Chapter 12 of James Joyce's Ulysses, Cyclops, consists mostly of a first-person comic narrative of men drinking in a pub. The conversation is frequently interrupted, however, by a number of deadpan pastiches of varied style and length.

Some of these I understood - there are passages mocking spiritualism and Irish nationalism, for example - some I failed to interpret.

What interested me, though, is that some of these pastiches contain long lists, usually of names. They are so long - a page or more - as to be awkward and rather pointless to read.

Here's an example, chosen at random - and one of the shorter ones, at that:

Thither the extremely large wains bring foison of the fields, flaskets of cauliflowers, floats of spinach, pineapple chunks, Rangoon beans, strikes of tomatoes, drums of figs, drills of Swedes, spherical potatoes and tallies of iridescent kale, York and Savoy, and trays of onions, pearls of the earth, and punnets of mushrooms and custard marrows and fat vetches and bere and rape and red green yellow brown russet sweet big bitter ripe pomellated apples and chips of strawberries and sieves of gooseberries, pulpy and pelurious, and strawberries fit for princes and raspberries from their canes

Here's another, added in since some readers might think the above example is just someone an author amusing themselves making a list. This one should hopefully make clear how apparently pointless most of the lists are:

Amongst the clergy present were the very rev. William Delany, S. J., L. L. D.; the rt rev. Gerald Molloy, D. D.; the rev. P. J. Kavanagh, C. S. Sp.; the rev. T. Waters, C. C.; the rev. John M. Ivers, P. P.; the rev. P. J. Cleary, O. S. F.; the rev. L. J. Hickey, O. P.; the very rev. Fr. Nicholas, O. S. F. C.; the very rev. B. Gorman. O. D. C.; the rev. T. Maher, S. J.; the very rev. James Murphy, S. J.; the rev. John Lavery, V. F.; the very rev. William Doherty, D. D.; the rev. Peter Fagan, O. M.; the rev. T. Brangan, O. S. A.; the rev. J. Flavin, C. C.; the rev. M. A. Hackett, C. C.; the rev. W. Hurley, C. C.; the rt rev. Mgr M'Manus, V. G.; the rev. B. R. Slattery, O. M. I.; the very rev. M. D. Scally, P. P.; the rev. F. T. Purcell, O. P.; the very rev. Timothy canon Gorman, P. P.; the rev. J. Flanagan, C. C. The laity included P. Fay, T. Quirke, etc., etc.

I can think of many reasons why a list or two might suit this chapter. The chosen names may be illuminating to more erudite readers than I. It may be a pastiche in and of itself of the list-motif in Irish myth, given that nationalism is a theme of the chapter. It may be mocking the portentous nature of those who like to write lists.

None of these, however, seem to explain the use of lists as a repeating motif. Almost a lists of lists, if you will. What does this motif signify?

  • You sound like a listaphobe. Some people like lists. For some people, the lists are the good parts. Lots of good lists in the works of R. A. Lafferty, though of course those are not the only reason to read him.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 18:57
  • Maybe part of the rambling stream of consciousness element?
    – Fabjaja
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 18:58
  • @fabjaja this isn't a chapter which features that technique. It's mostly dialog - which makes the lists all the more jarring. Believe me, the one I quoted is the thinnest end of the list-wedge
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 19:24
  • @user14111 a lot of these lists make a lot less sense than the one I quoted. Two pages of made-up clergymen's names, for example, complete with full titles.
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 19:26
  • 2
    See The Irish Ulysses by Maria Tymoczko, pp. 146ff. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 19:45

4 Answers 4


To add to andejons' answer regarding the Gilbert schema's technique of "gigantism", I'd suggest Joyce may also have been referencing, parodying or even honouring the 16th century Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais. It's the story, told over five books, of two giants, and is replete with numerous lists and catalogues, some of which go on for several pages.

Significantly, book four - "The Fourth Book of Pantagruel" - describes an epic sea voyage, and can itself be viewed as a parody of The Odyssey.

There are a number of lists in the Fourth Book:

  • Chapter 30 consists of a bit over two pages listing Lent's internal organs;
  • Chapter 31 is two pages of Lent's external parts;
  • Chapter 32 starts with a recitation of 36 of Lent's physical actions;
  • Chapter 40 has three pages of lists of "the brave and valiant cooks who went into the sow, even as the Greeks did into the Trojan horse";
  • Chapter 59 lists "how and what the Gastrolaters sacrifice to their Ventripotent God" (two pages of things);
  • Chapter 60 provides a similar list for sacrifices "on the interlarded Fast-days" (two more pages); and
  • Chapter 64 lists about 100 kinds of creature that won't be eaten now that Pantagruel's friends have filled their bellies.

I would not be in the least surprised if Joyce had delighted in the sheer extravagance and absurdity of Rabelais, and was paying tribute to the Fourth Book in the Cyclops chapter of Ulysses.


According to the Gilbert schema for understanding Ulysses, created by Joyce for his friend Stuart Gilbert, the technique that is used in the "Cyclops chapter" (a designation that also comes from the schema) is "gigantism". This normally means the overgrowth of the entire body or certain parts of it, which seems an apt likeness for the kind of long lists the question is about. That the chapter connected to the giant cyclops should use a technique with such a name seems like one of the more self-evident parts of the schema.

(According to the Linati schema, also made by Joyce, the technique is instead "alternating asymmetry", which is not quite as self-evident).


Parody of long lists in the original Odyssey or in epic poetry in general?

The Odyssey grinds to a halt when the travelers arrive in Hades and see all the most beautiful women in history, both real and fictional.

The Iliad has several catalogues. The most famous is the Catalogue of Ships in Book 2, some 250 lines just listing all the Greek commanders and how many ships each one brought from his domains.

The Canterbury Tales starts with a list of all the people going on the trip. It lasts for 858 lines. Presumably, the finished product was going to have all of them tell four stories to the group.

Source: Epic Catalog on TV Tropes.

  • Good point! But it's significant that Joyce chose the Cyclops chapter to parody these epic lists, and the hyperbolic style of the interposed descriptive passages in this chapter is strongly reminiscent of Rabelais. Why didn't Joyce choose his Hades chapter (Ch. 6) if he wanted to parody Book 11 in the Odyssey? If you look at Book 11, you'll see that the "list" is qualitatively different, with multiple verses devoted to each person. Joyce and Rabelais both use actual lists - a long series of items with little or no descriptive prose for each item. Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 0:29

According to my professor, lists are common in epic poetry, and in that form they are not truly meant to be comprehended. They are meant to impress, to fill one with the sense that even if they read the entire work, there is still something they haven't quite gotten. The epic remains unconquered, even to its readers, because who has the capacity to keep 70 different boat names straight and appreciate every single one?

Obviously this unconquered-ness can also be applied to Ulysses as a whole, where people are still trying to puzzle it out, even though there are multiple books annotating the entire work.

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