By Jessica Svendsen

“Hades,” the sixth episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, marks Bloomsday as the day of a funeral. This episode follows Bloom at 11:00 in the morning as he travels with the funeral procession from Paddy Dignam’s home in Sandymount to Glasnevin cemetery. According to the Gilbert schema, Joyce described the narrative technique of “Hades” as “incubism [after incubus, an evil male spirit said to produce nightmares],” with religion as the art and the heart (Paddy Dignam dies of a heart attack) as the organ of this episode.[1]


“Hades” begins with the journey to Glasnevin Cemetery for Paddy Dignam’s funeral. Bloom enters a worn-down cab, noted by its mildewed and buttonless leather seats that are littered with crumbs from a picnic party. These leftovers signal potential love-making by the previous occupants—Joyce repeatedly inserts life (or the creation of life) into an episode of death. Three other occupants share the carriage that follows behind Dignam’s hearse: Martin Cunningham, Mr. Power, and Simon Dedalus. This is the first appearance in Ulysses of Simon—Stephen Dedalus’s father who figures prominently in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Martin Cunningham is another character who has appeared before in Joyce’s novels. In Dubliners, Martin Cunningham appears in the story “Grace” and is described as “a thoroughly sensible man, influential and intelligent. His blade of human knowledge, natural astuteness particularized by long association with cases in the police courts, had been tempered by brief immersions in the water of general philosophy.” [2] The fourth occupant of the carriage, Mr. Power, appears in the same story and is described as “a much younger man [employed] in the Royal Irish Constabulary Office in Dublin Castle. His inexplicable debts were a byword in his circle; he was a debonair young man” (Quoted in Gilbert 161). Later on the episode, Mr. Kernan, another character in “Grace,” joins the mourners, along with the reporter Joseph Hynes, who appears in the Dubliners story “Ivy Day in the Committee Room.”

As the cab begins its journey through Dublin, Simon Dedalus notes the “fine old custom” (6.36) of the funeral procession journeying through the center of the city so that all may watch and pay their last respects.[3] As they drive towards Glasnevin, the party recalls other scenes of death. The cab passes Reuben J. Dodd, who offered the boatman a florin for rescuing his son from committing suicide by drowning—yet another episode of drowning in Ulysses. Simon Dedalus comments that the florin was “One and eightpence too much,” thereby implicitly questioning the “value (or valuelessness)” of life (6.291).[4] This florin floats throughout Ulysses and reappears in later episodes. In “Hades,” the florin represents the Greek myth of “paying respects to the dead.” A coin was placed on the deceased eyes so that the dead would be able to pay the boatman, cross the river Styx, and enter Hades. Simon, therefore, would refuse such an offering for those who commit suicide. They are all unsympathetic to suicide, all except Bloom. The mourners also pass the house of Childs, who perhaps murdered his brother. As stories of death interrupt their journey to the cemetery, when they ultimately reach the gravesite they become literally surrounded by stories of the dead, with the graves of Mrs. Dedalus, Daniel O’Connell, and Parnell nearby. Bloom thinks: “How many! All these here once walked round Dublin. Faithful departed. As you are now so once were we” (6.960-1). Bloom’s thoughts are dominated by the nature of death, the frequency of it, and the ritualistic pomp following it.

The cab also passes “a lithe young man, clad in mourning, a wide hat” (6.39-40). This young man is exiled Stephen, who at this time of the day, is unable to return to Martello tower. This sighting incites Mr. Dedalus, who recalls his son’s propensity to spend time with “lowdown crowd”—namely, Buck Mulligan (6.63). To Simon, Buck Mulligan is a “contaminated bloody doubledyed ruffian by all accounts. His name stinks all over Dublin” (6.64-5). Biographer Richard Ellmann stresses the importance of Stephen’s appearance in the sixth episode because it concludes “the separate movement of Bloom and Stephen: hereafter they begin, unconsciously at first, to work together rather than apart…Their spiritual kinship, which is eventually to make them putative son and father, is postulated firmly by the end of the Hades episode. Joyce hinted as much by making the circle the geometrical symbol of Hades” (Ellmann 46, 56).

