Study Guide

Ulysses Episode 2: Nestor

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Episode 2: Nestor

  • We open this chapter at about 10am at a classroom in Dalkey, a little village southeast of Dublin, where Stephen is questioning the students of his class about the campaigns of the Tarentine general Pyrrhus against the Romans.
  • When a student can't remember where a battle was, Stephen begins thinking about memory and the prophecies of William Blake.
  • The student admits that he forgets the place, and Stephen corrects him (but not before checking it in his own book).
  • Stephen remembers the famous line of Pyrrhus's. Exhausted after the battle, he said, "Another victory like that and we are done for" (2.10).
  • Stephen calls on Armstrong (a student in his class) to ask about the end of Pyrrhus, but then asks him progressively easier questions until it becomes apparent that Armstrong doesn't know who Pyrrhus is. When he guesses it has something to do with "pier" the other students crack up.
  • Stephen looks out at the laughing faces of his students and has mixed emotions, envy foremost among them. (Question: Why is he envious? Perhaps because they are happier than he is?)
  • Stephen picks up on Armstrong's pier, and calls Kingstown pier "a disappointed bridge" (2.22). He's joking about the fact that Ireland wanted to be connected to continental Europe but ended up being extremely isolated.
  • The students don't get it, and Stephen thinks that he will tell it to Haines later on. He thinks of how Haines treats him like a jester.
  • Stephen begins to think about how possibility relates to history in Aristotelian metaphysics.
  • The students want to hear a story (always trying to get the teacher off track, as usual), but Stephen has a student named Talbot begin reading from Milton's Lycidas instead.
  • As the boy reads, Stephen's memory again returns to metaphysics. He is particularly taken with Aristotle's idea that thought is the prime mover and thinks, "Thought is the thought of thought" (2.35).
  • Talbot continues reading, and Stephen thinks of Christ –one might say that he is present right there in the room.
  • Talbot begins packing up and informs Stephen that they have hockey at ten. Stephen offers to tell them a riddle.
  • They're all excited, and Stephen tells them the riddle, but they don't get it.
  • Though he doesn't admit it, it's a sort of riddle on riddles because it's impossible to come up with the answer unless you know it beforehand. The answer is, "The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush" (1.56).
  • The students all clamor outside for hockey. A student named Sargent approaches Stephen; he is carrying his notebook. Sargent made a bunch of errors doing math and the principal, Mr. Deasy, told him to copy them all again and have Stephen sign off on it.
  • Stephen asks if Sargent understands the sums enough to do them himself, and Sargent admits that he does not.
  • Stephen thinks of how pathetic Sargent is, but then thinks with sympathy of how much his mother must have loved him in order to keep him alive. Stephen thinks of his own mother, her death, and wonders if love is the only true thing in life.
  • Stephen solves the problem for Sargent, and thinks of some pre-Bruno philosophers and plays with some biblical passages in his head.
  • Stephen asks Sargent if he understands how to do the math problems, and Sargent says that he does.
  • Sargent copies out the data, and Stephen thinks of the Latin phrase "Amor matris," and how it is ambiguous between the love of the mother for the child and the love of the child for the mother.
  • Stephen thinks of how he was like Sargent when he was young – thinking of the secrets in his own heart, he imagines that they might be called tyrants.
  • Stephen tells Sargent the math is very simple, and Sargent readily agrees before heading out to join the others at hockey at Mr. Deasy's command.
  • Mr. Deasy gets called on to settle some disputes on the hockey field, and he asks Stephen to wait in his study for him while he deals with the students.
  • Stephen goes and sits in Deasy's office. He knows Deasy will bargain with him, and he thinks of what a bog Ireland is and how unchanging it all is.
  • Mr. Deasy comes in and pays Stephen two notes. He pulls out a fancy little savingsbox and finds another shilling there. He finishes paying Stephen.
  • Stephen thanks him and puts the money in his pocket.
  • Mr. Deasy tells him that he earned it, and tells him not to carry it loose like that. He suggests he get his own little savingsbox.
  • Stephen remembers that Deasy has given him this advice before. Chances are that he won't listen this time either.
  • Deasy chides Stephen for not saving any money, and quotes a line from Shakespeare having to do with the fact that money is power. Stephen notes that it is Iago (the villain from Othello) who speaks those lines.
