William Sayers
“PROFESSOR POKORNY OF VIENNA”
(U, ‘WANDERING ROCKS’, 10.1043‑99)

Over scones, cakes, and coffee in the Dublin Bakery Company’s Dame Street tea room, Buck Mulligan brings Haines up to date on Stephen’s latest musings earlier that day in the National Library. After Mulligan’s arrival in the reading room, the discussion of Shakespeare, dominated by Stephen’s hung‑over phantasies, continues, although Richard Best, the assistant librarian, once again returns to parallels in early Irish mythography, “that brother motive” (9.956). While a figure of fun in Ulysses, the historical Richard Irvine Best was a pioneer editor of Old and Middle Irish literature. It is also in the course of the rambling conversation that an attendant reports to the librarian Lyster that “Father Dineen wants ...” (9.967). Father Patrick S. Dinneen was the foremost Irish lexicographer of his day.(1) To Haines, Mulligan repeats his characterization of Stephen as “wandering Angus”, the Oengus of the birds of early Irish literature. Thus, it is not surprising, given the tight bundling of motifs in Ulysses, that, when Haines, who has just been out to buy Hyde’s Love Songs of Connacht (the “newbought book” recalls Best’s notebook), reflects on what he calls Stephen’s idée fixe, which we know to be guilt over his mother’s death, he should raise the subject of belief in hell and eternal punishment, and its apparent absence in archaic Irish cosmography and theology. His source for this observation is “professor Pokorny of Vienna”. Haines, the rather pedestrian Celtophile, then continues:

--He can find no trace of hell in ancient Irish myth ... The moral idea seems lacking, the sense of destiny, of retribution. Rather strange that he should have just that fixed idea. Does he write anything for your movement? (10.1082‑85)

In a recent review of Pól Ó Dochartaigh’s Julius Pokorny, 1887‑1970: Germans, Celts and Nationalism (2004), Coilin Owens recalls that Joyce’s memory is surely faulty here, since Julius Pokorny, born in 1887 in Prague, would have been only 17 years old in June of 1904.(2) Owens also corrects Ó Dochartaigh’s erroneous assumption that the “he” of “Does he write anything for your movement?”, that is, the Irish Literary Revival, is the scholar Pokorny. Although the phrasing is typical of the sometimes woolly-headed Haines, it is clearly Stephen who is meant, as Mulligan’s subsequent ironic observation, “He is going to write something in ten years”, makes evident, since Mulligan would scarcely dare an insight into the Viennese professor’s intentions. All in all, the cozy atmosphere of the tea room, with its thick carpet and rich food, is scarcely conducive to a sympathetic review of Stephen’s state. Owens sees a subtle prolepsis here in that, within ten years of this conversation, Joyce himself, if not Stephen, would have made a major contribution to Irish letters in the form of the Portrait, completed in 1914.

It is with this notion of the decade that I hope to advance Owens’s observations and possibly contribute toward explaining the slip on Joyce’s part in crediting Pokorny’s remarks, quite likely from the 1910s, to some time before 1904. Other subtle connections will also come to light. On the completion of studies at the University of Vienna, Pokorny taught there from 1913 to 1920, after which he assumed the chair in Celtic philology at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. Under the tutelage of the great Celticist Rudolf Thurneysen, one of Julius Pokorny’s first major English‑language contributions to Irish studies was his A Concise Old Irish Grammar and Reader, which appeared in 1914.(3) Some years earlier Pokorny had published an English translation of his Der Ursprung des Druidentums (1908) under the title The Origins of Druidism.(4) The adaptation appeared in The Celtic Review, a serial that began publication in the significant year of 1904. Both these works could readily have come to Joyce’s attention and have lodged in his memory (see further below). And, if Pokorny were to have written something for Mulligan, as Ó Dochartaigh assumes Mulligan thought he might do, surely his ground‑breaking Irland from 1916 would qualify, since this was the first German‑language history of Ireland that was not written from a (pro‑)British point of view.(5) These and other articles by Pokorny critical of British colonialism “earned him the enmity of Osborn Bergin and Daniel Binchy” in Owens’s assessment, because such propagandistic activity was judged to lie outside the legitimate ambit of the scholar. At the time, Bergin and Binchy were among the leading Celticists in Ireland itself. Thus, it seems a readily understood lapsus on Joyce’s part to credit Pokorny with views before 1904 for which we have ample evidence within the following decade, the “ten years” of Mulligan’s ironic but sympathetic prognosis of Stephen’s literary career. Pokorny is then one more academic professional at odds with Stephen. He represents a cosmography without Hell, while Stephen is still tormented by the concept thanks to his Jesuit education. Pokorny has espoused Irish nationalism, and the study of the language ancient and contemporary, while Stephen remains at worst fatally disillusioned, at best still uncommitted.

