[cf. Gabler 21: 36-48; 1922 24:28 – 25:7]
What happens to the alternate possibilities of history once they have been superseded by events? What would have happened if the famous “pisspot” never fell on Pyrrhus’ head, or if Julius Caesar was never killed? And what difference does it make to this classroom of boys, who just want to hear a good ghost story or go outside to play.
Stephen doesn’t try to bring his students along for his meditiations on history, and instead pushes forward into the next lesson, which is a recitation of Milton’s “Lycidas.” “Lycidas” was written as a memorial to a fellow student of Milton’s at Cambridge, one Edward King, who drowned when the ship he was traveling in sank in the Irish Sea. Edward King was born in Ireland, and was traveling back to Ireland to visit his home when he died. He was a rival of Milton’s, though they were also friends – and another candidate for Stephen’s list of disappointed possibilities.
Back in the first episode we heard about another drowned man – the one whose body Mulligan expects will appear in the harbor today . Mulligan himself has saved a drowning man, which Stephen sees as one of the differences between them – for all of Mulligan’s bluster and lack of loyalty, he is brave. But without getting into an elaborate game of chase-the-symbol (just google “drowning man in Ulysses” if you do”), let’s just say that the connection between these drowned men seems to speak to how death forecloses possibilities – which is a grim thought when standing in front of a room of schoolchildren.
Note that the boys are supposed to be reciting this poem from memory – Stephen observes that the boy he calls on is cheating by looking at his book, which is hidden (poorly) behind the “breastwork” of his satchel.