  • Deasy goes on, oblivious, and asks what the proudest thing an Englishman can say is. Stephen thinks of Haines, and then offers a line from Herodotus, "That on his empire the sun never sets" (2.113).
  • Deasy incorrectly attributes this to a French Celt, and then says the greatest boast is that one has paid one's way. He asks if Stephen can say this.
  • Stephen thinks of all of his debts to various friends, and says that he cannot. Mr. Deasy is delighted, and says that though Englishmen are generous they must also be just (As we did with Haines, we're getting another picture of a condescending Englishman).
  • Stephen says, "I fear those big words which make us so unhappy" (2.122).
  • Mr. Deasy looks at the portrait of an Englishman that hangs over his mantle. He tells Stephen that though Stephen thinks of him as an old English-supporter, he knows more about Irish history than Stephen does and even has some rebel blood in him.
  • Mr. Deasy (again incorrectly) claims that his (claimed) ancestor John Blackwood went down to sign an act of Union with England.
  • Stephen thinks of some playful lines from the song "The Rocky Road to Dublin." In his head, he's poking fun at Deasy, but apparently doesn't consider him enough of an opponent to argue with him outright.
  • Deasy asks Stephen to deliver a letter to the press for him, but first says that he has to type off the end of it. While he types, Stephen surveys the office, and thinks of how Cranly (his friend from Portrait) offered him ways to get rich quick.
  • Stephen hears the students cry out after someone scores a goal in field hockey; he imagines himself out there among them.
  • Mr. Deasy finishes and tells Stephen the article has to do with foot and mouth disease.
  • We get Stephen's stream-of-consciousness as he scans over the letter. Mr. Deasy comments on his own writing ability, he then explains that he wants the letter printed and widely read.
  • The basic idea is that foot and mouth disease can be cured (suspicious), and that as a result there should be no embargo on Irish cattle sent to England.
  • Deasy then raises his finger and notes that Jews are the national problem of England. (anti-Semitism strikes again.) He says, "They are signs of a nation's decay" (2.148).
  • While Deasy is still making his stump speech, Stephen thinks of Blake's poem Auguries of Innocence.
  • Since Deasy is going on about how Jews have the financial market under their thumb, Stephen humbly notes that the definition of a merchant says nothing about whether he is Jew or gentile. Deasy says, "They sinned against the light. And you can see the darkness in their eyes" (2.153).
  • Stephen thinks of the men on the steps of the Paris stock exchange swarming like geese, and how time will bring an end to everything. It's clear that he and Deasy are talking at cross-purposes.
  • Stephen asks who has not (sinned against the light)?
  • Deasy doesn't get his meaning.
  • Stephen goes on, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" (2.157). Note that this is one of the most famous lines in all of Ulysses.(We'll dig further into it in the "Analysis" section.)
  • Outside Stephen hears the boys playing hockey. Deasy invokes God and claims that all of history is moving toward one specific goal.
  • Stephen points to the boys playing outside and says that is God: "A shout in the street" (2.165). With his one-liners, Stephen is making no effort to actually be understood by Deasy.
  • Deasy says that he is happier than Stephen, and notes all the errors of women throughout history culminating in the sin of Katherine O'Shea against "the uncrowned king of Ireland" Charles Stewart Parnell.
  • Stephen starts to leave, and Deasy thinks that Stephen will not remain long as a teacher.
  • Stephen says that he is a born learner rather than a teacher.
  • Deasy pedantically (in a preachy tone) tells him that one must be humble to learn and that life is the great teacher.
  • Deasy asks again if he can publish two copies of his articles, and says that he sent another to the head of the cattletraders' association. He asks again in which papers Stephen will try to get his article printed.
  • Stephen begins to answer, but Deasy cuts him off and sends him on his way. Deasy says that he enjoys breaking a lance with Stephen, and Stephen bows as he heads out.
  • As Stephen wanders out onto the field, he thinks that Mulligan will give him a new nickname, "the bullockbefriending bard" (2.186). In other words, Mulligan will make fun of him for helping a fool like Deasy place his article in the papers.
  • Deasy comes running out after him, all out of breath. He asks why Ireland is the only country not to have persecuted the Jews.
  • Stephen says he doesn't know, and Deasy says it is because they never let them in. He laughs disgustingly at his anti-Semitic joke.
  • Stephen watches Deasy run back into the schoolhouse; he notices how the sun hits the autumn leaves and gives them the appearance of dancing coins.

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