This same kind of almost imperceptible comparison is also illustrated by a seemingly arbitrary reference to the one‑legged former British sailor who prowls Dublin playing on the public’s bad conscience (“England expects ...”) and begging. His appearance is preceded by Haines’s remark that “Shakespeare is the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance”. When the disabled sailor has come and gone, Mulligan, typically restricting himself to the sphere of the body, then says “You should see him ... when his body loses its balance”, thus linking a drunken Stephen to the hobbling seaman, who in turn has a tie to the paper skiff aimlessly sailing the Liffey (as does Stephen, Dublin), with which the section closes.

One quick but by no means definitive test to see where Joyce stood in the matter of his fictional characters and the real historical figures in their background in Ulysses is to check for their presence in the grotesque parody of Dublin that is Nighttown in “Circe”. Here, for example, we find Richard Best decked out as a hair‑dresser. Earlier allusions in “Scylla and Charybdis” to possible homosexuality and his preoccupation with Oscar Wilde are now fully realized in gay abandon.(6) Immediately following the thumbnail sketch of Best appears the figure of Mananaan Maclir (Mananán mac Lír), the Irish god of the sea, who had figured in the conversation in the library in Best’s quotation from the play ‘Deirdre’ by G. W. Russell (Æ) (6.190‑91). In the play, Mananaan’s waves were called on to erase memories of the tragedy of Deirdre. Since memory can be cleared of trauma and tragedy, it also need not entertain guilt. Thus the amnesic effects of the god’s waves complement the absence of a Hell in which divine punishment is administered.

But here the god seems to have realigned himself with early Vedic religion, even beginning his tirade with the holy syllable Om, here “Aum!” Pokorny developed theories about the Irish as among the purest Aryans in western Europe (in distinction from the English) and his pairing of Celt and Aryan may have prompted Joyce’s playful representation of an Indic Manannán, whose iconography incorporates a crayfish and bicycle pump. Note, Joyce might have said with a straight face, the resemblance of the crustacean and its claws to the two-wheeled vehicle. Best’s allusion to “that brother motive” is most likely a reference to the brothers Éber and Éremon and the Milesian invasion as told in The Book of Conquests (Lebhor Gabála). Éremon is cognate with the Sanskrit name that yielded Aryan. In the phrase “punarjanam patsypunjaub”, the first word is the Sanskrit term for rebirth or reincarnation (an alternative to the soul in everlasting Hell) and is thus relevant to the motif of metempsychosis in the novel, while the second seems a Joycean coinage (Patsy and Punjab). The “voice of the waves” recalls Best’s reference to their memory-clearing effect in Russell’s play. Mananaan’s admonition to “beware the left, the cult of Shakti” may be read as both generally misogynistic and specifically a condemnation of the wilful Deirdre, since Shakti embodied the principle of female power. And that the deity should conclude with the claim “I am the dreamery creamery butter”, consistent both with the sacrificial role of burned butter in Hindu religion and with such claims by legendary Celtic poets such as Ameirgin or Taliesin that they are the stuff of all the universe, brings us back around to Professor Pokorny, discussed while Mulligan “slit a steaming scone in two and plastered butter over its smoking pith” (10.1087‑88).(7) Mulligan had earlier wondered, over breakfast, whether the anecdote of Mother Grogan’s tea had figured in the Mabinogion or the Upanishads (1.370‑71). Tea and coffee, ante-meridian, post-meridian, Celt and Aryan. Unlike Best, however, Pokorny is not parodied in “Circe”, where Bloom, as Everyman, must of course also have a connection with Vienna, and this in the person of his grandfather Lipoti Virag.

Yet another link between the library and the tea room is Stephen’s reference in the former to “the new Viennese school” (9.780), by which Sigmund Freud is meant, and Haines’s concern with Stephen’s psychological state, his obsession, this in the context of Pokorny’s views on the absence of divine retribution in the archaic Celtic afterlife. But, as Stephen knows only too well, conscience can create its own Hell. “Agenbite of inwit” (10.879).

Mulligan’s attention to his scones and butter should be considered not only in the later allusion to Indian sacrifice but within the immediate context of the tea room itself. The scene opens with Mulligan identifying Parnell’s brother in a seated man playing chess. The chessplayer, John Howard Parnell, plays a white bishop with his grey hand.(8) Haines and Mulligan’s table then replicates the chessboard and its pieces with cups of coffee, pot of whipped cream, pat of butter, circular scones and cakes, just as his pun Damned Bad Cakes does the name Dublin Bakery Company. Mulligan helps the waitress unload her tray and thus parallels Parnell’s moves with the chesspieces. Parnell feeds his imagination in a battle against an enemy king; Mulligan feeds only his bodily needs. Haines, a nerd avant la lettre, is concerned whether they have been served “real Irish cream”, this while “He tasted a spoonful from the creamy cone of his cup” (cf. the earlier alliteration, “cheerful cups”‑‑alliterating words like so many chess pawns). The dairy motif is established early in the novel in the old woman selling milk to the residents of tower, while also symbolizing Ireland’s sorry state, the goddess of territorial sovereignty down on her luck and without her language (1.389‑460). And the D.B.C. cream and butter knife is preceded by Mulligan’s shaving cream and razor. These several concerns then come together in conjunction with the procession of representatives of British colonialism, William Humble, Earl of Dudley, and Lady Dudley, accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Heseltine, that concludes “Wandering Rocks”. The clown Mulligan and straight man Haines are naturally among the observers, but not Parnell’s brother:

From the window of the D. B. C. Buck Mulligan gaily, and Haines gravely, stared down on the viceregal equipage over the shoulders of eager guests, whose mass of forms darkened the chessboard whereon John Howard Parnell looked intently. (10.1223‑26)

Against this rather fuller background, we now return to Haines’s comment and its possibly sources in published work by Julius Pokorny.(9) In his Origins of Druidism, the Czech scholar is at pains to refute conclusions reached by the French Celticist Henri Arbois de Jubainville in his Cours de littérature celtique. This was a multi-volume work based on Arbois de Jubainville’s lectures at le Collège de France, lectures that Richard Irvine Best, at Synge’s suggestion, attended. From among these lectures Best then translated The Irish Mythological Cycle and Celtic Mythology. This was published in the year immediately prior to the scene in the reading room.(10) The translation, to which Best added additional notes of his own, had also been serialized in The United Irishman. Joyce was then well informed on Best’s activity and is sure to have recognized his involvement in the Arbois de Jubainville/Pokorny dispute. In The Origin of Druidism, then, Pokorny wrote:

As regards the belief of the Druids in immortality and the doctrine of transmigration, d’Arbois quotes many examples for the belief of the Celts in a continued existence in the other world but declares the doctrine of reincarnation an error which arose from ... the Greeks ... Another conjecture may be permitted here. May we not see in this doctrine a remnant of the belief of the pre-Celtic aborigines [of Ireland]? The belief in transmigration ... and the next step is reincarnation, of which, indeed, Irish myths exhibit some instances.(11)

This, we must admit, is not quite Haines’s “He can find no trace of hell in ancient Irish myth” yet might be considered in the nature of a corollary. If the soul (or a comparable concept) is reincarnated or transmigrates, it cannot have been condemned to a hell, a single site of retribution. Has Haines got Pokorny a bit wrong? Or has Joyce?

Pokorny’s predecessor in the chair of Celtic philology in Berlin was Kuno Meyer. Meyer was an indefatigable editor and translator, and much of his output appeared in English, indeed was published in Ireland and England. In his edition of The Voyage of Bran, son of Febal to the Land of the Living, which appeared in 1897, Meyer quoted his magister Ernst Windisch on the story of The Two Swineherds (De cophur in da muccida):

Wenn in der Mongansage Cailte von Mongan sagt dass dieser der wiedergekommene Finn sei, so konnte dies an die buddhistischen Jatakas erinnern, allein die indische Seelenwanderungslehre ist doch wesentlich anders, denn sie ist der systematisierte Causalnexus und umfasst alle Wesen, wahrend in der irischen Sage nur einzelnen Personen, die mythischen Ursprungs sind oder derer sich der Mythus bemachtigt hat, verschiedene Existenzen zugeschrieben werden, und zwar ohne dass dabei die Idee der Vergeltung scharf hervortrete.

Meyer continues:

This statement, the correctness of which, as far as it goes, I have endeavoured to prove in the foregoing pages, is however not sufficiently precise or restrictive. It is not enough to say that the idea of retribution is not insisted upon in the Irish stories; it is in fact entirely absent from them. It is not enough to point out that the Indian doctrine of soul‑transmigration applies to all beings instead of to a favoured few in Ireland; it should be noted that the Irish doctrine, if doctrine it may be called, has no apparent connection with any belief in a soul as distinct from the body, or in a life led by the soul after the death of the body.(12)

Here we find Haines’s keyword, “retribution”, foreshadowed in Windisch’s “Vergeltung”. Although Pokorny may well have subscribed to this same assessment of archaic Irish belief, it would now seem that the source of Haines’s and Joyce’s comment is Meyer’s work from 1897, which would have still been current and doubtless on the market in 1904.

