Chapter Four: Calypso
Leopold Bloom was eating breakfast at his house at 7 Eccles St., at about 8 am, in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday July 16th, 1904. He was eating meat. Kidney was his favorite. He liked the taste of urine that the kidney had. He gave some to his cat. The cat was very pretty, and meowed at him. He petted her. He gave her some milk, too.
Mr. Bloom was going to bring his wife breakfast in bed. He made sure to get the toast just right. But she was still asleep, and didn’t want any yet. He told her he was going to go to the shop around the corner. He put on his hat and went.
Dublin was a big city and lots of people bustled about! He passed a church, and a school, and even said hello to one of his friends as he walked down the street.
On the way to the shop, Mr. Bloom thought about all sorts of things: his wife’s father, his military service, Irish history. His wife had been born on the island of Gibraltar, which is one of the islands that Homer may have been thinking of when he was describing the island of Ogygia, where Calypso lives. Molly Bloom is very similar to Calypso, the nymph in Homer’s Odyssey who kept him trapped on her island for seven years, because Molly too is an alluring and sexual creature and Mr. Bloom, who is like Odysseus, has been held captive by her charms. This is why this chapter is called Calypso.
Mr. Bloom got to the shop, and bought threepence worth of pork kidney. This is significant because Mr. Bloom used to be Jewish before converting to Catholicism to marry his wife, and Jews are not supposed to eat pork. He put the package in his pocket, and paid the butcher. “Good morning!” he said as he left.
When Mr. Bloom got back to the house, he found that some mail had been delivered. One letter was for him, and the other for Molly, his wife.
Mr. Bloom made tea while Molly read her letter. He took the kidney out of his pocket and put it on the stove to cook, and then went in to the bedroom to eat breakfast with his wife. Ms. Bloom was still in bed, and was not wearing very much. She was very pretty. Her clothes were tossed about the room. It was a very messy room.
Mr. Bloom asked what Molly’s letter was about. “It’s from my manager, Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan,” she said. “He’s bringing over the songs I’m going to sing later. Are you going to Mr. Dignam’s funeral later?”
Patrick “Paddy” Dignam was one of Mr. Bloom’s friends, who had died recently. The circumstances of his death are very similar to Elpenor’s, from The Odyssey (which, again, this novel takes much inspiration from), the youngest of the crew, who gets drunk and decides to sleep on the roof of Circe’s palace, and falls off a ladder to his death the next morning. This death is similar to that of Tim Finnegan, from the traditional Irish ballad, who will be the inspiration for Joyce’s later novel Finnegans Wake.
While heading to the funeral, Mr. Bloom will meet Mr. Simon Dedalus, who was the father of Stephen, the man the first three chapters of this book were about. While Mr. Bloom is at the funeral, Molly is going to have sex with ‘Blazes’ Boylan. We will learn later that Molly thinks her menstrual cycle is connected with her increased sexual appetites, and thus her decision to cheat on Mr. Bloom regularly with Boylan. She wanted Mr. Bloom to leave the house for most of the day, and he will do so, which will cause most of the action in the story. Mr. Bloom knew about Molly’s affair, and didn’t like it, but didn’t feel strong enough to do anything about it. Molly and Mr. Bloom were having marital problems. Some of these were because of their son, Rudy, died shortly after birth, eleven years ago. Mr. Bloom regularly wonders how life would be different had Rudy survived, and this is what prompts him to be so protective of Stephen when he finally encounters him later on in the story.
“Yes,” said Mr. Bloom. “I think the funeral is at 11 o’clock.”
“I had a question about the book I was reading,” said Molly, changing the subject again. “Do you know what ‘metempsychosis’ means? I came upon it in the book which is over there, underneath that pile of clothing, and didn’t understand it.” Mr. Bloom found the book, and she used her hairpin to point at the word.
“It’s a Greek word meaning ‘transmigration of souls’,” Mr Bloom explained.
“That’s confusing,” Molly said. “Why not say it plainly? Anyways, this book wasn’t very good. There were no sexy parts at all.”
“I’ll buy you a different book while I’m out.”
“Thank you. I’d like one by Paul de Kock. His name is a sex joke.”
“Metempsychosis means,” said Mr. Bloom, returning to the previous topic, “that we go on living in a different body after we die. Our soul moves into a new body. That’s what the ancient Greeks believed.”
“What’s that burning smell?” said Molly. She wasn’t interested in what Mr. Bloom had to say.
“Oh no! My kidney!” said Mr. Bloom. The kidney he had put on the stove earlier was burning. Mr. Bloom rushed into the kitchen and turned the stove off. It turned out his kidney wasn’t too badly burned, and he could still eat it. He did so while reading his letter. It was from Milly, Molly and his daughter. Mr. Bloom is happy to hear this she is doing well. She is studying photography, and doesn’t live with them.
Mr. Bloom ate his kidney, and drank a cup of tea. He then went to use the toilet. They had an outhouse. While using the toilet, he read the newspaper. He wondered what it would be like if he and Molly were in the newspaper. He then remembered to check what time the funeral started. Back in 1904, people didn’t have toilet paper, so Mr. Bloom had to use a torn sheet from the newspaper. He wiped himself and stood up.