Category Archives: Finnegans Wake

articles and comments by Karl Reisman

Orlando Mezzabotta Comments on Italian Fascism on page 286 of Finnegans Wake



orlando mezzabotta


I would like to point out a couple of allusions which may have

escaped previous interpretations. The passage is:

286.19: Problem ye ferst, construct ann aquilittoral

286.20: dryankle Probe loom! With his primal hand-

286.21: stoe in his sole salivarium. Concoct an equo-

286.22: angular trillitter. [1] On the name of the tizzer

286.23: and off the tongs and off the mythametical

286.24: tripods. Beatsoon.

But, before plunging into it, I’d like to call the attention to the

“HEPTAGRAMMATON” of the right marginal note, pointing

to “P.t.l.o.a.t.o.” (286.3) The most obvious explanation is the one

given by McHugh as “plates to lick one and turn over” (286.18).

But I detect two more allusions: the philosopher “Plato” and Italian

“Pilato” (Pilatus). And I think that this points to the fact that the

previous speech was made by Shem, who expressed his negative

position towards mathematics and algebra, leading only to chaos

(aosch) and ashes (286.2). Now it should be Shaun’s turn to turn a

new page, but it seems that the “idealistic philosopher” (Plato) is

not likely to do it, to waste his time on such menial affairs


stay clean, wash his hands “that count” (Pilatus like),


and prepare himself for the “Platonic” interpretation of ALP, the

female principle. And probably not giving much weight to Thomas

Aquinas who said:

“what is primary in our knowledge is the things of which we first

form concepts. Mathematical entities are idealizations made by

way of abstraction from our knowledge of sensible things. It is

knowledge of sensible things which is primary and thus prior to

the “order of learning” the philosophical sciences.”

[McInerny, Ralph and O’Callaghan, John, “Saint Thomas Aquinas”,

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition),

Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =


So it’s Shem who continues the lesson (286.4-18) and invites his

brother to dismiss the cardinal “packnumbers” he was so fond of,

having first given the due attention to “Paco Hunter” of the

corresponding left margin note: “Vive Paco Hunter!”, in which we

find the already mentioned initials (VPH) of the luxurious Victoria

Palace Hotel, in Paris, where Joyce now and then used to live. But

since our Paco is in correspondence with

286.11 hucksler, Wellington’s Iron Bridge,

we are entitled to interpret “hucksler” as a whore (hustler), selling

her “wares/wears” in the street like a “huckster”, and “Wellington’s

Iron Bridge” recalls both Wellington (the Iron Duke) and the bridge

that leads to Bachelor’s Walk. Now, in our case, “bachelor” has at

least a double meaning. It may be a “chaste” young man; or an old

unmarried womanizer walking after whores, in Paris. Let’s get back

to Paco, a common Spanish name that derives from Latin “PAter

COmmunitatis” (the Father of the community). We are entitled to

see in him a Spanish Father who is a Hunter (very likely of girls),

like the Spanish Don Juan; but probably a hunter of heretics (the

rebellious sons) and of witches as well, like a Spanish Inquisitor.

(There is indeed an ironic touch. Paco is connected with Franciscan

friars, since it is the nickname of St. Francis. But inquisitors were

Dominicans, commonly known as adversaries of Franciscans. Thus

“Paco hunter” may indeed be a Dominican friar.) But “Paco

Hunter” recalls the well known “Pocahontas”, the “Virginia”

Indian princess “notable for her association with the colonial

settlement at Jamestown [WP]”. So we have a “virgin” princess

settled in the town of James (the Paris of Joyce). But this “maid”

seems to be somewhat impudent and shameless, since her name

hints at Italian “poca onta” (poca: little; onta: dishonour, shame).

In conclusion: an old and shameless Don Juan hunting a brazen girl

who could be his daughter and chasing away his insurgent sons. Or

a young “chaste” Dominican (Shaun type), a witch hunter, who

rejects the advances of a sinful and shameless hustler.

