Stephen Daedalus, A Greek Hero?

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Writers use allusions in order to reveal aspects of character or theme in their writing. James Joyce uses this device in his character, Stephen Dedalus, in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, by creating a surname after Daedalus, a greek hero. In the myth, Daedalus is thrown by the orders of King Minos into the labyrinth that contains the minotaur. Because of his crimes, he is placed in a complicated maze in order to die. Much the same way, Stephen feels he has been tossed into a hell of his own imagination after hearing a priest’s sermon. Stephen thinks about a life without God after disobeying His will and begins to fear that he will bear the weight of his sins for eternity. James Joyce, in his novel Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, creates several sermons underlining Stephen’s relationship with his namesake, Daedalus, the Greek hero, in order to illustrate his impurity.

In chapter three on a student religious retreat, the priest talks about the pain of loss. In this sermon the priest says, “ O think what pain, what anguish, it must be for the poor soul to be spurned from the presence of the supremely good and loving Creator” (138). When Stephen hears these words, it reminds him of how he has sinned and how in his imagination God does not love him anymore, therefore damning him to hell. As Stephen feels he will rot in hell, Daedalus experiences a hell by the labyrinth that King Minos built that housed the Minotaur. Stephen perceives that God does not love him and Daedalus knows that his King does not either.

Although Stephen feels remorse for his sins after the first sermon, he feels even worse after the second sermon. In the second sermon, the priest explains to the children that they will be afflicted by the pain of conscience. In his explanation, the priest exclaims, “How they will rage and fume to think that they have lost the bliss of heaven for the dross of earth, for a few pieces of metal, for vain honors” (139). The priest’s words force Stephen to look at his actions. Sleeping with a prostitute may have helped him become a man, but Stephen feels he may have “lost the bliss of heaven” because of his decision. Stephen is angry at himself for his sins. He looks back at his mistakes that led to his sinful path away from God and he regrets it. Similarly, in the greek myth, Daedalus regrets his disobedience to King Minos. Although they encounter these emotions in two different ways, they think along the same lines as each other.

In a third sermon about the pain of extension, the priest talks about how hell is the center of evils. In this sermon he refers to people in hell saying, “Light, so much coveted by all creatures from the lord of creation down to the humblest plant in the forest, will be loathed intensely” (141). Stephen thinks about how even a lowly plant in the forest is more favored with God’s light than he is and so he thinks about how sinful he has become and how he really needs to become holy so as not to go to hell. Daedalus, on the other hand, when he is in the labyrinth, thinks about the light of day and how much he misses it, pondering why the gods would have forsaken him to this pit to die by the Minotaur’s hands. Thus, they both believe that the gods abandoned them to their faults.

At the end of the chapter, Stephen repents and confesses all his sins, becoming a happier person, feeling that he has been released of all his sins and is holy again. Stephen is determined to stay sinless for the rest of his life. Just how Stephen realizes what he must do, so does Daedalus, redeeming himself by slaying the Minotaur and walking out of the labyrinth and marrying King Minos’ daughter. Therefore, Daedalus redeems himself by killing a horrible monster and gets to become a king becoming favored by the gods. Both Stephen and Daedalus begin as sinners, unloved by the gods but then redeem themselves and become godly people.





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