Remythologizing ulysses

Abstract. Mythology exists in the cultural life of human societies across the world, with a role of explaining “why the world is as it is and things happens as they do”. Mythology has constantly been present in the history of human literature, and in various forms. People can “reach” mythology by returning, rewriting, or continuing to write. Each writer uses the traditional myth-materials differently in their own unique creations. And we can call this the “remythologizing”.

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HNUE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1067.2017-0039 Social Sci., 2017, Vol. 62, Iss. 5, pp. 100-105 This paper is available online at REMYTHOLOGIZING ULYSSES Nguyen Linh Chi The Faculty of Philology, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. Mythology exists in the cultural life of human societies across the world, with a role of explaining “why the world is as it is and things happens as they do”. Mythology has constantly been present in the history of human literature, and in various forms. People can “reach” mythology by returning, rewriting, or continuing to write. Each writer uses the traditional myth-materials differently in their own unique creations. And we can call this the “remythologizing”. Keywords: Mythology, remythologizing Ulysses, unique creations. 1. Introduction Mythology, in its profound origin, is like a religion. Mythology exists in the cultural life of human societies across the world, with a role of explaining “why the world is as it is and things happens as they do”. Mythology is regarded as being similar to a religion, because “most myths are related to social rituals– set forms and procedures in sacred ceremonies” [1;230] of the society. However, it is not entirely accurate to consider that mythology is born from rituals or the opposite, rituals give birth to mythology. It is owing to the strong connection between mythology and the cultural life of a human society that mythology spontaneously enters the consciousness of everyone in that society. And like the archetype, from its presence in the collective unconscious of the human race, mythology naturally exists in the unconscious mind of the individuals. In the beginning of his treatise about mythology in modern novels, John J. White quoted the German novelist Hermann Broch when he called the XX century “The Mythical Age”. Without a doubt, the XX century was not when writers started paying attention to mythology. Mythology has constantly been present in the history of human literature, and in various forms. However, the XX century – with the establishment and development of modernism – had become the breeding ground for mythology to continuously revitalising. John J. White compared mythology to the Greek god Proteus, always transforming, changing unpredictably, and extremely difficult to grasp. People can “reach” mythology by returning, rewriting, or continuing to write. The clear differentiation of various forms of mythology in literature is not usually easy and always confuses readers. Because even a modern creation like Ulysses of James Joyce is, Received date: 15/12/2017. Published date: 1/5/2017. Contact: Nguyen Linh Chi, e-mail: 100 Remythologizing Ulysses sometimes, categorised into the “return to myth” type. Whereas, the “return”, according to Hermann Broch, meant “a return to myth in its ancient forms, and so far, it is not a new myth, not the new myth” [2;3-4]. So, “return to myth”, to us, is not the accurate designation for the creations of modern novelists like Borch, Mann, or Joyce. The works of such modernized novelists are definitely “new myth”. They developed “new myth” by “returning to the traditional myth-material” [2;9]. Each writer uses the traditional myth-materials differently in their own unique creations. And we can call this the “remythologizing”. 2. Content One of the most commonly used material in the literature life of humanity is the mythology about the journey of searching/pursuing (the Holy Grail) and adventuring (Odyssey). The Holy Grail is a fabled item used to keep sacrificial blood for Jesus, and is also considered to be the grail He used in the last supper. The search for the Holy Grail occurred in the time of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. In the last hundreds of years, the Holy Grail was the most hunted treasure because it was seen as the symbol of the connection to Christianity. In the vision of modern novelists, mythology is revived and supplemented with the vitality of the new age: journey to find the essence. The Odyssey myth was the same. The adventure in the vast open ocean in 10 years of Odyssey was not simply a journey to return home. It was also deeply inspiring in its metaphors about the adventure of exploring and discovering, the perpetual movement, and the human desires. The battle of Troy ended after 10 years of the Greek army going to Troy to reclaim the dignity for their families and home country. The end of the 10-year battle had opened up another 10-year journal for the Greek soldiers to find the way back to their beloved country Ithaca. Nobody ever asked why it took 10 years for the Greek soldiers to come home when they could travel swiftly to Greece to wage the famous war 10 years before. The journey home to Greece was the focal topic of the epic poem Odyssey. Odyssey praised the magnificent mind and the formidable bravery of the hero Ulysses. In 10 years, Ulysses had conquered numerous menacing dangers on the immense ocean to find the way back to his beloved homeland. Homer concluded the heroic poetry with the reunion of Ulysses and his faithful Penelope and his son Telemachus after 20 years apart. Ulysses and his son chased away the obnoxious proposers and ruled his kingdom. The name Ulysses became a symbol for the people who are willing to dedicate themselves to the dangers of their life journey. The symbol for the heroes in Greek poem became an unending inspiration, boundless by time, empowered and accreted with many layers of meaning throughout each generation of literature. Two