And now we can finally direct our attention to the specific passage

which introduces the “triangle” theme. I won’t touch here the

geometrical allusions, which are the most obvious and usually

treated at large; but I’ll try to point out, as best as I can, the

“political and historical side” of the sarcastic confrontation

between the twins, made explicit by Footnote 1:

“As Rhombulus and Rhebus went building rhomes one day.”

with its reference to Romulus and Remus. The reference to Rome is

manifest in the subtly hidden acrostic of the right marginal note:






which is a clear anagram of ITALIA (Italy). With a series of

allusions to the confrontation between Shaun, the “ingenuous

(candid)” brother and the libertine Shem; a confrontation that will

be “strong and continuous” (tenacious), laborious and highly

sophisticated (ingenious) in its argumentation. But most of all I’d

like to underline the many references to “fascism” and its “nazi”

connections. “aquilittoral” is not only the obvious “equilateral”,

and not only the “littoral zone” where “ankles” are alternatively

washed by the water (Italian acqua) and then left “dry”; or where

“Enkel” (German “grandchildren”) haven’t yet had the nerve to put

their feet in; but it hints specifically at Italian “aquila” (eagle) and

at “littoriali”, which were cultural, artistic and sports events for

University students, that took place during the fascist era.

You can see on the right and left side the “fasci littori” (bound

bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade

emerging). Thus the fascist “aquila littoria” (Lictorian Eagle).

“Probe loom” hints, among other things (amongst them, a quite

amusing ironic “pro Bloom”, which could be a “polemic” anti-nazi

“pro Jews” as well), at “pro bellum” (in favour of war) or “para

bellum” (prepare for war) – the capital P of Probe linking it to the

German word for “proof”, so a “proven” and “looming” scrutinizer

(loom – Latin Lumen “light”). “primal hand-stoe in his sole

salivarium” is indeed intriguing. McHugh points to an oblique

“thumb in his mouth”, hinting at the “babish”, childish attitude; the

baby who puts the big finger (toe) of his hand there where “saliva”

is, namely the mouth. (In fact it is the thumb which, together with

the index, is used as a compass to trace one of the two circles of

page 293. It is he thumb at the mouth of the river, the Lambda

point, so brilliantly illustrated and explained by Clive Hart in his

“Structure and motif in Finnegans Wake.”

But “hand-toe” is the yoga position of “Utthita Hasta


which has an astounding resemblance with the nazi “goose step”.

And “sole salivarium” (nazi SS apart) has another fascist

reference. “sole” is Italian for “sun”; “saliva” in this case may be

connected to the verb “salire” (to ascend, to rise, to go up). “saliva”

is “he/she/it was rising”. So the fascist Roman image is that of a

rising sun, that same rising sun (sole che sorgi – “sorgere” : to rise)

which we find in the most famous “Inno a Roma” (Hymn to Rome

– 1919), verses by Fausto Salvatori, music by Giacomo Puccini,

amply used by the fascists for their propaganda, because of its

captivating and nationalistic aura.

Sole che sorgi libero e giocondo

Sul Colle nostro i tuoi cavalli doma

Tu non vedrai nessuna cosa al mondo

Maggior di Roma, maggior di Roma!

(Oh sun that rises free and full of joy

over this Hill of ourn, tame there your horses;

you will not see throughout the world a thing

which is greater than Rome, greater than Rome.)

In case you have historical curiosities you may hear a version of it:

But I think that “salivarium” hides Joyce’s spiteful “spit” towards

Fascism and Nazism with their goose steps (handtoe) and their

bombastic marches (soles, soil). But there are still more Roman and

fascist references, like those in

286.21: Concoct an equo-angular trillitter

The verb “concoct” is quite unusual, coming directly from Latin

(Roman) concoctus (cum + “coquere” : to cook). “equo” is Latin

“equus”, which can be both a horse and a donkey (up to you to

decide who is Shaun and who Shem; probably both, since the

white-black “zebra” as well belongs to the family Equidae). Thus we

have “equal” perspectives (angles) joined in a trilateral, zebraic

horse-donkey, doubly linked to the “trillitter” which hints at the

three letters of the fascist Latin DVX (Duce, Führer),

the littorian (litter) Mussolini. So the “zebraic” oppressed sons

(Italian “ebraico”: Hebrew) fronting the racist Father who controls

that his trilateral and triliteral Delta (ALP) be not trasformed by

his sons into a cooked-up “cocotte” (whore). That’s French for

“chicken”, diminutive of “coq” (cock). And if we note that “equus”

derives from the Mycenaean Greek “i-qo”, we may detect an

incestuous, thrilling and trilling tris-littered “concoction” of “hen”

(cocotte) and Equidaes. An image which recalls a blasphemous

Witch’s Cauldron, where the father and the son (the tizzer and

the tongs) of the Trinity are turned into firebrands (tizzer :

Italian “tizzo, tizzone”) and sworn criminal brotherhoods (Chinese

“tong”, literally “hall, gathering place”), with its songs sung in a

secret language (tongue). All this taking place around the mythic-
matical (mythametical) mother, whose secret is both hidden

(mimetic) and enlightened by the “tripods” of her sacred altar;

sacred secrets that must be revealed, at least according to the Italian

idiomatic form “scoprire gli altarini” (literally: to unveil, uncover

the small altars), in fact “to reveal one’s guilty secrets”.

