James Joyce, “Ulysses” (1922)

James Joyce (1882 - 1941)

“He held out his copybook. The word Sums was written on the headline. Beneath were sloping figures and at the foot a crooked signature with blind loops and a blot. Cyril Sargent: his name and seal. [...] Sitting at his side Stephen solved out the problem. He proves by algebra that Shakespeare’s ghost is Hamlet’s grandfather. Sargent peered askance through his slanted glasses. [...] Across the page the symbols moved in grave morrice, in the mummery of their letters, wearing quaint caps of squares and cubes. Give hands, traverse, bow to partner: so: imps of fancy of the Moors. Gone too from the world, Averroes and Moses Maimonides, dark men in mien and movement, flashing in their mocking mirrors the obscure soul of the world, a darkness shining in brightness which brightness could not comprehend.”

from the novel “Ulysses” by James Joyce (1922)

Stephen Dedalus provides assistance to his “ugly and futile” student Cyril Sargent, an emblematic frail creature with “weak watery blood“. The mathematical notation of squares and cubes brings to Dedalus’ mind the Arab polymath Averroes and the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, emblematic figures of polymathy and reason, both born in the Iberian peninsula during the European Middle Ages.



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