thousand years after Homer, Dante Alighieri mentioned the hero Ulysses in his masterpiece Divine Comedy. He resumed the journey of Ulysses after Homer let the hero rest with his happy family inside the kingdom of Ithaca. Completely opposite to the image of a hero with a sharp mind and unparalleled bravery in Homer’s epic, Ulysses was now imprisoned in the 8th floor of The Inferno, engulfed in flames and weeping. In the epic of Homer, we could see a hero with flesh and bone, however in The Inferno of Dante, Ulysses was only a soul. Dante continued the Homer’s epic with the death of the hero. In the tale that Ulysses soul told, we knew that he never stopped after his adventure and homecoming journeys ended. A beautiful wife, a mannerly son, a good fortune and a 101 Nguyen Linh Chi kingdom – all is not enough to hold back the hero’s strides: “nor fondness for my son, nor reverence for my aged father, nor Penelope’s claim to the joys of love, could drive out of my mind the lust to experience the far-flung world and the failing and felicities of mandkind” [3;225 – 226]. The desire to conquer and capture had urged Ulysses to give up his philistine life to pursue “morality and wisdom” in his adventurous journey. So, Dante added a new story into the old myth, and readers could now know more “news” about the legendary hero. The continuing story seemed to hold a modern life philosophy: the life of a person cannot be measured by its length, but the value of his experiences. Inheriting the inspirations from the myth of the wise and gifted Greek hero and extending the concerns of the Italian Renaissance poet, Alfred Tennyson composed the poem titled Ulysses. Completed in 1833 and published in 1842, the poem acted like a narration of Ulysses, about his life after coming back to his beloved home country Ithaca. Peacefully enjoying his normal life after 20 years away, on his mighty throne, Ulysses, peculiarly, felt unsatisfied: “It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these baren crags, Matchs with an ages wife...” [4;55] The disengagement and peace made Ulysses feel unaccustomed. He missed the places that he set foot on: “the cities of people, the customs, climates, councils, governments”. And most importantly, the alluring passion “in the battles alongside comrades”. The heroic past with glorious triumphs always came back in his thoughts. Living in the present but his mind belonged to the past and compared it with the future. Consequently, he realised that he craved the adventures like before more than the current life on his mighty throne with his beautiful wife and mannerly son. At the end of the poem, Ulysses decided to pass his throne to his son Telemachus and committed himself into a new journey: “Tis not too late to seek a newer world”. Although: “...heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” [4;57]. Tennyson “continued” the ancient epic with the sensation of people from his era. The conflict between the past and the present occurred quite vigorously inside Ulysses’s mind. Behind the peaceful life in the Ithaca kingdom was the aridity of the human spirit when he was pleased with himself. Journey, to find, to seek. To strive, and not to yield. The last sentence in the poem was like a call to raise the morale of writers in the Victoria era. If the journey of Ulysses in the work of Tennyson was only an intention, then Jack London brought us across the northern part of America following the adventure of An Odyssey of the North. The story was about Naass, an Indian man who had the bloodline of the tribal king of Akatan, devoting himself to a decade-long journey to 102 Remythologizing Ulysses track Alex Gunderson, the man who stole Naass’s newlywed bride, Unga, on the night of their marriage celebration. Having no clues about the whereabouts of his nemesis, Naass went on an extremely arduous and challenging journey to find a boat that carried a “yellow-haired giant” and a petite Indian woman. Starting from the Akatan sea on a monoxylon, Naass crossed the ocean to the East, then to the South, and to the North. After traveling across the vast ocean, from the Russian coastline to the English ocean, and experiencing horrendous storms, Naass set foot on the land and again travelled through “thousands of cities” to trace the paths of his nemesis. The thirst for vengeance had given Naass strong vigor to overcome countless dangers in his indefinite journey. At last, Naass found Axel Gunderson and Unga, lured them to go to “the east where many have gone and few returned, where the bones and the curses of men lie with the gold which they may not have”, where “ men; only the sleeping river, the moveless forest, and fhe White Silence of the North” [5;270], where “...mighty mountains shoved their white heads among the stars...” [5;271]. It was thought that the adventure of Naass was finished when he had eliminated his nemesis, and he would bring his beautiful Unga to the peaceful Akatan sea to live their serene days. However, when Naass was dwelling in victory, “sudden the hate flamed in her eye, her hand was at my hip. And once, twice, she passed the knife”. This strenuous journey did not end with a reunion like in Homer’s epic, not did it end in a future intention like Tennyson did. In the end, the most difficult thing in the painful adventure of Ulysses-Naass was the journey to explore the human heart. The everlasting hunger, thirst, freezing cold, and hardship, Naass can endure and overcome, but he was not able to understand and win over the little woman because her heart belonged to Gunderson, the man who stole her away in her wedding night. Coming from the myth, the symbol of Ulysses was accreted with many layers of meaning through eras of history. The XX century marked the exceptional symbol of the modern Ulysses in the novel with the same name by James Joyce. Ulysses was estimated as: “the most famost remythologizing of Odysseus” [6;57]. The novel told a story about a normal day in the life of a marketer named Leopold Bloom in the capital city of Ireland, Dublin. His journey started at 8am on 