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Having finished his song, Mulligan runs down to the sea, where he and Haines will bathe.
Haines lingers behind with Stephen, trying to figure out how to react to Mulligan’s funny, if blasphemous song. By doing so, he is also probably trying to learn something about an Irish intellectual’s relationship to religion generally and the Catholic church specifically. A Hibernophile Englishman, Haines plays the role of an amateur anthropologist, absorbing everything he can about the peculiar habits of the natives. Mulligan both encourages him and mocks him for this — Stephen keeps it at a distance.
There’s a conspicuous classical reference here–Mulligan’s flapping hands are associated with “Mercury’s hat.” Just a few moments ago, Mulligan referred to himself as “Mercurial Malachi.” When I first noticed this, I thought it was a direct link back to the Odyssey, imagining that Mercury visited Telemachus in Ithaca… but it’s Athena who visits him.
Mercury is the god of travellers, businessmen, messengers and the like. He’s not a bad match for Mulligan, as he is also associated with trickery and deception, particularly around money. Joyce’s schema for the chapter doesn’t say anything about Mercury, but he seems to be here anyway. Joyce’s first readers didn’t really know how closely the parallel to the Odyssey was built, though the title gives a pretty big clue. References like this one would have provided other reminders to the reader to keep Homer in the back of your mind as you read.
So if Mulligan is being associated with Mercury… what of it? What message is he bringing here?