18 June 2023

Did Joyce confuse Athos and Argos
when naming the dog in ‘Ulysses’?

Docheiariou Monastery on Mount Athos … but why is Bloom’s dog named Athos? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Over the past few days in Dublin I have been musing about the churches named by James Joyce in Ulysses and wondering which synagogue in Dublin, if any, Leopold Bloom’s father Rudolf Bloom might have felt welcome in wither before he converted to Christianity or in his last days as he thought about returning to the Judaism of his birth.

In Ulysses, Joyce constantly draws comparisons between Jewish and Greek history, language and culture with Irish experiences. It is impossible to read Ulysses without an understanding of both Jewish life and practice and Homer’s Odyssey.

But in these past few days, I have also been wondering why on earth Rudolf Bloom called his dog Athos and not Argos.

It is difficult to imagine that Joyce did not know Mount Argus, the Passionist monastery in Harold’s Cross a ten-minute walk from Brighton Square where he was born and a church where his mother had once sung in the choir – with a Miss Bloom. There is a passing reference in Ulysses to Father Charles of Mount Argus (1821-1893), a Dutch-born Passionist monk with a reputation for healing miracles.

In Greek mythology, Argus or Argos (Ἄργος) is the name of characters, including Argus, King of Argos and son of Zeus and Niobe; Argos, son of Arestor, builder of the ship Argo in the story of the Argonauts; Argos, son of Jason and Medea; Argos Panoptes (Argus ‘All-Eyes), a giant with 100 eyes; and, most relative to my musings this week, Argos, the faithful dog of Odysseus.

In Book 17 of the Odyssey, Odysseus arrives home on Ithaka finally, after 10 years of fighting in Troy, followed by 10 more years struggling to get home to his island. In his absence, reckless suitors have taken over his house in hopes of marrying his wife Penelope.

In order to secretly re-enter his house to spring a surprise attack on the suitors, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar, and only his son Telemachus is told of his true identity. As Odysseus approaches his home, he finds his dog Argos lying neglected on a pile of cow dung, infested with fleas, old and very tired.

This is a sharp contrast to the dog Odysseus left behind. Argos used to be known for his speed and strength and his superior tracking skills.

Unlike everyone else, including Eumaios, a lifelong friend, Argos recognises Odysseus at once and he has just enough strength to raise his head, prick up his ears and wag his tail. But the dog then loses the strength to hold his ears up, much less to greet his old master. The disguised Odysseus wipes away a tear and asks Eumaeus about the handsome animal. But he is unable to greet his faithful dog for fear that this would betray who he really is.

After telling the beggar about the dog’s glory days, the noble man who raised him from a puppy, and the duties that are forgotten when a lord goes away, Eumaeus goes into the palace to tend to the needs of the insolent suitors. Having finally seen the man he longed for, Argos dies. This is a substantial event in marking the return of Odysseus.

‘Be kind to Athos, Leopold …’ an old man and an old dog in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There is an echo of the story of Odysseus and his dog Argos in Ulysses, but Leopold Bloom’s father Rudolf Bloom named his dog Athos and not Argos.

In his suicide note, Rudolf Bloom asks Leopold Bloom to care for the animal. Throughout Ulysses, Bloom is kind to stray dogs. In the episode Circe, he gives one dog the meat he has bought, and in Eumaeus he remembers Molly’s vexation when he tried to bring home a stray dog.

Athos corresponds to Odysseus’s Argos, the faithful dog who waits for his master’s return. Bloom remembers his father’s instructions in his suicide note: ‘Be good to Athos, Leopold, is my last wish.’ He recalls the note again in Ithaca: ‘be kind to Athos, Leopold…,’ remembering Athos as ‘an infirm dog.’ Bloom thinks in Hades that Athos too ‘took it to heart, pined away’ when his master died.

There are suggestions that Rudolph Bloom named his dog Athos after Athos, Count de la Fère, a character in the novels The Three Musketeers (1844), Twenty Years After (1845) and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (1847-1850) by Alexandre Dumas. The other two musketeers, Porthos and Aramis, are friends of the novel’s protagonist, d'Artagnan.

Despite Joyce’s deep love of Greek and classical literature there are no suggestions that Leopold or Rudolf Bloom ever knew of Mount Athos, let alone visited it, and Joyce himself never visited the holy mountain.

Perhaps we just have some simply play on words here by Joyce, conflating the names of two holy mountains with monasteries, both known as all-male bastions and with different levels of formidable severity when it comes to the exclusion of women.

