On this day…22 October

On 22 October 1902 Joyce visited Marsh’s Library.

Joyce visited Marsh’s Library on 22 and 23 October 1902 to read a book about the prophecies of Joachim of Fiore, and there are several references to Joachim in Joyce’s works.

Joachim of Fiore (or Flora, or Joachim Abbas, as Joyce refers to him) was born around 1130. He travelled in the Holy Land and then lived for a time as a hermit before joining a Cistercian abbey where he became abbot. He later founded a new monastic order at the monastery of San Giovanni at Fiore. He died on 30 March 1202.

Joachim undertook a study of the Bible and came to believe that history was divided into three epochs: the past, associated with the Old Testament and God the Father; the present, associated with the New Testament and God the Son; and a future age which he prophesied would be represented by an eternal gospel and the Holy Spirit. Joachim was never condemned for his ideas during his lifetime, but in 1215 the Lateran Council condemned some of his ideas, and followers of his were censured by a papal commission in 1255.

The book Joyce went to consult at Marsh’s was  the Vaticina, siue Prophetiae Abbatis Joachimi & Anselmi Episcopi Marsicani, cum adnotationibus Paschalimi Regiselmi, Latine et Italice, published in Venice in 1589, which contained texts attributed to Joachim. It seems that Joyce’s curiosity about Joachim had been aroused by reading WB Yeats’ story ‘The Tables of the Law’ in which Owen Aherne talks about Joachim’s eternal gospel.

Towards the end of chapter XXIII of Stephen Hero, there is a description of Stephen’s obsession with Yeats’ ‘The Tables of the Law,’ which Stephen knows by heart and on account of which he visits Marsh’s Library. In the ‘Proteus’ episode of Ulysses, Stephen seems to dismiss his former interest in Joachim, and instead of Yeats, Stephen’s thoughts about Joachim are associated with Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in the close of which Marsh’s Library is located.

In Rome in August 1906 when Joyce was planning to revise the story ‘A Painful Case,’ he asked his brother to send him the quotations from Joachim, but nothing about Joachim appears in the story. Joachim’s epochal divisions of history must have seemed to Joyce similar to those he later found in Vico’s Nuova Scienza when he was working on Finnegans Wake. There are a couple of references to Marsh’s Library in Finnegans Wake where ‘estheryear’s marsh narcissus’ recalls Swift’s Vanessa, Esther Vanhomrigh, as well as Marsh’s Library and its founder Archbishop Narcissus Marsh.


Sources & Further Reading:

Gifford, Don, with Robert J Seidman: Ulysses Annotated – Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses, second edition, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Mink, Louis O: A Finnegans Wake Gazetteer, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

For more information about Marsh’s Library see here.