Here we may give a look at the left marginal note:

The boss’s bess bass is the browd of Mullingar

where we may find the Boss (Father) whose wife (bride of

Mullingar, Chapelizod), his very pride (browd), is in fact a

malingering “broad”. And a fish (bass) boiled for “broth”; the best

one of the Mullingar brothel. And the best ale (Bass’s ale – with its

red triangle)

is in fact the ale of the “boozer”, morphed into a “dishwatery” broth.

Continuing with the text, in 286.24 “Beatsoon” is not only “be it

soon” and “so be it”, but also “beats” and Italian “bastone” (rod), the

fascist “manganello” (truncheon, billy club). Suggesting that the

ensuing fight will certainly be not without serious consequences.

Which may suggest an interesting link (I don’t know how much far-
fetched) with the “naven” ritual described by the anthropologist

Gregory Bateson (beatsoon), in his work “Naven: A Survey of the

Problems suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a

New Guinea Tribe drawn from Three Points of View. (1936)”.

[Note, please, the three points, like those of a triangle.] Of course

this is not the place to expound on this topic; thus let it be sufficient

to know that that ritual develops what Bateson, in his book, called

“schismogenesis” (creation of division), and that “schismogenic

behavior consisted of a competitive relationship between

categorical equals (e.g., rivalry) and complementary

schismogenesis between categorical unequals (e.g., dominance

and submission). [WP] Which expresses clearly both the twins

and the father/twins relation. And this justifies the “fascist” touch

and its imagery, since fascism is deeply influenced by a rebellious

attitude towards the bourgeois establishment (the decadence of the

old regime) and, most of all, by the exalted excitement of the new

generation. It’s not a case that the official hymn of the Italian

National Fascist Party – and the unofficial national anthem of Italy

between 1924 and 1943 – was “Giovinezza” (Youth). For pity’s sake

and for the good name of Italian poetry I’ll spare you the verses.

286. 3                    P.t.l.o.a.t.o.                            HEPTAGRAMMATON.
286. 4                    So, bagdad, after those initials falls and that HYPOTHESES
286. 5                  primary taincture, as I know and you know         OF COM-
286. 6                  yourself, begath, and the arab in the ghetto      MONEST EX-
286. 7                  knows better, by nettus, nor anymeade or          PERIENCES
286. 8                  persan, comic cuts and series exerxeses always    BEFORE APO-
286. 9                  were to be capered in Casey’s frost book of,      THEOSIS OF
286.10                  page torn on dirty, to be hacked at Hickey’s,     THE LUSTRAL
286.11 Vive Paco          hucksler, Wellington’s Iron Bridge, and so, by    PRINCIPIUM.
286.12 Hunter!            long last, as it would shuffle out, must he to
286.13                  trump adieu atout atous to those cardinhands
286.14 The hoisted in     he a big deal missed, radmachrees and rosse-
286.15 red and the low-   cullinans and blagpikes in suitclover. Dear
286.16> ered in black.    hearts of my counting, would he revoke them,
286.17                  forewheel to packnumbers, and, the time being
286.18                  no help fort, plates to lick one and turn over.
286.19                    Problem ye ferst, construct ann aquilittoral    INGENIOUS
286.20                  dryankle Probe loom! With his primal hand-        LABOUR-
286.21 The boss’s bess    stoe in his sole salivarium. Concoct an equo-     TENACITY
286.22 bass is the browd angular trillitter.¶1¶ On the name of the tizzer    AS BETWEEN
286.23 of Mullingar.      and off the tongs and off the mythametical        INGENUOUS
286.24                  tripods. Beatsoon.                               \AND LIBERTINE.

A Minor exchange on Joyce’s knowledge and use of Gaelic

Minor exchange on Gaelic

Peter Chrisp via
7:24 AM (7 hours ago)

to fwread
Joyce went to Irish lessons with Patrick Pearse – he was persuaded to go by his friend George Clancy (Davin in A Portrait). But Ellmann says that Joyce didn’t get on with Pearse and abandoned the lessons ‘because Patrick Pearse found it necessary to exalt Irish by denigrating English, and in particular denounced the word ‘Thunder’ – a favourite of Joyce’s – as an example of verbal inadequacy.’

