Lecture Nine -- Lestrygonians at Lunchtime
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This chapter is called “Lestrygonians” because it reenacts
Ulysses’s sojourn with the cannibalistic people of that name. In
this chapter about Bloom’s lunchtime, cannibalism takes the form
of animalistic voracity: men wolfing their food at the Burton
restaurant. Repelled by this Lestrygonian savagery, Bloom goes
instead to a “moral pub,” where he dines on a cheese sandwich and
a glass of wine that evokes vivid memories of his first lovemaking
with Molly. But a conversation with another man at the pub leads
him back once again to the painful subject of Blazes Boylan, who
recalls Antiphates, the king of the Lestrygonians in Homer’s epic.
Along with thoughts of God as a devourer, which surface on the
very first page of the chapter, Bloom feels almost eaten alive by
his anxiety about Boylan.
I. This chapter about Bloom’s lunchtime is based on the story of
Ulysses’s narrow escape from the cannibalistic Lestrygonians.
A. Cautiously tying up his own ship outside the Lestrygonian harborUlysses lets his men take their ships into the harbor and sendsthree men to investigate the city.
B. When one of the three is seized by the king for his dinner and the
other two nm away, the whole city is roused against the Greeks.
Caught in the harbor, the Greeks are speared like fish by the
C. Ulysses gets away with just the crew of his ship.
D. Like Ulysses, Bloom makes his getaway from savage eaters.1. Bloom loves food, as we have learned already from chapter 4
2. But as a discriminating eater, he’s repelled by the “dirtyeaters” he finds at Burton’s restaurant.3. So he takes his lunch at what he calls a “moral pub” nearby:Davy Byme’s.
II. The chapter shows the connection between eating and sex.
A. Because potting one’s meat is slang for having sex, a newspaperad for potted meat reminds Bloom of a limerick that linkscannibalism to sexual potency.
B. Bloom’s conversation with Nosey Flynn leads to painful thoughts
about Blazes Boylan’s designs on Molly.1. When Bloom tells Flynn that Molly is engaged for a singingtour, Flynn asks the now painfully familiar question, “Who’sgetting it up?”
2. The question gives Bloom heartburn and makes him look atthe clock to see its “hands moving” toward the hour ofBoylan’s tryst with Molly.
3. Bloom is almost literally devoured by his anxiety aboutBoylan, who becomes another Antiphates--the Lestrygonianking.
III. Bloom also feels threatened by the gospel of a devouring God
A. Early on in the chapter, he’s handed a throwaway announcing theadvent of Elijah-specifically the coming of an Americanevangelist named John Alexander Dowie.
B. The language of the throwaway links Bloom and his day with
blood sacrifice.1. The first four letters of “Blood” suggest Bloom’s own name.
2. The reference in the throwaway to “kidney burntoffering”recalls the burnt kidney that Bloom had for breakfast.
IV. As a temperate man, Bloom steers a middle way between the extremes
of cannibalism and vegetarianism.
A. Bloom eats and drinks with restraint; he embodies the Ulysseanvirtue of restraint.1. He’s repelled by the savagery of the eaters in Burton’srestaurant.
2. He’s also put off by the sentimentality and dreaminess ofvegetarians. He chooses cheese, which comes from animalswithout slaughter.
3. He also consumes two things made of vegetable matter,namely, bread and wine.B. Bloom’s way of eating his lunch subtly recalls both the temperance
of Ulysses and the compassion of Christ.
V. Bloom is kind-hearted; he feels compassion for others and sometimes helps them.
A. He pities Dilly Dedalus, Stephen’s sister.1. He see her raggedly dressed and underfed waiting outsideauction rooms, where the family furniture is being sold to paytheir debts.
2. He mentally denounces priests for living off the far of the landwhile goading Catholic couples to increase and multiply theirway into poverty and hunger.
3. He’s dismayed to learn that a woman named Mina Purefoy has been suffering in labor for three days.
4. He helps a blind stripling cross the street.D. Throwing away the gospel of a devouring god, he feeds seagulls with the “manna” of Banbury cakes and, thus, becomes for a moment a benevolent God--but without ceasing to be a human being.1. Tossing into the River Liffey the throwaway announcing thecoming of Elijah, he sees that the gulls aren’t fooled intonibbling at it.
2. He buys a couple of Banbury cakes and throws bits of them into the water.
3. In offering what he calls “manna” to the birds, Bloombecomes in effect a benevolent God--by contrast with thedevouring God of the throwaway.
4. But seeing pigeons whirling around later, he playfullyimagines one of them deciding to target him: “Must bethrilling from the air.”
VI. Bloom thinks about the whole digestive process--right up to excretion.
A. He can’t imagine any living being of any kind who doesn’t put food into one hole and push it out another.
B. Planning to look at the statues of a naked goddess in the museumof the National Library after lunch as an “aid to digestion,” heresolves to find out surreptitiously whether or not she has an anus.
C. At one point, he sees all of life as one huge digestive cycle goingnowhere, an endless repetition of birth and death.
VII. Through lunch regenerates Bloom because the taste of wine ignites the
memory of his first lovemaking with Molly, he is nonetheless force to
recognize how much their relationship has changed.
A. His memory of their first lovemaking among the rhododendrons ofHowth Head mingles the joys of sex with the joys of eating.1. As they kissed, seedcake passed from her mouth into his.
2. He remembers even the droppings of a nannygoat--a sure sign sign that the digestive process never stops.
3. They joyously consumed each other.B. But Bloom is forced to recognize the changes wrought by time.1. He’s stricken anew by the gulf between the man he is now andthe man he remembers in the scene of passionate lovemaking.
2. Rudy’s death has left him with a residue of guilt and made itimpossible for his to “like”.
VIII. Though pained by thoughts of Boylan, Bloom is never quite devoured
or defeated. Catching sight of Boylan at the end of the chapger, he
escapes him by slipping into the National Library.
Friedman, “Lestrygonians,” in Hart and Hayman, pp. 131-46.
Question to Consider:
1. What does Bloom mean when he refers to Davy Byrne’s as a “moral
pub”? What does morality have to do with eating?
2. How does Bloom’s experience with the blind stripling reveal the power
of his imagination--as well as demonstrating his compassion?