With an Ancient Greek Gloss on It

By Michael Godfrey

Finnegans Wake exhumes mythologies and theologies of cultures encompassing the whole of human experience. Not the least researched are references and correspondences to classical mythology, but the family of gods in the Greek creation myth offers a unique parallel to Joyce's ever-expansive Wakean family. In doing so, I will use as a guide a scholar of both classical mythology and the institution of family, Giambattista Vico.
In the Greek creation myth (and also in Genesis), an unnammable god divided timeless and formless Chaos -- "joepeter's gaseytotum" (FW, 426.21; 'Jupiter's gaseous universe,' L totum) -- into heaven and earth, the male Uranus and female Gaea. Uranus "the Rainmaker" (FW, 87.06) impregnates Gaea's clefts and rivervalleys with rainwater, spawning the powerful Titans, or the Giants, which are etymologically "sons of Earth." (NS, 13) Uranus's strongest son, Cronus (the Roman Saturn), murders his father and castrates him with an enormous sickle -- "an exitous erseroyal Deo Jupto." (FW, 353.18; 'exit of the once royal god, Jove'). This occurs in the "golden age" of Greece, or the divine age in the Viconian cycle (NS, 69). Gold is also the color Clive Hart assigns to this age. (Structure and Motif, 19)
The Wakean family's genesis also begins with the usurpation of power by a stronger, younger heir. Tim Finnegan, the god-like giant is replaced by Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, or HCE, representing all heroes and mock-heroes. The scope of HCE's character is so immense that it includes Tim Finnegan and all the manifestations of him that recirculate in the living world --"the father of fornicationists." (FW, 4.12) Similarily, in the male line of Greek gods, the heir must commit "regicide" (FW, 162.01) in order to make room for the new regime -- Cronus castrates Uranus, Father Sky, to become Father Time, Zeus kills Cronus in the Gigantomachy to become Thundergod. Each of these Joves reigns over their particular regime, and all religions of the world have a Jove. (NS, 9) Anna Livia is the wife of HCE, and is similarily Gaea or Juno to the male god, representing fertility, Mother Earth, and symbolizes the river, as in Yeats' Easter 1916. The fertility of Haveth Childers Everywhere and Anna Livia Plurabella creates dualities -- the dipolar opposite brothers, Shem and Shaun, and the leap-year girl, Isabel, who is very different from her mother.
In A Portrait, Dante threatens young Stephen, who is crouched on all fours under the dinnertable, "Apologise, if not, the eagles will come and pull out your eyes." (AP, 8) Dante thereafter instills piety and fear in Stephen. Vico believed that the fear of divinity arises in all nations from Jove's discipline of Prometheus, (NS, 503) who, chained to Mount Caucasus, is visited daily by a vulture who devours his liver, only for it to grow back the next day, continuing the cycle until the day Hercules unbinds him. Stephen's terrore defixi that causes him to recite the chiasmic chant, "Pull out his eyes, Apologise, Apologise, Pull out his eyes," is the same fear induced by the first thunder that drives bestial man to caves to begin civilized institutions -- "Cave!" (FW, 16.3) -- and Joyce to his closet saying "papa!" to create the institution of language. (NS, 387)
Since Joyce, Stephen, and Shem are all sons of the father figures of John Joyce, Simon Dedalus, and Earwicker, a parallel with Jove's son, Prometheus, holds throughout. In the Mutt and Jute episode, Shem and Shaun become the primordial opposite brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus, "furrowards [and] bagawards." (FW, 18.32).
The Letter written by Shem "the Punman" becomes Finnegans Wake and, in effect, the body of Joyce as much as Ulysses had. But before Shem can compose the Letter and before the reader can decipher it, we must evolve to the language of Vico's human age marked by the use of vulgar letters (NS, 32). Shem, as Prometheus, must bring the vulgar "allaphbed" to humans in order to read the "claybook" (FW, 18.17; as Prometheus also molds his four-legged humans from clay). Shem, as Mutt, whispers the secret to Jute: "He who runes may rede it on all fours." (FW, 18.05) The runes propogate in primordial man by "Gutenmorg's" "wordpress" through many "misses in prints" until the tale of another prostrate, shackled Titan is "bound" as the "book of Doublends Jined," Finn MacCool. (FW, 10.07-16)
At Mount Caucasus, or "causcaus," (FW, 378.15) that "original hen" picks at the pile of peat, pecking at the the entrails of the shackled sun-bringer, Prometheus, with "the last remains of an outdoor meal by some unknown sunseeker." (FW, 110.29) Shem, like Joyce, becomes the body of his art, and as Shaun relates, "his liver too is great value, a spatiality." (FW, 172.09; 'specialty') Shaun also describes Shem with "a loose liver," (FW, 169.17) perhaps because it eaten daily -- an artist's suffering, "mystery man of the pork martyrs." The liver was also special to Vico, representing bestial man's desires. As the blood center, the liver is the "conglomerate of passions of all animals." (NS, 701) An important step in the creation of civilized man is eradicating man's bestial tendancy. Therefore, when that "gnarlybird ygather[s]" the "all spoiled goods" (FW, 10.32, 11.18) from the giant outlined aslumber, she consumes man's bestial nature and leaves the fear of god injected by the first Thunderword to engender the pious, civilized man.
Shem as Prometheus "earwitness[es]" (FW, 5.14) the Thomas Robert Malthus' population theory people of the earth and the crash of the first Thunderword on that stormy "thundersday" (FW, 5.13): "As well as the auricular of Malthus, the promethean paratonnerwetter ..." (FW, 585.11; 'paratonnerwetter' - 'thunder weather' + 'stretched beside' + 'ill-sounding') Another passage sets the scene of the prostrate form, "fulse thortin guts" laid bare on the heights of the "causcaus" mountains (FW,378.12-15):