But in The Years of Growth, Peter Costello notes that in the 1901 census, John Joyce recorded that both James and Stanislaus spoke and wrote Irish. Costello adds ‘which they did not learn at school but in the Gaelic League.’

Peter C

From: gerry grimes <>
To: fwread <fwread@lists.Colorado.EDU>
Sent: Sat, 8 Jun 2013 9:18
Subject: Re: Scribbledehobble — from Oxford’s Dictionary of National Biography site

Irish is still taught here as a compulsory subject in primary and post primary schools. Since Joyce was educated in the catholic school system I am sure this was the case for him ( I believe a test in Irish formed part of the entrance exam for UCD). He would have learned prayers in Irish and the mass rite at that time would have been in latin.

Wasn’t it Dinneen who formally introduced the letter h as the 18th letter in the Irish alphabet and wasn’t this significant for the structure of the 18 chapters of Ulysses?

There is a joke in Ireland about the tourist who asks directions from an old farmer he encounters on a country road. The farmer thinks for a while then says – ‘if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here’. I was reminded of this story while reading of your intention to learn Irish:
Lesson One


Male:       Dia  dhuit.

Female:   Á,   an dtuigeann tú Gaelainn?

The word Gaelainn was new to me – but you learn something everyday. Unfortunately, it breaks one of the laws of Irish regarding the distribution of vowels in a word – where vowels are separated by a consonant(s) a slender vowel (i or e) must be followed by a slender vowel and a broad vowel ( a, o or u) followed by a broad vowel. This rule is useful for identifying a word that you suspect may be an Irish word in FW – I can find no example in O Hehir where this doesn’t hold.

12:50 PM (2 hours ago)

to fwread
Well there are at least 1,100 uses of, puns on, or references to the Irish language in FW (5th most used language in the book).


1:50 PM (1 hour ago)

to fwread
A number of years ago a manuscript circulated written by Eileen MacCarvaill of Dublin, ostensibly having to do with Joyce’s education. In it the claim was made that there were advertisements in some 1901 Dublin news­papers for both Joyce and Thomas Kettle as main speakers for Gaelic lectures in Caithal Mac Garvey’s Tobacco Shop.. For many things it is my personal judgement, having had the privilege of reading that manuscript some 25 years ago though I was not allowed to keep it, that MacCarvaill was unreliable, carried away  by a personal and enthusiastically nationalist view of Irish history. I have no idea what the opinions of his writings and lectures of his colleagues and others in Dublin is or was. The manuscript was never published for reasons I know nothing about. But when someone says in a simple declarative way that they have seen something, in this case advertisements in a Dublin paper, I think we need to take the matter seriously, although there is no  other record of Joyce speaking publicly in Gaelic..  It is at least a serious possibility that this happened, even if the actual newspapers may by now have crumbled to dust.


Peter Chrisp via
2:23 PM (45 minutes ago)

to fwread
He writes about his brief experience in the Gaelic League in Stephen Hero, where  Emma Clery says, ‘You get tired of everything so quickly – just the way you did in the Gaelic League’.

Yes, Joyce was much more interested in European languages. Irish to him was insular – one of the nets he had to escape.

I’d imagine that John Joyce was exaggerating when he claimed his sons could speak Irish. Flann O’Brien, whose first language was Irish, makes fun of the eccentric Irish in Ulyssses

Peter C

3:03 PM (6 minutes ago)

to fwread
It would seem to me that the question is whether McCarvaill’s evidence is to be “tested”
or dismissed out of hand.
If he did give talks in Gaelic that would be meaningful. No matter how transitory his interest.
Given his capacity for absorbing languages and dictionaries it reallly I think does not tell us much whether he had formal training or not, or if his interest was long lasting or peripheral.
My general feeling is that he had a strong nationalist streak which he then tied other colonial issues and issues of cultural dominance, among others, and that his concern for what
Sean Golden called the genuine Irish tradition
extended not only to the English the Irish spoke
but also to Gaelic. And I can think of no reason for him NOT to know Gaelic. It may have been insular, but Finnegans Wake is clearly a book about islands.


Orlando Mezzabotta’s reading of lines 240.30–35 via
5:15 AM (4 hours ago)

to fwread

Well Karl,
when I said that the passage does not seem so enigmatic
I didn’t mean that it is lined with roses, or, if it is,
one must take care of thorns.
At any rate I think the general idea of the paragraph starting
from 240.05 is clear enough. It describes Shem’s public forswearing
of his past and sinful life, his “Examen of conscience”.
In fact it is the morphing of Shem into his opposite “Shaunian” aspect.
And if we jump to the passage under examination we may detect a lot
of more or less overt allusions to that. Let’s give it a try:

240.30:  He, A. A., in peachskin shantungs, possible, sooth to say,
240.31:  notwithstanding far former guiles and he gaining fish consider-240.32:  able, by saving grace after avalunch, to look most prophitable     240.33:  out of smily skibluh eye. He repeat of him as pious alios cos he 240.34:  ast for shave and haircut people said he’d shape of hegoat where
240.35:  he just was sheep of herrgott with his tile togged. Top.