Owens notes that Pokorny was a fluent speaker of modern Irish and went by the nickname Póigín among his Gaelic League friends. This may require a brief explanation for those of us not intimately familiar with Irish. The punning name plays on the tonic first syllable of Pokorny and its resemblance to Irish póc ‘kiss’ (from Latin osculum pacis ‘kiss of peace’), hence póigín ‘little kiss, buss’.(13) Recognition of the word-play prompts the search for an appearance of Julius Pokorny in Finnegans Wake. Despite a surprising number of “pokes” there, of the jab, buss, and pig‑in‑a‑poke variety, there are no echoes of the name or reflection of the professor, just as he was spared a comic appearance in Nighttown.(14)

Julius Pokorny, of German culture but Jewish ancestry, was obliged to surrender his academic position in Berlin in 1935, but eked out a marginalized existence in Nazi Germany until forced to seek asylum in neutral Switzerland in 1943, and this with the aid of an Irish visa, just two years after Joyce’s death in that same refuge. Four decades earlier, each had made a first significant contribution to Irish literature and culture.

1 On Best and Dinneen, see William Sayers, ‘Best the Mythographer, Dinneen the Lexicographer: Muted Nationalism in “Scylla and Charybdis” (Ulysses),’ Papers on Joyce [Spain] 12 (2006), 7‑24.
2 Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Julius Pokorny, 1887‑1970: Germans, Celts and Nationalism, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004; Coilin Owens, “Professor Pokorny,” Irish Literary Supplement 24:2 (March, 2005), pp. 4‑5. Pokorny was born on 12 June, just four days prior to the temporal setting of Ulysses. Gifford and Seidman, on their notes to this passage, call the Pokorny idea “half-right”, since there is ample evidence for belief, of a literary kind at least, in an Otherworld peopled with maleficent beings who test the hero. These commentators fail to note the difficulty with Pokorny’s age in 1904; Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses, Don Gifford and Robert J. Seedman, eds, 2nd ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, p. 281, discussing 10.1082.
3 Julius Pokorny, A Concise Old Irish Grammar and Reader, Halle a. S.: M. Niemeyer, 1914.
4 Julius Pokorny, ‘The Origins of Druidism,’ The Celtic Review 5 (1908‑09), 1-20, reprinted in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1910-11, pp. 583-97.
5 Julius Pokorny, Irland, Gotha: F. A. Perthes, 1916.
6 See William Sayers, ‘“The blond cop” (FW, 186.17): Richard Irvine Best, Ill‑Informed Admirer of Wilde,’ Hypermedia Joyce Studies 9:2 (2008). Pokorny’s obituary for Best, ‘Richard Irvine Best (1872-1959),’ appeared in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 28 (1960-61), 335-37.
7 Pith helmets in the Raj? Does the deity’s several ejaculations (“Aum! Hek! Wal! Ek! ...”) represent a pastiche on the mantra “Om mani padme hum”? While not Sanskrit, it is not quite Irish either, although a tortured interpretation could yield “Look! raw whale, a great hunk, if only!” For Mananaan’s immediately preceding claim, “I am the light of the homestead”, see the poem ‘The Old Homestead’ by John A. Joyce, Peculiar Poems, New York: Knox and Co., 1885, 49‑50, which is reminiscent of the elegiac work of James Clarence Mangan, whom Joyce appreciated.
8 Parnell’s hand is called a “claw”. Returning to Mananaan in Nighttown, we might associate the “white yoghin” with the chessplayer’s white bishop, and this claw with the crayfish held by the Irish deity. Does Parnell’s attention to “a working corner” indicate an intention to castle, exchanging king and rook, and then have a tie with the vice-regal procession? Mulligan’s indirect reference to the Jesuits and the “white death” of Christian asceticism and penance is also suggestive of Manannan’s “white yoghin” or practitioners of yoga.
9 Owens thinks that Joyce may have read Pokorny on archaic Irish belief in Irische Blätter for 1917. Yet the authoritative bibliography of Pokorny’s publications (http://www.volny.cz/enelen/pok.htm), while listing several articles of his in this first volume of the journal, has none suggestive of the topic. Nor is Joyce likely to have had ready access to the new serial.
10 Henry d’Arbois de Jubainville, Le cycle mythologique irlandais et la mythologie celtique, Paris: E. Thorin, 1884; The Irish Mythological Cycle and Celtic Mythology, trans. Richard Irvine Best, Dublin: O’Donoghue, 1903.
11 The Origin of Druidism, pp. 5-6.
12 The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal to the Land of the Living, ed and trans Kuno Meyer, 2 vols, London: D. Nutt, 1895-1897, pp. 95-96. A discussion of the poets Ameirgin and Taliesin as the stuff of all the universe (see above) is found some few pages earlier (69).
13 Here it is appropriate to quote as authority the very work that we saw in preparation in the National Library, Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla ‑ An Irish‑English Dictionary, ed. Patrick S. Dinneen, Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1927, s.v. póg.
14 Our best guide here remains Adaline Glasheen, Third Census of Finnegans Wake, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977, although it is far from exhaustive and a fourth census is badly needed. In Czech pokorný means ‘humble, meek’ and this clue might well be pursued by the diligent.