Martello tower, photo by Erik Simpson

The Ulysses Lexicon



host, hosts, hosting

Related Terms



In Ulysses, host appears primarily as a noun, signifying either a multitude, the sacrificial host of the Eucharist in the form of the consecrated bread/wafer, or a person who accommodates guests. Host may also refer to the host organism of a parasite. Themes of religion, sacrifice, nationhood, cannibalism, and parasitism all become intertwined in Joyce's uses of host in the novel, as the two main characters, Stephen and Bloom, both embody the term host in a number of different ways.

Stephen is a host in the sense that Buck Mulligan and Haines are first his house guests, and then essentially parasitize and colonize him. This is evident in the way Buck takes advantage of Stephen, usurping his key to the Martello Tower, and also in the way that Haines, an Englishman and a guest in the tower, wants to collect Stephen's "Irish" expressions. This particular dynamic reflects the relationship between Ireland and England, with Ireland as the victimized host and England as the parasitic colonizer. The military sense of host (as an armed multitude) also resonates here, as the Martello tower would have originally been a British military tower.

When host appears in religious contexts, it takes on a sinister edge. We see an example of this in "Circe": "FATHER MALACHI O'FLYNN: (Takes from the chalice and elevates a blooddripping host) Corpus meum" (U 15.4702-03). The "blooddripping host" suggests victimization and cannibalism, and the Catholic tradition of communion gets mixed up with these connotations.

It is interesting to consider this usage of host when looking at "Ithaca" (U 17), in which the word appears at least fourteen times to describe Bloom, whose guest is Stephen. Compared to the cerebral, hyper-textual Stephen, Bloom is bodily and more firmly situated in the material world; thus, calling him host works on a few different levels. As the sacramental bread, the host represents (or becomes, in the Catholic tradition) the physical body of Christ. Not only is Bloom, as host, the bodily counterpart of the cerebral, waifish Stephen, but he is also aligned with Christ. In "Lotus Eaters," while in the bath Bloom reflects: "This is my body" (U 5.566). These same words are spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke as he breaks the bread at the last supper. Given Bloom's status as a Jew—who has converted but is still perceived to be Jewish, an outcast from the Catholic church—the word works to complicate Bloom's religious identity. Further, the narrator in a later episode asks, "Why was the host (victim predestined) sad?" (U 17.838). Here, host as "victim predestined" aligns Bloom with both Christianity and Judaism, as the phrase may refer to Christ, predestined for crucifixion, or the Jews, the persecuted "chosen people." Either way, it reflects Bloom's stigmatization and alienation throughout the novel as a Jew (and an awkward man) in Dublin, and further aligns him with the host of communion. Finally, the use of host to identify Bloom in this episode is somewhat ironic and complicated by the account of his elaborate scheme to keep Stephen around in a (mutually) parasitic relationship—Bloom fixes Stephen's mistakes, houses and feeds him, while appointment to manager of Stephen's musical talents, the desired goal of all this fraternizing, would bring in a sizeable income for Bloom.

Definitions and Examples

  1. I. Host, n. (OED 1a, 2a, 3a) A large company; an armed multitude; Biblical: the multitude of angels that attend God.

    "The void awaits surely all them that weave the wind: a menace, a disarming and a worsting from those embattled angels of the church, Michael's host, who defend her ever in the hour of conflict with their lances and their shields" (U 1.661-64).

    "Gone with the wind. Hosts at Mullaghmast and Tara of the kings" (U 7.880).

    • n. A person who lodges and entertains others. (OED 1, see III below)
    • n. The host organism that has a parasite living in or upon it. (OED 3a)

    "Israel is weak and few are her children: Egypt is an host and terrible are her arms" (U 7.858).

  2. II. Host, n. (OED 2) The consecrated bread of the Eucharist, regarded as the body of the sacrificed and resurrected Christ.

    "Bringing his host down and kneeling he heard twine with his second bell the first bell in the transept (he is lifting his) and, rising, heard (now I am lifting) their two bells (he is kneeling) twang in diphthong" (U 3.125-27).

    • n. A victim for a sacrifice (OED 1)

    "Father Conmee at the altarrails placed the host with difficulty in the mouth of the awkward old man who had the shaky head" (U 10.131-32).

  3. III. Host, n. (OED 1) A person who lodges and entertains others.

    "What seemed to the host to be the predominant qualities of his guest?" (U 17.252).

    "What fragments of verse from the ancient Hebrew and ancient Irish languages were cited with modulations of voice and translation of texts by guest to host and by host to guest?" (U 17.724-26).

Related topics

Ingestion and Excretion
Irish History Transformed
Native and Foreign
Race and Ethnicity

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