01. Telemachus

Notes by Gerry Carlin & Mair Evans

TIME: 8:00 am. 

SCENE: A Martello tower (erected by the British to repel French invasion during the Napoleonic wars) at Sandycove on the shore of Dublin Bay, 7 miles southeast of Dublin (at right).  Overall map

And the Forty-Foot Hole ending the chapter.

SENSE: Dispossessed son in struggle 

ORGAN: None 
ART: Theology 
COLOURS: White, gold 
TECHNIQUE: Narrative (young) 


  • Telemachus, Hamlet - Stephen;
  • Antinous - Mulligan;
  • Mentor - the milk woman.


Hamlet, Ireland and Stephen, Mentor, Pallas [Athena], the suitors and Penelope.

Homeric Parallels: 

In the council of the gods, which opens Homer’s Odyssey, Zeus decides that it is time for Odysseus to return home. In Ithaca, Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, is disgusted with the behavior of the suitors toward his mother in his father’s absence.  The suitors are led by the arrogant Antinous.  They mock the threatening omens sent by Zeus.

Telemachus seeks counsel from the gods. Pallas Athena, goddess of the arts of war and peace, domestic economy, wit and intuition, is revealed as Odysseus’ patron. She advises Telemachus to travel in search of his father.


Martello Tower Location


Stephen Dedalus, his friend Buck Mulligan (a medical student), and his English friend from Oxford, Haines, prepare for the day. Due to Haines’ nightmares, Stephen has had a troubled night, and Mulligan continues to upbraid him for refusing to pray at his own mother’s deathbed. They breakfast, receiving milk from an old woman with whom Haines, with his interest in the native tongue and Irish nationalism, starts a conversation by speaking to her in Gaelic.

As they leave the tower so that Mulligan can enjoy his morning swim Stephen is asked to explain his theory of Hamlet. He declines, and Haines and Stephen discuss literature and politics. They meet a friend who gossips about a drowning, and about a certain Bannon and a young girl.  She will turn out later to be Milly, Leopold Bloom’s daughter. Mulligan borrows the key to the tower and two pence from Stephen, who, like the usurped Telemachus, wanders off. 


The chapter opens with Buck Mulligan’s mock Mass. Mulligan ‘corresponds’ with Antinous, leader of the treacherous suitors.  He, along with the Englishman Haines, will take the key to the Tower, symbol of Stephen Dedalus’ ‘home’. Stephen is back from France (the country he fled to in the bid for freedom which closes A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), summoned by his mother’s death. His stoic refusal to pray at her deathbed, and the resulting guilt, will haunt him throughout the book.

Stephen, like Telemachus and Hamlet, is searching for a father.  This is not an actual father.  He has Simon for a father and it is his mother that he has really lost.  He is seeking a spiritual father and, what he will call in SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS, a “mystical estate”.

His name also aligns him with another father-and-son pair, Daedalus and his son Icarus.  The former was the creator of the labyrinth in which the Minotaur lived, and inventor of winged flight.  It is a flight or redemption through invention or ‘art’, for which Stephen searches. The symbol ‘heir’ and the last word of the episode (“Usurper”) raise issues of paternity and inheritance (creative, spiritual, mythic) that will echo through the book.

It also raises the theme of dispossession. This could refer to Mulligan’s taking of the key, or to the priest’s clothes that Stephen has just spotted, for the Church, like the state, is a symbol of power, hypocrisy and imposition for Stephen (“I am a servant of two masters... an English and an Italian”: English colonialism and Roman Catholicism). Such forces have exploited Ireland and left her, like the “old shrunken paps” of the milk woman, exhausted. 

The narrative sometimes blurs the distinction between internal and ‘voiced’ language.  It appears to be ordered through devices associated with internal monologue.  However, the style of the episode (despite its dense literary and cultural allusions) is seemingly conventional.  It is a sort of continuation of the style of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This is what Joyce would refer to as the “initial style”; as he wrote to Harriet Shaw Weaver: 

I understand that you may begin to regard the various styles of the episodes with dismay and prefer the initial style much as the wanderer did who longed for the rock of Ithaca. But in the compass of one day to compress all these wanderings and clothe them in the form of this day is for me possible only by such variation which, I beg you to believe, is not capricious. (Letters, 6 August, 1919)

Subpages (2): Map The Forty Foot Hole