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Mulligan sees he has gone too far with his teasing and condescension–more to the point, he is aware that dissheveled and depressed as Stephen may seem now, he has enormous potential as a writer, at least as a crafter of epigrams, and he wants to be on the right side of that power. He suggests that Stephen could probably get some money out of Haines for the ‘cracked lookingglass of a servant” idea, and he tries to enlist Stephen in his program to “Hellenise” Ireland. [Rob’s transformation of Mulligan into a Greek Apollo is just a taste of what the comics format can do for this book.]
What would it mean to “Hellenise” Ireland? A few pages ago I brought up the identity crisis of Ireland at the turn of the century–should it turn backwards to Irish history for its culture? Should it accept its place as a British capital? Mulligan’s interest in the Greeks (mumble your innuendo here) suggests a nominal interest in democracy, but a democracy of aristocrats, with a vibrant and metropolitan culture rooted in the ancient world. Doesn’t sound so bad. The Modernists were fascinated with the classical world–we are, after all, reading a book that is a descendant of the central story of ancient Greece. One of the significant intellectual forces propelling Modernism in the arts was the discovery of the original site of Troy in 1870 (so the Iliad is based on a real place and a real war! wild!).
So why isn’t Stephen interested? Because it is still looking backwards? Because there’s too much of a state power in it? Because it’s based on aristocratic and class-driven institutions? Joyce famously thought that the best kind of government to live under was a decaying and ineffectual empire–because it stayed out of his life and his work. His character Robert Hand, in the 1918 play Exiles, says “If Ireland is to become a new Ireland, she must first become European.” Robert Hand is based, in part, on Gogarty and should not necessarily be taken to speak for Joyce or Stephen Dedalus, but the line shows the pattern of thought at work here. Who does Ireland become in order to become something new and independent?
You see in the last panel of this page a moment of Stephen’s inner thought, just as you did a few pages ago when he was thinking about his mother. Mulligan’s reference to the “ragging” he gave Clive Kempthorpe is obscure, but Rob’s interpretation gives you the sense of what it’s about. So what’s with all the sexual threat here?