Proteus: Homeric Parallel

In Book 4 of The Odyssey, Telemachus is at the court of Menelaus, and Menelaus recounts the story of his journey home from Troy. Forced by adverse weather to detour by way of Egypt, when he set sail again he was becalmed on Pharos, a rocky island just west of the Nile delta. Menelaus did not know which of the gods had him "pinned down" (4:380; Fitzgerald, p. 76) for, it turned out, neglect of the rules of sacrifice; nor did he know how to continue his voyage home. The daughter of the "Ancient of the Sea," Proteus, second in command to Poseidon, took pity on Menelaus and intervened to tell him that her father had the power of prophecy. To get Proteus to speak, Menelaus would have to grasp and hold him even though he would "take the forms / of all beasts, and water, and blinding fire" in the attempt to escape (4:417-18; Fitzgerald, p. 77). Menelaus did succeed, and Proteus answered his questions, telling him how to break the spell that bound him to Egypt and telling him also of the deaths of Ajax and Agamemnon and of the whereabouts of Odysseus, marooned and in bondage on Calypso's island.

(from Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman, "Ulysses" Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's "Ulysses" [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], p. 44. The first numbers following quotes from The Odyssey [for example, 1:115] refer to book and line numbers in the Greek text; English translations, unless otherwise noted, are from The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald [New York: Doubleday, 1961])