Annotations to James Joyce's Ulysses/Proteus/040
Descende, calve, ut ne nimium decalveris. (Latin) Come down, O bald head, lest you be made excessively bald.
Stephen has altered the opening words of the first prophecy in the Vaticinia Pontificum (Prophecies of the Popes, Venice, 1589), which was spuriously attributed to Joachim Abbas: Ascende, calve, ut ne amplius decalveris, qui non vereris decalvere sponsam: ut comam ursae nutrias (Go up, O bald one, lest you be made more bald, you who are not afraid to make your wife bald in order to nourish the she-bear's hair).
The prophecy recalls II Kings 2:23-24: And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. In the Latin Vulgate, the childrens' taunt is rendered: ascende calve ascende calve.
Stephen's Latin phrase is based on the very first sentence of the Vaticinia Pontificum. When he (or Joyce) browsed a copy of this work in Marsh's Library, it is possible that he read no further than this. He probably first encountered Joachim in his reading of Dante's Divine Comedy. In Paradiso 140-141 Joachim is described as il calavrese abate Giovacchino, di spirito profetico dotato (the Calabrian abbot Joachim, endowed with a prophetic spirit).
See also 037.06.
The fat of kidneys of wheat. This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 32:13-15: "and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape. But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him".
While the phrase itself may be obscure, the anticlerical image of fat oily priests that Joyce is conjuring up is clear enough.
John Hobart Caunter  cites a Dr Clark's explanation of the phrase: "Dr. Adam Clark has an excellent note on this verse. ‘Almost every person knows,’ says he, ‘that the kidney is enveloped in a coat of the purest fat in the body of the animal, for which several anatomical reasons might be given. As the kidney itself is to the abundantly surrounding fat, so is the germ of the grain to the lobes or farinaceous parts. The expression here may be considered as a very strong and peculiarly happy figure to point out the finest wheat, containing the healthiest and most vigorous germ, growing in a very large and nutritive grain; and consequently the whole figure points out to us a species of wheat, equally excellent both for seed and bread.’"
O si, certo ! (Italian) O yes, certainly! In Italian the word for yes is usually spelt sì (or, rarely, sí). Sì certo, without the comma, means certainly.
- Gifford, Don; Seidman, Robert J. (1988). Ulysses Annotated. University of California Press. p. 50.
Thornton, Weldon (1968). Allusions in Ulysses. University of North Carolina Press. p. 48.
- Vaticinia Pontificum
- King James Version
- Bibla Sacra Vulgata
- The Little Review
- Caunter, J. H. (1839) The Poetry of the Pentateuch, Vol. 2. London: E. Churn, pp. 229-30
- Gifford (1988) 51.