Odes IV 1)[28]. There is nothing in all this that shows any deep feeling for, or knowledge of, Horace's poetry, but we should not expect that. Horace simply takes his place, with so much of the rest of world culture, in the compost-heap of Joyce's mind.


This has been, I am afraid, a rather superficial incursion into the subject of the classics in Finnegans Wake, but the influence of Greco-Roman culture is in fact so pervasive in the book that one cannot do real justice to it in a single lecture. That this is so points to an important fact about Joyce: he is a profoundly classical writer, in the broader sense. He may indeed extend the forms of the novel in remarkable new directions, but he still believes profoundly in form and in tradition. He does not resort to unschooled inspiration, or 'automatic writing', or anything of that sort; and he does not retreat into a private world, as do many modern authors, and challenge us to enter it. He writes about great issues, of universal significance, such as the struggle between father and sons, the rivalry between siblings, and the growth of civilisation, and he imposes on his work rigid (though not restrictive) structures. And that, I think, is what it means to be classical.[29]

[1] Selected Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann, p. 115. Cf. Stephen's remark to Mr. Bloom in the cabman's shelter in Ulysses, p. 597: "... oblige me by taking away that knife. I can't look at the point of it. It reminds me of Roman history." Mr. Bloom found the point of the comparison as obscure as I do.

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[2] Selected Letters, p. 284.

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[3] University of California Press: Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1977

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[4] James Joyce's Schooldays, Gill and Macmillan: Dublin, 1982.

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[5] Portrait of the Artist, p. 50-1

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[6] Published by Browne and Nolan, Ltd., Dublin, 1883. A feature of this edition is Cooke's notes, which include much etymology of long or troublesome words, something which should have stimulated Joyce. Certainly this book aroused his interest in the Odyssey, and repeatedly one can see its influence in Ulysses. Gerty MacDowell, for instance, is much more akin to Lamb's Nausicaa than to Homer's. (I am indebted to the late Prof. W.B. Stanford for introducing me to this now very rare book, and lending me a copy.)

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[7] It is accorded a mention in the Wake, 372.12 as "the scenic tutors", a description of the revered founders of Dublin, Georgia.

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[8] Cf.Portrait, p. 208.

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[9] Also accorded a mention in the Wake, 467, 32ff., in a passage incorporating, ingeniously, all the kings of Early Rome: "He'll prisckly soon hand tune your Erin's ear for you, p.p. a mimograph at a time, numan bitter, with his ancomartins to read the road roman with false steps ad Pernicious from rhearsilvar ormolus to torquinions superbers while I'm far away from wherever thou art serving my tallyhos and tullying my hostilious by going in by the most holy recitandas ffff for my varsatile examinations in the ologies, to be a coach on the Fukien mission."

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[10] Printed in Ellmann's biography, p. 51.

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[11] I use the pagination of the Bodley Head popular edition, London, 1937.

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[12] E.g. Ulysses, p. 343 (where Gerty MacDowell is musing about Benediction), and FW 454. 18: "O salutary! Sustain our firm solitude, thou who well strokest!"

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[13] Burrus is in fact the archaic Roman transcription of the Greek Pyrrhos. Cicero, Or. 48, 160, tells us that the poet Ennius always used this form of his name. Joyce could have gathered this from a perusal of Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary, s.v. Burrus.

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[14] Appius Claudius Caecus would be the nearest thing to a major antagonist in Pyrrhus' life, I suppose.

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[15] 'lac', besides being the Latin for 'milk', evoking the Hindi lakh, meaning 'a hundred thousand', as in 'a lakh of rupees'.

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[16] So unsavoury a character was he that, when he was finally murdered by his exasperated alaves, Augustus decided that no reprisals were necessary, although the normal practice in such cases was to execute the whole household.

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[17] Italics mine.

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[18] One might also see an anticipatory reference to Hostius in the mention at 37. 13 of the Cad's "permanent reflection"; and a later one at 57. 24: "And there many have paused before that exposure of him by old Tom Quad, a flashback in which he sits sated, gowndabout, in clericalease habit, watching bland sol slithe dodgsomely into the nethermore, a globule of maugdleness about to corrugitate his mild dewed cheek, and the tata of a tiny victorienne, Alys, pressed by his limper looser." This, of course, conjures up primarily the vision of a photograph of the Victorian Oxford don Charles Dodgson, and his unnatural fascination for young Alice Liddell, which led to Alice in Wonderland, but the conjunction of 'exposure' and 'Quad' may have an additional significance.

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[19] It is not quite clear what 'sodulles' (sodalis?) is doing here, as sodalis is actually common rather than masculine, but Joyce may be picking up on some other grammatical jingle.

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[20] The etymological notes of John Cooke (mentioned above, n. 6) would have been a stimulus also, perhaps, but they would not have revealed to him the mysteries of IE sound-laws.

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[21] Cf. 496. 29ff.: "He sent out Çhristy Columb and he came back with a jailbird's bespokables in his beak and then he sent out Le Caron Crow and the peacies are still looking for him." In Ulysses, p. 561 (the Circe episode), we learn that "the reverend Carrion Crow" is Joyce's description of the Holy Ghost, who in turn symbolises the Catholic Church.

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[22] There was also a notorious Roman gladiator called Palumbus (Suet. Claud. 21), a fact which may have caught Joyce's eye as he perused his Lewis and Short.

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[23] E.g. 18. 34; 38. 14 ('vhespers'); 48. 19 ('whole wholume'); 85. 34 ('fight', for 'white'); 120. 33.

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[24] E.g. 33. 03 ('cecelticommediant'); 36. 02 ('compompounded'); 36. 20ff.; 186. 10 ('agglaggagglomeratively'); 194. 04.

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[25] The story is told in Sir Jonah Barrington's Recollections of his Own Times.

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[26] Though St. Paul is perhaps a more immediate influence here, Eph. 4:8: "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men."

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[27] As for 'Annexandrian', it contains the phrase anax andrôn, 'lord of men', the Homeric epithet, in particular, of Agamemnon, as well as the idea of annexing men, and of Alexander's conquests.

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[28] All these ladies find a mention in the 'Oxen of the Sun' episode of Ulysses, p. 397, in the course of a parody of the style of Landor, so they are really Landor's ladies as much as Horace's.

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[29] This talk has been around for many years now, but I have just come upon a book by R.J. Shork, Latin and Roman Culture in Joyce, University Press of Florida, 1997, which covers all this ground at much greater length (though he seems to miss my discovery about Pyrrhus -- if it is a discovery). I recommend it to all interested parties, but still feel it worth while to publish this at last.

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