The Anniversary of ‘Ulysses’ – A Masterpiece in Modern Writing

Ulysses James Joyce

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of ‘Ulysses’ by the Irish writer, poet and literary critic James Joyce.

Regarded as one of the most influential and important writers of the 20th century, Joyce was a committed philhellene.

Joyce insisted that the cover of ‘Ulysses’ should match the blue of the Greek flag which hung in his Paris apartment.

As it was impossible for the printer to find the blue ink that matched the Greek flag, only two copies were ready by the date of publication – February 2, 1922 – Joyce’s 40th birthday.

The Anniversary of ‘Ulysses’ – A Masterpiece in Modern Writing

Joyce took one of the two copies that were ready by the date of publication, to his 40th birthday party.

When he opened the package and saw his book ‘Ulysses’ in Greek colours – white letters on a blue background – Joyce was deeply moved.

Greek flag Ulysses James Joyce

Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey.

Dazzled by ancient Greek culture, Joyce wrote his novel as a parallel to Homer’s Odyssey, saying “If you want to read my book, you better obtain or borrow from the library a prose translation of Homer’s Odyssey.”

James Joyce Ulysses greek translation

‘Ulysses’ establishes a series of parallels between Homer’s poem and the novel, with structural correspondences between the characters and experiences of Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus, in addition to events and themes of the early 20th-century context of modernism, Dublin, and Ireland's relationship to Britain.

The novel is highly allusive and also imitates the styles of different periods of English literature.

Joyce had also started learning modern Greek while writing ‘Ulysses’.

“I spoke modern Greek badly and so spent a lot of time with Greeks, from nobles to onion sellers, especially the latter. I’m positively superstitious about them. They bring me luck,” said Joyce.

James Joyce Ulysses

Until his final days, Joyce was interested in Greek affairs and was known to end his birthday celebrations by singing the Greek national anthem.

‘Ulysses’ is now widely recognised as a masterpiece in modern writing.

It is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called "a demonstration and summation of the entire movement.”

According to Irish writer and scholar Declan Kiberd, "Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking."

Since its publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from an obscenity trial in the United States in 1921 to protracted textual "Joyce Wars".

The novel's stream of consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—complete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; so much so that Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as ‘Bloomsday.’

The Anniversary of ‘Ulysses’ – A Masterpiece in Modern Writing, James Joyce
Joyce in Zürich by Conrad Ruf (c. 1918)

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