Simon’s rampage, being “Full of his son,” prompts Bloom to think about his own son Rudy (6.74). Earlier, Bloom remembers preparing the corpse of Rudy to be ready for burial (6.17-20). Now, he imagines life if “little Rudy had lived. See him grow up. Hear his voice in the house. Walking beside Molly in an Eton suit. My son. Me in his eyes. Strange feeling it would be. From me. Just a chance” (6.75-7). After imagining Rudy’s life, his mind wanders backward to the occasion of his conception—“Give us a touch, Poldy. God, I’m dying for it. How life begins”—and then looks forward to Molly’s pregnancy—“Got big then…My son in her” (6.80-3). This passage reveals Bloom’s constant preoccupation with his unconsummated relationship with Molly after Rudy’s death. Though Bloom never discusses it directly, it is always a looming presence. Bloom feels that he cannot create additional life if it inexorably leads to death. Rudy will continue to haunt Bloom throughout his day, culminating in his apparition in the “Circe” episode.

They next pass Blazes Boylan, Molly’s afternoon lover, who is out “airing his quiff” (6.196).[5] The sight of Boylan has a “disquieting effect” on Bloom, who begins to carefully inspect his nails in order to distract his own thoughts (Gilbert 162). However, Joyce punningly exploits the possible semantic meanings of the word “nail” and links Blooms close examination of his fingernails to an allusion to the crucifixion, as if this self-restraint was his form of suffering. Indeed, this intense inspection is one form of Bloom’s self-restraint. Bloom repeatedly averts seeing Blazes Boylan and avoids returning home, so as to not interrupt (or confront) his wife’s afternoon love-affair.

As the conversation develops in the cab, Bloom begins to distance himself from “Christian conceptions of death” (Ellmann 49). After learning that Paddy Dignam died of a heart attack—a “sudden death”—Bloom replies: “The best death…No suffering. A moment and all is over. Like dying in sleep” (6.311-4). His fellow mourners are wide-eyed and shocked into silence; a “sudden death” would not allow sufficient time for the last religious rites. This consideration of possible endings leads Mr. Power to contemplate and scorn suicide:

—But the worst of all, Mr Power said, is the man who takes his own life.
Martin Cunningham drew out his watch briskly, coughed and put it back.
—The greatest disgrace to have in the family, Mr Power added.
—Temporary insanity, of course, Martin Cunningham said decisively. We must take a charitable view of it.
—They say a man who does it is a coward, Mr Dedalus said.
—It is not for us to judge, Martin Cunningham said.
Mr Bloom, about to speak, closed his lips again. Martin Cunningham’s large eyes. Looking away now. Sympathetic human man he is. Intelligent. Shakespeare’s face. Always a good word to say. They have no mercy on that here or infanticide. Refuse christian burial…Found in the riverbed clutching rushes (6.335-49).

Joyce does not reveal Bloom’s unspoken thoughts on this conversation until pages after—Martin Cunningham chides Mr. Power for his indiscretion in discussing suicide before Bloom because Bloom’s father poisoned himself—“Verdict: overdose. Death by misadventure” (6.363-4). This lapse illustrates Joyce’s use of delayed decoding; Joyce withholds complete explication of Bloom’s thoughts until later in the narrative.

The atmosphere of Joyce’s “Hades” parallels the graveyard scene in Hamlet, and allusions to Shakespeare’s scene are directly expressed in this episode. Bloom numbers the gravediggers and admires Shakespeare’s “profound knowledge of the human heart” (6.793). Bloom contemplates those who are “[refused] christian burial,” like Ophelia who was “Found in the riverbed clutching rushes.” As Ophelia’s suicide is considered a sin, Rudolf Bloom’s suicide is similarly looked down upon. Joyce shows in “Hades” the proper conversations that occur at funerals and also the improper thoughts that happen behind them. By collapsing literary register of religion with the language of farce, Joyce brings two different and opposite registers of language together. The comic treatment of Paddy Dignam’s funeral is embedded in teleological considerations of suicide. Using the Hamlet graveyard scene as source material illustrates Joyce’s juxtaposition of a high ritualistic language of religion with a low, vulgar language, full of parody.