a gulp apologetic, healing his tare be the smeyle of his oye, oogling around. Him belly no belong sollow mole pigeon. Ally bully. Fu Li's gulpa. . . Moe like that only he stopped short in looking up up upfrom his tide shackled wrists through the ghost of an ocean's . . . scruting foreback into the fargoneahead to feel out what age in years tropical." (FW, 426.15-23)

Dante's threat to Stephen resurfaces with Shem/Mutt's damaged "eyegonblack" (FW, 16.29) which the eagle "gulped." The "sollow mole pigeon," Belinda the Hen, that has been pecking at the giant's insides, shows her identity as a bullying ALP. The reason for Shem's gastrocrucifixion and martyrdom is shown to be man's happy fault (L. O felix culpa), perhaps that is why Shem has a "smeyle" in his eye. Prometheus' identity is reinforced by his foresight and divination-- "Prometheus on the Promise of Provision." (FW, 297.L2; L. provisio, 'foresight')
In the Triv and Quad chapter (II.2), the matching section at the end matches 'Prometheus' with 'Santa Claus.' (FW, 307.L20, 307.16) If Prometheus hadn't given the gift of fire, then Santa Claus couldn't deliver gifts via a chimney. Another of Shem's identities is Nick, the devil, which is very close to Saint Nicholas, who becomes Santa Claus (or just mix the letters of 'Santa' into 'Satan').
Isabel is a freer unfettered spirit than her brothers. She leaps about traveling on the "regginbrow" and her self-reflective "Nursing Mirror" (FW, 46.25) shows the raw material of the mind of which the dream of Finnegans Wake is made, memory. "In effect, I remumble, from the yules gone by, purr lil murerof myhind." (FW, 295.04) She emulates the sister of the two primordial giants, Mnemosyne --"knew well in precious memory and that proud grace to her." (FW, 317.36). Her temperament is like that of mnemonics, fanciful and erratic--"balbly call to memory." (FW, 37.16; L balbus, 'stuttering') She embodies the creative spirit, "ars we say in the classsies. Kunstful, we others said." (FW, 357.15; Ger Kunst, art) As Vico writes, "imagination is nothing but the springing up again of reminiscences. (NS, 699) Isabel's twenty-eight schoolfriends, the "daughters of February," (FW, 470.04) are an extended panorama of the Greek Muses, covering all the new arts of the modern world. "She has a gift of seek in site and she allcasually ansars helpers, the dreamydears." (FW, 5.25) When memory degenerates there are many "blackout[s]," (FW, 617.14) such as in: "O'c'stle, n'c'stle, tr'c'stle, crumbling!," (FW, 18.05) and "m'm'ry." (FW, 460.20) Mutt, thinking about Dublin's Rathmines, where Joyce grew up, swears, "I trumple from rath in mine mines when I rimimirim!" (FW, 16.27; Ger. erinnern, remember)
The family cycle continues as the Viconian historical cycles turn, "Gyre O, gyre O, gyrotundo!" (FW, 295.23) Prometheus's son, Deucalion, and Epimetheus' daughter, Pyrrha, become the new Adam and Eve, HCE and ALP. In the new cycle, man is created again by the domesticism of marriage where, "in the names of Deucalion and Pyrrha," (179.09) stones (bestial man, Jute) are throne over their shoulders to become civilized men (Mutt). (NS, 79)

Works Cited:

Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. Viking Press : New York, 1976.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Viking Press : New York, 1968.

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. 3rd ed. (1744). trans. by Bergin, T. G. and Fisch, M. H. Cornell University Press : London, 1991.

Hart, Clive. Structure and Motif in Finnegans Wake. Northwestern University Press, 1971.

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