“He,A.A.” That’s a sardonic start, a sort of onomatopeic bray (hee-haw),
and an act of obedience (Aye,Aye [sir!]) made by Augustine Aloysius
(eye-eye : Italian ahi-ahi: ouch!) poor/pair eyed Joyce.
He changes his rude complexion into a delicate (fruitish: peach)
and silky one (shantung); his Chinese pidgin (peachskin) into an orthodox
Shaunian tongue (Shaun tung : tung, from Old English tung, tunge :
“tongue, language”).
The “twin” image is enhanced by the fact that the original and precious
“shantung”, shantung silk, or duppioni silk, is made of the duppion silk
yarn, that is from the cocoon of two silk worms that have nested together.
Although hard to believe, almost non plausible, this Shem-Shaunian’s new look is indeed possible (in sooth) [sooth: hinting vaguely at Italian “seta” : silk],
no matter how treacherous and cunning his past actions (former guiles)
have been.
And his physique has changed as well. He has put on some weight (fish / flesh) [like our well known stately and plump Buck Mulligan] since – after his plentiful meals (avalanche -> lunch — French “avaler” : to swallow) – he has learned not to dissipate his fat  (grace -> French “gras”,  Italian “grasso” : fat), so that his aspect  is that of a farsighted wise man (prophet), full of grace/gras, content of himself, with smiling and dear (Russian : milyi)
blue, celestial (sky oriented) eyes who gives profitable directions
to “fhish” people.  (His fish of wisdom.)
It’s the “kiblah” (the direction of the Kaaba, in Mecca, toward which Muslims face when praying), the straight road to follow, which is the opposite of the old (sinful) road: “qiblah” is Arabic “that which is placed opposite”;  and  Arabic “qabala” as well (to be opposite);     but Hebrew “qabbalah” too, with its esoteric teaching (FW).
But “gaining fish” and “saving grace” have Christian hints as well and point directly to the The  First Feeding Miracle, the only miracle
(apart from the resurrection) which is present in all four canonical Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15.)
The new Shem has learned how to fish (hook people), how to feed them with his (magical) words and charm them with his “blue-sky-directed looks”
which turn five loaves of bread and two fish [again a “twin” image : Pisces]
into an avalanche of food  (have a lunch),                                                            the rest of which, the surplus (profit), he does not waste  or throw away,  but “saves” graciously and thankfully (saying grace).  That is indeed a miracle if compared  with the dissolute intemperance and wastefulness of the old Shem. He outlived (save) through grace the “avalanche” of sins.
The old Shem who keeps saying that he is another man (alios -> alius,
Latin : other), a pious one, like the pious Aeneas,
[but a Triestine could read it as “pajasso” (clown) [pah-yah-soh],
so a “pajas+soul” (clownish soul) and a “pajas+helios” (clownish sun)];
a priestly one  (piou-s-alios : Latin salios [acc. plural];                                 salius [singular]: “priest of Mars”);  so a warring priest, member of the Church Militant, like a pious Aenes  founder of a new Rome; a pagan Jebusite turned into a Jesuit;   one who must be measured with different meters and ratios: cos [trigonometry] cosine against the “sinful” sin);
“ast” (alternating series test) a method used to prove  that infinite series
of terms converge (converge -> conversion), discovered by Gottfried Leibniz.
That same Leibniz who surmised that there are indefinitely many substances individually ‘programmed’ to act in a predetermined way,  each program being coordinated with all the others. (WP).
[Leibnitz -> Monad : Italian “mònade”; but Triestine “monàde” : bullshit]
And that is exactly Shem’s condition, Shem who has been appointed by
the special verb (herrgott : argot [French: slang] ) of Almighty God
(Herr Gott)  to be a scapegoat (shape hegoat),
“With his broad and hairy face, to Ireland a disgrace” (II,2,260),
under the shape (togged / togued) of a devil (Glugg), apparently sure of
himself (tail up), but actually tugged and stoned, lapidated (tile).
And watch out: “tail up” means “bottom exposed”.
As our Russian General knows!