When the gravediggers are about to lower Dignam’s coffin to its resting place, Bloom first notices the man in the mackintosh. Bloom has never seen this person before, yet the man in the mackintosh will figuratively reappear to Bloom throughout the day. Despite being unknown to all the mourners, Hynes will record this mystery man as a funeral attendee under the name M’Intosh. Critics and readers have been unable to conclusively determine the identity or significance of the man in the mackintosh. Only Stuart Gilbert ventures to give M’Intosh a Homeric parallel; Gilbert compares M’Intosch with the Argive seer Theoclymenus. This soothsayer appears to Telemachus in Book 15 of The Odyssey as “a man from a far-off country came toward him now, / a fugitive out of Argos: he had killed a man… / He was a prophet…But then he was made to go abroad to foreign parts, / fleeing his native land.”[6] For Gilbert, the man in the mackintosh is also a wandering exile.

When Odysseus visits Hades, the dead begin to speak to him. When Bloom re-imagines the abode of the dead, he envisions the dead speaking through a gramophone. There would be a “gramophone in every grave or [kept] in the house” so that the record of the deceased could be ceremoniously played to the bereaved after Sunday dinners (6.963-4). Joyce inserts the gramophone as another competing idea to Christian immortality. Joyce offers the possibility of being able to live forever by recording your voice on a gramophone. Being able to record one’s life narrative links the gramophone to the immortality of the author—Joyce can achieve an immortality in print by “recording” a novel and can make his characters immortal, by being recorded in this novel.

Homeric Parallels

This episode has a number of recognizable Homeric parallels than the symbolic or metaphoric recollections in other episodes. Joyce and Homer each record a journey and visit to the realm of the dead: Hades and Glasnevin Cemetery. Ellmann argues that Joyce’s decision to redirect the narrative to a “descent to Hades [was] pivotal for Odysseus as well, since it was in Hades that he learned his eventual fate and that of his companions. More than this, it was a sudden, solemn changes of perspective, the only part of the Odyssey where the seafaring hero goes underground. Joyce took up this challenge by situating his episode in Glasnevin cemetery; there as in Hades the denizens are dead and the living are interlopers. No ghosts rise, thought the ‘memory of the dead’ is sharp and clear” (Ellmann 46-47). Joyce displays Bloom’s strong attachments to the dead he has already lost—particularly for his son Rudy and his father—just as Homer illustrates Odysseus’s affections for the dead he encounters, especially his mother. During Odysseus’s long absence from Ithaca, his mother died from grief and longing for her son. When Odysseus sees her again in Hades, he describes how “the ghost / of my mother came! My mother, dead and gone now…she cannot bear to look me in the eyes— / her own son—or speak a word to me. How, / lord, can I make her know me for the man I am?” (Homer 11.94-95, 163-165). There is a physical and emotional gulf between Odysseus and his mother that parallels Stephen’s fraught relationship with his mother. Though Stephen was able to return home to be beside his mother’s deathbed, Mae Dedalus continues to haunt his thoughts just as Odysseus’s mother emerges before him as a phantom, unable to speak or look at her son.

