Lecture Three--Nestor at School
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
ln this chapter, Stephen teaches his students at the Dalkey School,
collects his pay from headmaster Deasy, and talks with Deasy
about various matters, including the history of Ireland and the
Jews. Because this chapter is meant to reenact the visit of Homer’s
Telemachus to a wise old man named Nestor, We might expect
Deasy to be equally wise, but his ignorance and anti-Semitism
reveal the contrary. Though Deasy’s special interest in horse-
racing and cattle recall the fact that Nestor was a tamer of horses,
he is anything but wise in his would-be fatherly advice to Stephen;
he is blind and hypocritical, and his providential view of history is
far from that of Stephen, who sees history as a nightmare from
which he struggles to awake.
I. Chapter 2 chiefly concerns Stephen’s meeting with Deasy, the
headmaster ofthe boys’ school where Stephen teaches, who
corresponds with Homer’s Nestor. Nestor is the wise old king of Pylos
who fought beside Ulysses in the Trojan War and whom Telemachus
visits in quest for news of his father.
A. Like Nestor, a tamer of horses, Deasy is an old man with a special
interest in racehorses.
B. Deasy also has a special interest in cattle.1. He has written a letter about hoof-and-mouth disease that he
wants to see published in Dublin newspapers.
2. He asks Stephen to help him get it published.
II. Deasy’s letter about hoof-and-mouth disease exemplifies the theme of3. For this part ofthe chapter, Joyce drew on his own
experience; at the urging of a man named Henry Blackwood
Price, he wrote an editorial about a new cure for hoof-and-
mouth disease in l9l2, the year of the British embargo against
reading and writing that permeates the chapter.
A. In carrying a letter from Deasy to the newspapers, Stephen is
implicitly casting his lot with joumalism-a kind of writing that is
very different from literature. He’s also serving Deasy as a kind of
copy boy, and because the subject of the letter is cattle, he mefully
foresees that Mulligan will call him a “bullockbefriending bard.”
B. A “gorescarred” textbook is evident in the classroom discussion
that opens the chapter.
C. The handwriting of a student who comes to Stephen for special
help is carefully described.
D. Deasy’s method of typing is also carefully described, as isIII. In spite of his superficial resemblance to Nestor, Deasy has none of
Stephen’s method of skimming the letter when he reads it.
Nestor’s wisdom. As a would-be father to Stephen, he fails utterly.
A. When he gives Stephen his monthly pay, he also offers him useless
advice about money.1. When Deasy tells him that he should never owe anyone
anything, Stephen remembers that his debts far exceed his
2. When Deasy quotes Shakespeare as saying, “Put but money inB. Deasy is anti-Semitic and blind to his own hypocrisy.
thy purse,” Stephen quietly remembers that the words are
spoken by Iago, one of Shakespeare’s worst villains.1. He accuses “jew merchants” of destroying England.
2. He fails to realize that in urging Stephen to hoard his money,
he is just as miserly as the stereotypical merchant of anti-
3. In claiming that Jews have “sinned against the light,” he failsC. Deasy’s review of Irish history is vitiated by his ignorance and
to realize that he himself is utterly benighted.
staimchly pro-British sympathies.1. Deasy is a West Briton, a staunch supporter of English rule in
2. The orange lodges of Ireland took their name from William of
Orange, the Protestant king of England who defeated the
Catholic forces of Ireland in 1690. Though they actually
supported the 1800 act of union that made Ireland subject to
the English Parliament, Deasy claims that the lodges fought to
repeal the act of union.
3. He wrongly calls Stephen a “Fenian”--a radical Irish
4. He mindlessly asserts that all the ills ofthe world spring from
5. He wrongly claims that Sir John Blackwood voted for the actD. His faith in the providential theory of history collides with
Stephen’s conception of history as a nightmare.1. Deasy believes that human history moves toward one great
goal, “the manifestation of God.”
2. Stephen sees history as “a nightmare from which I am trying
3. While Deasy salutes the work of the orange lodges, Stephen
silently recalls their brutal slaughter of Roman Catholic tenant
4. Stephen’s thoughts on the brutality of the field hockey game
being played outside Deasy’s office (where he talks with
Stephen) recall his thoughts on the futility of all battles,
exemplified by the bloody victory of Pyrrhus in 279-the first
Pyrrhic victory, subject of a class discussion at the beginning
of the chapter.
IV. Against the pseudo-wisdom of the would-be fatherly Deasy stands the5. Stephen’s thoughts also remind us that Joyce wrote Ulysses
during World War I, the bloodiest war the world had ever
maternal love that comes to Stephen’s mind when a slow student asks
him for special help after class.
A. The schoolboy’s vulnerability makes Stephen think of how much
children need motherly care.1. He sees that the boy might have been squashed without his
mother’s loving care.
V. In ignorantly asserting that Ireland never persecuted the Jews because2. The sight of the boy reminds him of his own childhood.B. In spite of his need to bury the guilt that his mother’s death has left
him, he remembers his own mother as a protector.
“she never let them in,” Deasy unwittingly anticipates the appearance
of Leopold Bloom.
A. Deasy ignores the fact that by 190] , three years before Bloomsday,
nearly 4,000 Jews were living in Ireland.
B. Because he sees no Jews, he sees no signs ofthe persecution that
Bloom will be made to experience in the form of subtle slights and
sometime vicious insults later on.
Epstein, “Nestor,” in Hart and Hayman, pp. 17-24
Questions to Consider:
1. Why does Stephen tell his students the riddle about the fox burying his
grandmother under a hollybush?
2. Does Stephen’s view of motherhood undergo a change as we move
from chapter 1 to chapter 2?