Proteus: Thoughts and Questions

1) In The Odyssey Proteus is the god of the sea who could change his shape at will and in that way resist being caught. Joyce's statements to Frank Budgen (see Comments by Joyce) indicate how he tried to use this changeability in Ulysses. Look, for example, at 3:306-9 (p. 38), 3:392-93 (p. 40), and 3:477-79 (pp. 41-42), and consider how they are "Protean."

2) Joyce set the episode on the shore of the sea, which is appropriate in relation to Proteus. But note the way he links the sea to both birth and death. In the second line Stephen notes "seaspawn and seawrack" (3:2-3, p. 31), and note the rhymes he plays with at 3:401-2 (p. 40). Early on, he recalls Mulligan quoting Swinburne ("Algy" is the 19th-century poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, still alive in 1904), who called the sea "our mighty mother" (3:31-32, p. 31; recalling 1:77-78, p. 4). He sees women and thinks they are midwives (are they?), and thinks of mothers and births. At the same time, Stephen associates the sea with death. See especially 3:326-30 (p. 38), 3:470-75 (p. 41), and 3:482-83 (42). What do you make of this association of the sea with birth and mothers and with death and drowning? And remember Mulligan's two quite different ways of referring to the sea: "snotgreen" and "scrotumtightening" (1:78, p. 4; "snotgreen" is recalled by Stephen at 3:3, p. 31).

3) If the sea is linked with mothers, how do fathers figure in this episode?

4) The drowning motif (especially at 3:326-30, p. 38) builds on at least two earlier mentions of drowning. In "Telemachus" we hear of a man who drowned recently and whose body hasn't yet been found (1:675, p. 18), and in "Nestor" the lines of Milton's poem "Lycidas" (an elegy for a man who drowned) that the student Talbot reads aloud include "Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor" (2:64-66, p. 21).

5) In the second line of the episode, Stephen refers to "Signatures of all things I am here to read" (3:2, p. 31). What do you think he means by this? What attitude toward the things around him does it seem to suggest?

6) At 3:390-407 (p. 40) Stephen begins to write a poem. We'll see at least part of the poem later in Ulysses. Note the themes and images that he is using here.

7) At the very end of the chapter, Stephen thinks that someone might be behind him, and he looks over his shoulder (3:502-5, p. 42). This is the first time in the chapter that he has looked anywhere except inward or directly in front of him. Note that his words recall his memory of washing his face in a cold basin at Clongowes Wood College (3:325, p. 38)