Most characters in this episode have a direct Homeric parallel. The deceased Paddy Dignam is the modern embodiment of Elpenor, who, on Circe’s island, became intoxicated and climbed to the roof of Circe’s palace to sleep. The following morning, he broke his neck from falling off the roof. Elpenor is the first to greet Odysseus in Hades and pleads with him to give him a proper burial once he returns home—a request the Odysseus ultimately fulfills. Dignam’s death was equally sudden, and Molly Bloom will later describe Paddy Dignam as a “comical little teetotum always stuck up in some pub corner,” implying that Dignam and Elpenor share similar careless behavior (18.1281-2). Yet Joyce’s descriptions of Dignam also directly allude to Elpenor’s name; Bloom describes Dignam with a “Blazing face: redhot. Too much John Barleycorn. Cure for a red nose” and later, Dignam’s son will describe how “His face got all grey instead of being red like it was” (6.307-8, 10.1161). According to Gilbert, the Semitic root of Elpenor’s name means “the blazing-face” (Gilbert 166). Martin Cunningham is doomed to be the figure of Sisyphus, a character condemned to the eternal punishment of pushing a monstrous boulder to the summit of a steep hill, at which point, it would always roll down again. Cunningham’s weight is his “awful drunkard of a wife…Setting up house for her time after time and then pawning the furniture on him every Saturday almost. Leading him the life of the damned. Wear the heart out of a stone, that. Monday morning. Start afresh. Shoulder to the wheel” (6.349-53). The cemetery caretaker, John O’Connell, a well-known and respected Dublin character, embodies Hades himself. All of the mourners pointedly praise the caretaker. For Bloom, O’Connell’s marriage echoes Hades’s abduction of Persephone. Bloom thinks: “Fancy being his wife. Wonder he had the gumption to propose to any girl. Come out and live in the graveyard. Dangle that before her. It might thrill her at first. Courting death” (6.746-9). The mourners also visit the gravestones of Daniel O’Connell and Parnell, replicas of Hercules and Agamemnon, respectively (Gilbert 169). Bloom’s final encounter with John Henry Menton mimics Odysseus’s meeting with Ajax, who refused to acknowledge him in Hades after Achilles’ armor was awarded to Odysseus. Bloom is equally rebuffed when he attempts to point out a crushed dent in Menton’s hat.


In the first episode of Ulysses, brooding Stephen Dedalus is haunted by his mother’s death. His mother’s ghost first appears to him in a dream: “silently, she had come to him, her wasted body within its loose graveclothes…Her glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul…Her eyes on me to strike me down” (1.270-6). He cries out to her: “No mother! Let me be and let me live” (1.279). Death is a constant preoccupation in Ulysses. As Martin Cunningham laments at the gravesite of Patrick Dignam, “In the midst of life” there is death (6.334).[7] Throughout Ulysses is the thematic concern that the dead do not remain buried, but continue to haunt everyday life.[8] The “Hades” episode unearths a number of resurrected corpses: as Bloom attends the funeral of Paddy Dignam, his mind wanders, frequently reflecting on his dead son Rudy and his late father. Whereas these dead characters interrupt the flow of life—there is death in the midst of life—by the end of the episode, Bloom inverts this idea and believes that “In the midst of death we are in life” (6.759). This phrase resonates with Joyce as a modernist writer, whose new literary language enlivened dead characters, dead plots, and even the dead languages. For Joyce, in the midst of dead literature is the possibility to create and express new forms.[9]


  1. ↑ Gifford, Don. Ulysses Annotated. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  2. ↑ Quoted in Gilbert, Stuart. James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952. 161. Hereafter cited as Gilbert, with page number.
  3. ↑ Gifford, Don. Ulysses Annotated. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2008. 105.
  4. ↑ Joyce, James. Ulysses ed. Gabler: New York: Vintage, 1984.78 and Ellmann, Richard. Ulysses on the Liffey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972. Hereafter cited by episode and line number, and as Ellmann, with page number.
  5. ↑ According to Ulysses Annotated, “airing his quiff” is with one’s hat off. However, “quiff” can also mean “smartly dress, in which case Boylan is showing off” (108).
  6. ↑ Gilbert 171 and Homer. The Odyssey trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1996. 326.
  7. ↑ According to Ulysses Annotated, Martin Cunningham’s aphorism is included in “The Burial Service” in the Book of Common Prayer.
  8. ↑ Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. 244.
  9. ↑ Conversation with Elyse Graham.

All Yale Modernism Lab in-text citations of Ulysses have been formatted in the following style:

(Episode #.Page#). For example, the opening “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan,” which is on the first line of the first episode of Ulysses, would be cited as (1.1). All citations come from the Hans Walter Gabler edition of the text.