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  • morganfagg

Metempsychosis? Who's he when he's at home?

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

If you have ever had to look up a word when reading an article or book then don't worry about it as Ulysses is full of comments that will make you think WTF and even poor Molly Bloom writes down words to ask Leopold Bloom about.

I'm not sure how many books have their characters asking for the meaning of words but as a reader, I sometimes wish I had bought an annotated version of Ulysses and I always wonder how people from outside of Dublin and Ireland can get all of his references.

In truth, I don't think people can fully understand James Joyce and I think that was part of his plan to keep us searching for answers and rereading his books. It is the original DaVinci Code where you have to translate much of the book but sometimes understand very little.

The best description I have found since starting this project was a comment I translated from Korean which said, "내가 무엇을 읽었습니까?" or basically, what did I just read?

When I say, I translated it, I mean Google translate of course and you will find yourself struggling in places to understand Joyce and I can't imagine how difficult it was for translators to make sense of all his nonsense a hundred years ago.

Take a look at the text below where Molly Bloom marks the word Metempsychosis to ask her husband, "Who's he when he's at home?"


— Show here, she said. I put a mark in it. There's a word I wanted to ask you.

She swallowed a draught of tea from her cup held by nothandle and, having wiped her fingertips smartly on the blanket, began to search the text with the hairpin till she reached the word.

— Met him what? he asked.

— Here, she said. What does that mean?

He leaned downward and read near her polished thumbnail.

— Metempsychosis?

— Yes. Who's he when he's at home?

Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It's Greek: from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.

— O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.


After asking her if she would like another Paul de Kock's book, to read, he thinks, Reincarnation: that's the word.

Much later in the book, Joyce repeats metempsychosis with the sound (met him pike hoses) written in brackets.

The Groundhog Day Challenge is kindly supported by UNESCO City of Literature

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