It's about 11am, and Stephen has come to Dublin from Dalkey by way of public transportation. As you might recall, he has a set meeting with Mulligan at 12:30, and in the meantime he has wandered down to Sandymount Strand (the beach at the east-most side of Dublin) to stroll along the beach and think.
(NOTE: This chapter is full of obscure allusions. We try to help you with some of them, but the main thing we do is straighten out the twists and turns of Stephen's thought for you. Check out the "Analysis" section for a more in-depth look at Stephen's thought, but if you really want to get into the nit and the grit of it then dive into Don Gifford's "Ulysses" Annotated.)
Stephen thinks about different theories of vision, Aristotle's in particular. He also considers Bishop Berkeley's theory that there is no such thing as matter, and how Aristotle refuted it (same way Samuel Johnson did, by hitting something made up of matter. In other words, he appealed to common sense.).
Stephen closes his eyes and taps his way along the beach with his walking stick.
Stephen wanders along the beach and thinks about his movement along the beach in relation to the German Gotthold Lessing's theory of the difference between visual arts and poetry. (According to this theory, action is progressive [nacheinander] versus stationary [nebeneinander]). He puns on an Irish tune as he passes by the Church of Mary, and then thinks of his steps in relation to poetic meter.
He opens his eyes.
Stephen imagines for a moment that he is trapped in eternal darkness, then looks up to Leahy's terrace and observes a couple coming down onto the beach. The woman is a carrying a midwife's bag and he thinks that perhaps there is a misbirth in it with a trailing navelcord. He imagines the umbilical cord as something that runs back through history and time and binds all men together, and the thinks of it like a telephone line and imagines that he can call Eden by dialing "nought, nought, one" (3.6).
Stephen thinks of Adam and Eve, and how his existence was also ordained by God and is evidence of God's will. He (as before) remains pre-occupied with how the Father and Son can be of one substance, and then thinks of the heretic Arius who wanted to return to the faith, but died in a public toilet and was mocked by his rivals.
Stephen notes that he was "made not begotten" meaning that his soul is not of one essence with his father's as is the case with God and Jesus (3.8). We notice that even though Stephen speaks like a heretic he's obsessed with religious ideas and imagery.
The waves roll in and Stephen imagines them as the manes of the horses of the Irish God of the Sea (Mananaan).
Stephen remembers Deasy's letter for the press, and he remembers that he is supposed to meet Buck Mulligan and Haines at The Ship at 12:30.
He slows down when he passes by his Aunt Sara's house. He imagines his father asking Sara about him and making fun of how he has not flown as high as he would have liked (Note the allusion to Icarus and Daedalus).
Stephen is ashamed of his family.
Stephen then imagines the scene if he were to enter Sara's house. He would be let in by his young cousin Walter and then would be greeted by his uncle Richie from bed. Richie would abuse Walter and demand that he prepare a malt and a seat for Stephen (this is all imagined, remember).
At the mental cry of the Italian 'All'erta!' Stephen snaps out of his dream (3.30). He thinks of the opera, and then considers how he is from a house of decay just as the Ferrando's Italian opera depicts the house of Cain and Abel as one of decay.
He thinks of the heretic Abbas and the famous misanthropy of Jonathan Swift. He imagines Swift climbing up a pole to get away from the people and all the false priests gathering around and calling for him to descend.
Stephen thinks of Dan Occam who coined Occam's razor (philosophical idea that a logical argument should be as concise as possible), and then he thinks of priests and his early saintly ambitions. He imagines his early longing, and his literary ambition. He jokingly and self-deprecatingly thinks of how he imagined the critical acclaim around his books.
Stephen feels the water run up through his feet, and smells the sewage of Dublin which has been dumped into the Liffey and run off into the ocean.
He notices that he has passed his aunt Sara's house, and realizes that he will not go there (Notice how trapped in his head Stephen is. He barely maintains touch with the physical world at all.).
Stephen turns northeast toward Pigeonhouse.
He thinks of the Virgin Mary's claim that she was impregnated by a pigeon (recorded in La Vie de Jésus by M. Leo Taxil).
