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The Homeric story is that of the witch Circe (Kirke) who transforms some of Odysseus’ men into pigs. Odysseus is warned by Hermes of her. He is given a herb called ‘moly.’ He confronts Circe and conquers her magic with his moly. He then makes her swear that she will release his men and do him no harm. She keeps her word and entertains Odysseus and his men handsomely. She gives him good advice about his descent into Hades and about dealing with the Sirens and Scylla and Charybdis. The whore who turns men into swine is a magnificently apt correspondence. We are to remember that syphilis, though actually of unknown origin, has been derived from Greek ‘swine’ and ‘love’ in popular etymology. Bloom’s moly that preserves him from enchantment is literally the piece of potato he carries in his pocket as a remedy for rheumatism. On another level, it is his sexual indifference after the evening’s masturbation and his natural prudence, which prevails over perverse lust.
In the Biblical narrative this chapter seems to have three parallels. Since it is at the end of Book II of Ulysses, the Old Testament or Jewish section, it refers to the last book of the Old Testament. The prophet Malachi says there: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." In parallel there is the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation of St. John of Patmos. The apocalyptic theme resounds powerfully, from the building of the New Bloomusalem in the shape of a giant kidney to the scene of destruction ("Dublin’s burning") at the end. The third set of Biblical references is to the Passion narrative. Stephen suffers at the hands of the British soldiers. At the end of the chapter Bloom as God the Father looks down sorrowfully from heaven at his crucified Son who is a fusion of the unconscious Stephen and the dead Rudy.
Everything in this chapter is printed as if it were a play, with characters’ names, stage directions and dialogue. But only a small part of this is literal, giving the actual words and actions of Stephen, Bloom and a few to her characters. A slightly larger proportion consists of interior monologue, mostly Bloom’s but most dramatically Stephen’s at the crucial apparition of his dead mother. The greater part of the chapter is, however, a dramatization of fantasy. Each fantasy touches on the ambitions, hopes and fears of Bloom and to a lesser extent of Stephen. The chapter might appear to contain much action, but the action takes place almost instantaneously in the real time of the narrative. When the fantasies, interior monologues and literal narratives are put together, the chapter forms a five-act drama, with a prologue and epilogue.
The "Circe" scene uses sound to any extent. In "Circe" there are the street cries, the unintelligible mutter of the idiot, bawdy songs, the rattling bells of the cyclists, and the gong of the tram. Among remembered sound are those of the cuckoo clock and the bed quoits, the chimes of St. George’s the bell of Dillon’s auction-rooms, the sound of a waterfall, the bleat of a goat on Howth Hill, the song of the sluts. We hear the rustling of sequins of Zoe’s dress, the blare of a gramophone, the squeak of a door handle, the snap of a trousers button, the rustling of the silver foil, the insipid notes of the pianola, the ring of dancing bracelets, the guttering sound of a gas jet. In the street fight the altercation is accompanied by the bark of a stray dog and the neighing of a horse.