Mount Argos Monastery in Dublin … not to be confused with the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (21) 18 June 2023

The Church of Aghia Triada behind the narrow streets of Kalamitsi Alexandrou in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Second Sunday after Trinity (18 June 2023) and Father’s Day. Later this morning, I hope to be present at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside the Church of Aghia Triada in Kalamitsi Alexandrou (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Aghia Triada Church, Kalamitsi, Crete:

This week I am reflecting on Orthodox churches named after the Holy Trinity. These Trinity reflections this week begin this morning (18 June 2023) with photographs and images from Aghia Triada Church in Kalamitsi, on the island of Crete.

In reality, there are two villages with this name: Kalamitsi-Amigdali and Kalamitsi-Alexandrou – and they are sometimes referred to as the ‘divided village.’ About 140 people live round the year in Kalamitsis Alexandrou, and about 210 in Kalamitsi Amygdali, or 350 permanent residents between the two.

Where one village stops, the next village begins. On some maps they are simply called Alexandrou and Amigdali, without the name Kalamitsi, while other maps do not make a difference and simply call the both Kalamitsi.

The two villages are also split between two administrations: Kalamitsi Alexandrou is in the municipality of Vamos Kalamitsi, while Kalamitsi Amygdali is in the municipality of Giorgioupolis.

These villages lie in the beautiful green Apokoronas area between Souda Bay and Rethymnon, about 8 km from Vamos and five minutes away from Vrysses, with a drive of less than 15 minutes to Georgioupoli on the coast.

Both Kalamitsi villages are peaceful, traditional, and offer beautiful views of the Lefka Ori or White Mountains. Between them there are two tavernas, a kafenion and a mini-market. Kalamitsi Alexandrou also has an impressive underground reservoir, Softas, constructed during the Turkish occupation of Crete.

The large, modern, cross-shaped Church of Aghia Triada or the Holy Trinity is behind the narrow streets in Kalamitsi Alexandrou.

Although it is not in the centre of the village, the church is impossible not to find at the end of the narrow streets. With its large narthex, and tall dome and belltowers, it can be seen for long distances across the surrounding countryside.

But the church has many other usual features too. Unlike many churches in Greece of this shape, the dome remains undecorated, without any Pantocrator and the usual supporting frescoes.

Indeed, the walls and pillars of the church are largely undecorated too, without frescoes, and the old icons preserved in the church, many predating its building in the last century, are in wooden frames that are seldom seen in Greek churches.

These framed icons include, naturally, an icon of the Holy Trinity, and an icon of the Virgin Mary said to have been found in the foundations of an earlier church when the present church was being built.

The top of the iconostasis or icon screen is crowned with a verse from Saint John’s Gospel that begins: ‘I am the light of the world …’

The central door of the iconostasis has an interesting image portraying Christ present in the Eucharist, with a symbol of the Holy Trinity above.

After visiting the church, I returned to the square in Kalamitsis Alexandrou and enjoyed Greek coffees at the Kafenion Kolymbos before returning to Georgioupoli where I was spending a week during that year’s holiday in Crete.

The dome of the church remains undecorated (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 35 to 10: 8 (NRSVA):

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.’

A framed icon of the Virgin Mary said to have been found in the foundations of the earlier church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The snowdrop that never bloomed.’ This theme is introduced these morning:

Almost a year on from the conflict starting in Ukraine, USPG and the Diocese in Europe were able to visit some of the projects funded by the money raised from our joint appeal – including “Ukrainian Space” a Day Centre and Educational Facility in Budapest. The space offers children aged 8 to 16 schooling and a safe space for their parents to chat, support one another and learn new skills.

Ukrainian Space also offers activities for children and parents to do together such as art classes. One child drew her story in the days before she and her mother fled Ukraine.

“One of our students, together with her Mum, would pass a snowdrop on their walk to school every morning. It was in mid-February and this snowdrop was just about to bloom. It was still a bud. Every day the Mum would say to her daughter “You have to wait, maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow”.

When they saw that the flower would bloom for sure on the following day, it was on the following day that everything happened. The war began, and the missiles hit their native city in South Ukraine. They had to flee. The girl never saw the snowdrop bloom. It began to appear to her in her dreams, a symbol of the war and the fact that it had prevented her from seeing her favourite flower bloom. Snowdrops are also the first sign of spring. For this girl, spring never happened and winter continued”.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 June 2023, the Second Sunday after Trinity, Father’s Day) invites us to pray:

Eternal God,
bless us with the spirit of unity.
May we embrace difference,
and work with each other,
to put our faith into action.


Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Loving Father,
we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son:
sustain us with your Spirit,
that we may serve you here on earth
until our joy is complete in heaven,
and we share in the eternal banquet
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

The top of the icon screen is crowned with a verse from Saint John’s Gospel that begins: ‘I am the light of the world …’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The central door of the iconostasis has an icon portraying Christ present in the Eucharist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)