He recalls spending time with Kevin Egan in Paris, another Irishman in exile. He recalls some of their conversations, and how they dressed, and how poor they were. He recalls being a medical student, and how he used to carry punched tickets everywhere so that if there were a murder, he would have an alibi.
Stephen remembers a time in Paris when he went to the post office with his mother's money order, but arrived too late. He again recalls how huge his ambitions were when he went to Paris, how he thought that he would be like a great Irish missionary.
Then Stephen remembers the brief telegram from his father that ended his time in Paris, "Mother dying come home father" (3.51).
He again recalls Buck Mulligan's claim that he killed his mother, and a few lines from the Irish songwriter Percy French's, "Matthew Hanigan's Aunt."
Stephen recalls the atmosphere of Paris: its sights and sounds.
He recalls his time with the Irish nationalist Kevin Egan. Egan would tell him all sorts of stories over cigarettes about his involvement with the Irish nationalists, and the peculiar habits of the French. Because Egan was involved in violence as a nationalist, when he would roll his cigarettes it made Stephen think of gunpowder.
In Stephen's memory, Egan goes on about being a spurned lover, and reflects on his position as an Irish exile in Paris. He asks Stephen to give his regards to the people back home.
Stephen feels the wet sand on his boots, and realizes that he has gone quite far. He thinks that he will turn back.
He thinks of Haines and Buck Mulligan waiting for him back in the tower, and vows again not to go back. He imagines a way back, and then sits for a moment on a stool of rock, putting his walking stick in a crack.
Stephen sees the bloated carcass of a dog, and thinks, "These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here" (3.62). He free-associates a wee-bit.
A live dog comes running toward him, and for a moment he is frightened. Then it turns and runs back to two people walking along the beach. Stephen thinks they were probably messing around (Note how the physical world is becoming more prominent in the episode. We are no longer just stuck in Stephen's thoughts.).
Stephen thinks of when the Vikings came to the beach, and the ways in which his life is continuous with theirs.
The dog comes running back, and then Stephen thinks of various pretenders throughout history. He wonders if he is a pretender. He thinks of his cowardice, and recalls a man that was drowned recently. He wonders if he would swim out to sea and save him. It makes him think of how he could not save his mother, and he is overcome with a sense of loss.
Stephen observes the people and their dog on the beach. The dog sniffs the dead dog's carcass, and the people yell at it to get away. The dog wanders off and begins digging, and it makes Stephen think of the riddle that he told in class that day.
Stephen recalls a dream he had the night before about a man with a melon leading him down a red carpet.
He observes the man and the woman, and the woman makes him think of a sexual encounter that he had in Fumbally's lane. (In other words, we learn that Stephen continued to see prostitutes, as he did in Portrait.)
Stephen thinks of some lines from "The Rogue's Delight in Praise of his Strolling Mort," by Richard Head.
He thinks of Aquinas and how prickly his philosophy is, and imagines that his own language is no worse than Aquinas's.
The couple passes, and they look at Stephen's hat. Stephen begins improvising on Percy Bysshe Shelley's Hellas and then gets carried away with wordplay. He starts jotting down a poem on a scrap from Deasey's letter. (Note: this is the first time we see him create anything.)
Stephen wonders who will ever read his poem and feels very lonely.
Stephen tries to imagine a woman that would be the subject of his poem. He thinks of a girl that he glanced at in a bookstore, and feels a poignant loneliness. He realizes that he does not know "that word known to all men," i.e., love (3.80).
Stephen leans back on the rock and tries not to brood. He worries that his walking cane will float away as the tide comes up. Then Stephen pees.
Stephen thinks of the corpse of the recently drowned man rising to the surface of the water and the people pulling it in.
He thinks of how mild a death at sea is for a man, and takes his walking stick. He muses on poetry, and then thinks of how bad his teeth are. He wonders if he has enough money to go to a dentist.
Stephen tries to remember if he picked up his handkerchief after Mulligan threw it at him. When he realizes he didn't, he picks his nose.
He thinks that he doesn't care who sees, but then gets worried that there is someone behind him. He sees a ship coming into the bay.