The Forlorn Loves in Joyce's novel, Ulysses
Greek has words for four kinds of love: agape, or spiritual love; storge, or familial love; the love between friends, or philia; and sexual love, the familiar eros. All four figure in Joyce's novel Ulysses, yet all eventually evade the two male protagonists, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom: Ulysses proves ultimately to be a love-less work.
Agape -- spiritual love, the charitable love among coreligionists or between Man and God -- seems sure to appear, given Ulysses' protagonists' backgrounds and the host of Christian symbols that flock about them. Yet Stephen Dedalus is torn with doubt in his Catholicism, and we find in the course of the novel that Bloom renounced his Judaism, first to convert to Protestantism with his father and then, conveniently, to convert to Catholicism to marry Molly: both have fallen from their original faith. Within two paragraphs of Ulysses' opening we see a mock Mass -- "Introibo ad altare Dei" (p. 3) -- and hear the lurking Stephen scornfully called a "fearful jesuit" by mocking Mulligan. Stephen is certainly no recipient of agape here! Interestingly, Simon Dedalus identifies Mulligan as Stephen's "fidus Achates" (p. 73), a glancing Virgil image to set Stephen up as "pius Aeneas", "pious Aeneas", Virgil's hero of proper behavior to gods and men. But, as we see, home-stealing, ever-jeering Mulligan is no more "fidus" than whoring, drunken Stephen is "pius".
Stephen Dedalus is a prolix speaker, an engaging theorist and theologian, well versed in ecclesiastical history, particularly in the Church's early heresies. Yet, for all his knowledge and cogent arguments, he shows little inclination for belief. His arguments on Shakespeare's Hamlet are innovative, but he freely and "promptly" (p. 175) admits that he does not believe them -- what, then of equally intricate Catholic doctrine? Is it also only a tissue of lies, good for nothing but entertaining arguments? "You behold in me... a horrible example of free thought." (p. 17) Stephen sees only "the playwright who wrote the folio of this world and wrote it badly... hangman god... [who] would be bawd and cuckold." (p. 175) Trapped in such cynicism, Stephen feels charitable impulses towards his destitute sister Dilly ("Save her," (p. 200)), but holds back to guard himself instead ("She will drown me with her," (ibid)): again he rejects agape. In the climactic "Circe" scene in the brothel, Stephen becomes a perverted Cardinal Dedalus, attended by the seven "cardinal" sins and wearing a rosary on corks and a corkscrew cross -- distorted faith and agape again.
Leopold Bloom seems more gifted with agape‚ than his younger companion, but even he seems never to fully realize his charitable impulses. Bloom's mind turns all his philanthropic impulses into practical commercialism. His help to the blind stripling crossing the street (p. 148) is filled with critical examinations...