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  • morganfagg

Far from the Pale

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Joyce's Ulysses really does go beyond the Pale when talking about Dublin.

Bloom was a jew, his father was from Hungary, and his wife from Spain, and this modernist masterpiece was banned in both England and America.

Joyce really had his eyes set beyond Ireland and his book Ulysses was published in Paris by an American woman and its roots go far beyond the Pale. In fact, it's all Greek to me.

Pale comparison

All Greek to me

Ulysses is based on the adventures of Odysseus in Homer's epic poems dating back a couple of thousand years to the time of the Trojan War.

Odysseus I belief is known as Ulysses in the Latin translations and the chapters of the book reflect Odysseus struggle to get back to Ithaca and his wife Penelope, passing the Wandering Rocks and battling Poseidon's cyclop son Polyphemus along the way.

I recently saw the following funny limerick as part of a series of limericks on each chapter of Ulysses and by limerick I mean a short poem one stanza long and not the city of Limerick of course which you can see far from the pale in the map of Ireland here.

I laughed at the "nobody" references as our hero Odysseus reluctantly introduces himself to the cyclops Polyphemus as "Nobody" and when the giant cyclops screams out to the other giants on the island, they ignore him as he is shouting,

"Nobody has hurt me" and they are left wondering what he is complaining about.


I once knew a man who was prone to eruption

Lashing about at the eye of destruction

Exalting his land

Libation in hand (Drink in hand)

Then blinded by no man with no introduction.

No introduction needed

The adventures of Odysseus are not mentioned in James Joyce's epic, yet some would suggest reading Homer's work before picking up Ulysses but we can definitely imagine that Joyce's character Leopold Bloom is on an epic adventure of his own as he makes his way around Dublin.

Since Joyce wrote most of his work while living in Europe and not in Dublin, I think we can see his Dublin as a universal city that appeals to people in Trieste, Paris and Zurich as much as it does to the British controlled capital of Edwardian Dublin.

Driving a stake into the heart of the city

Dublin was known as the Pale in the past and I believe the word pale comes from the Latin word pālus which means stake and it was probably a reference to a fence around the British controlled capital. Beyond the Pale, was probably meant to mean, beyond civilisation and acceptable behaviour but strangely even Americans use the same description to say that something is far from acceptable or normal behaviour.

A pale comparison

Is Ulysses a pale comparison to Homer's The Odyssey? I can't say, as Joyce created the extraordinary out of the very ordinary and in some ways, it does feel like we are following Nobody around Dublin for 24 hours as he struggles to make his way home to Penelope.

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UNESCO City of Literature

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