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Archaic Lore in James Joyces The Dead

In most, if not all, of the works by James Joyce, the surface story is signified, deepened,
mythologized, by Joyces deliberate appropriation of ancient myths, significant dates,
traditions and allusions from the past, i.e., archaic lore. This technique, of deliberately
incorporating archaic lore as a way to signify a modern story, is certainly used by Joyce
in The Dead. In this particular story, archaic lore from three different traditions is
incorporated as a means to structure and signify the story:
1. The Christian Tradition.
--January 6, the date of the story, is the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Epiphany
celebrates the awe-full experience of the Magi, and carries the themes of life-changing
awareness, the death of the old and birth of the new, seeing the reality behind the surface.
In the Christian tradition, the Angel Gabriel is very much connected to the event.
--Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Carnival season. Twelfth Night is connected to an
array of themes: the selection of the King/Fool of Carnival, the theme of masks, alternate
identities and masquerade, a celebration as the prelude to a dark and somber time.
2. The Irish Lore: Music and Myth.
--the old Irish tonalityIrish traditional music is based on a music theory (the
Pythagorean Modal System) much older than the tempered scales of the Common
Practice Period. In The Dead, the old Irish ballad, The Lass of Aughrim is significant
in its contrast to the rest of the music, and is also significant for its intense personal
connection to Gretta.
--Da Dergas Hostel. Da Dergas Hostel is one of the significant tales from the Irish
Mythological Cycle, and concerns the fated and karmic death of King Conaire. In the
myth, Conaire is warned that should he break any of the proscriptions (these proscriptions
are called the geis) placed on him, regardless of whether he breaks them deliberately or
accidentally, the forces of the universe will align against him and he will be sent to the
realm of the dead. The geis , the things forbidden , include:
--arriving at a hostel after dark
--staying there even after a single man arrives and a single woman leaves
--seeing three who are red
--killing or wishing to kill geese
--entering a hostel that is only lit from the outside.
In the myth, try as he might to avoid the geis, Conaire , in his struggle to stay alive,
actually places himself in circumstances that allow all of the geis to manifest.
This story and its theme of the Wyrd and fate is believed by many scholars to be the
substructure for Joyces The Dead.
3. The GrecoRoman Triple Goddesses. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the
archaic lore in The Dead is the guest appearance of the Greco-Roman Triple
Goddess in the story. Throughout The Dead, trios of females are invested with
the characteristics and powers ascribed to the Triple Goddesses in Greco-Roman
tradition. The three most important of these manifestions are:
--The Three Graces, known in Greek Mythology as the Charites are Aglaia
(Splendor), Euphrosyne (Festivity), and Thalia (Rejoicing). In Greek
myth, the Graces are associated with fun, partying and festivity; in Joyces story
they are presented as something of a parody.

--The Three Fates are Clothos, Lachesis, and Atropos. These Three measure, assess and
end the life of a human. In The Dead, they make a very brief guest appearance.
--The Erinyes (Greek) or the Furies (Roman). The Three Erinyes play a very significant
role in The Dead. The Three are Alecto (The Unceasing) who is associated
with the furious energy in bitterness; Megaera (The Grudging One) who is
infuriated because of a particular issue or specific grudge she has towards
someone; and Tisophone whose furor is always associated with a wrongful death.
All Three of the Furies particularly target the human who insults the gods and
humanity through the transgression of hubrisegotism, egotistical pride, selfcentered behavior at the expense of others, lack of empathy. In Greek myth,
though the Erinyes are typically feared, they are also recognized as agents of
regeneration, i.e., through their furious attacks on a persons egotism and hubris,
their target can become a much better person because of these very attacks
themselves.

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