16/06/1904 and ended at 2am on 17/06/1904. The adventure of the modern-day Ulysses also came across the familiar paths like in Homer’s epic: wandering into the cave of the witch Circe, seeing the beautiful Sirens with mesmerizing voices, crossing the ocean channel guarded by the sea monsters Charybdis and Scylla, facing the fierce man-eaters and drifting to the island of the Sun God. However, the similarity between Odyssey of Homer and Ulysses of Joyce only lies between the title and chapters. The timescale is not the same: 10 years and 1 day. The spatial setting is unfamiliar: one is the vast and deep ocean in the Mediterranean Sea, the other is the small Dublin in Ireland. The adventure journal is an utter mockery: the hero of Odyssey experienced at least ten journeys, faced dangers so immense that death was always knocking at the door and temptations so great that resisting themwas already a glorious victory. On the other hand, the modern Ulyseses of Joyce in his one-day adventure only carried out trivial and meaningless matters. He stopped by the post-office to get the letter from an unknown lover, came over to the pharmacy to buy a block of soap, came to the editorial office, wandered on the beach, went to the maternity hospital and went to a brothel. . . Ulysses became a symphony about human in a normal, typical life. The feeling 103 Nguyen Linh Chi of being overwhelmed by the vast ocean was replaced by loneliness, isolation, and strangeness. The excitement and eagerness of an adventurer to come home now gave place for boredom. A person started his journey to follow a call to return home, whereas the other followed a leaving call. Who knows which journey is more arduous! The people and important events in the journey ofOdyssey were now portrayed under different shapes and forms. The Sirens were now barmaids; the witch Circe was now the keeper of the Bella brothel; the island of the Sun God was the maternity hospital; the lotus-eater was the coachman. . . At the end of the strenuous 10-year adventure, Homer’s Ulysses returned to reunite with his faithful wife. At the end of the 1-day adventure, Joyce’s Ulysses returned to the house he left in the morning and dwelled himself into the bed that was still full of intimate scents from his wife and her lover. Throughout each era, the symbol of Ulysses has been coated with a new layer and making it have more meaning. At the beginning of the remythologizing of Ulysses myth, Dante chose to “continue writing”. The added story became an important suggestion for later remythologization. Although the inspiration for the masterpiece Ulysses of Tennyson originated from a dreadful loss after the death of his best friend, poet Arthur Henry Hallam, the message it left for readers was not distressing. From the painful losses of his life, the poet contemplated a life principle that to live is to fight to the death. That message was thoroughly delivered to his readers. The word “fight” was suggestive with a profound connotation: the fight with oneself is the most ferocious fight. With An Odyssey of the North, Jack London showed readers the other side of lives in the paradise land of America. People flock to America, the dream land, where they can suddenly dig a whole gold mine and become wealthy. In order to survive in the harshness of the environment and of mankind, they are forced to lie, betray, rob, and kill each other. The return of Naass after the death of the Unga couple showed the everlasting faith and the heart to keep one’s promise. However, it seemed like Jack London wanted to implement another deeper meaning. The decade-long journey of Naass to trace his nemesis ended without him achieving his goal. Was that the ludicrousness of destiny? His youthful years suddenly became meaningless when he helplessly watched as his wife Unga lay on snow, shoving her face into his nemesis’s yellow hair. The winner was the one lying lifelessly on the white snow, not Naass. Remaining in the sensational inspiration about the modern-day human, Joyce’s Ulyssesmade readers ponder many things. The journey that he carried out, on the outside, was extremely insignificant comparing to the dangers that the mythical hero had to bear. However, if we think about it, it was not easy for him to confront and fight with his own self. In careful consideration, that is the most intimidating opponent in anyone’s life. It is because that type of enemy is so familiar to us that we cannot materialize, characterize, and identify it. It is thousands of times more horrifying than Charybdis and Scylla. 3. Conclusion Despite having many layers of meaning, the Ulysses myth is still closely connected with adventures. Be it the arduous journey overcoming danger, death, hunger and thirst; the journey inside the human spirit to find and overcome one’s self; or the journey to find the essence of life. . . Mythology is created in the cultural life of the primal society and it does not stop existing throughout different generations. Remythologizing in literature 104 Remythologizing Ulysses is a way of keeping mythology present in the life of humanity along with its ancient and modern elements, and a way for human to cling onto the past and look into the future. This product belongs to the Thesis of Ministry of Education & Training: “Approaching to Joyce’s Novels from Western Cultural”, Codes – B 2016 – SPH – 14. REFERENCES [1] M. H. Abrams & Geoffrey Galt Harpham, 2012. A Glossary of Literature Terms, Tenth Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, USA. [2] John J. White, 1971. Mythology in the Modern Novel. Princeton University Press, USA. [3] Dante Alighieri, 1971. The Divine Comedy, Nguyen Van Hoan translated, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi. [4] J F. Parvin Sharpless, 1984. Symbol and Myth in Modern Literature, Hayden Book Company, Inc., New Jersey, USA. [5] Jack London, 1900. An Odyssey of the North, first published as The Son of the Wolf, Mii&Boon Publisher, London. [6] J F. Parvin Sharpless, 1984. Symbol and Myth in Modern Literature, Hayden Book Company, Inc., New Jersey, USA. 105