Illustration of a man resembling James Joyce wearing a hat and glasses

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

Start Free Trial

How does Stephen Dedalus's name reflect Greek mythology in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

Quick answer:

Stephen Dedalus's name embodies Greek mythology in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in that Daedalus was the father of Icarus, the man who died after flying too near to the sun. This name is entirely appropriate for Stephen as he wants to soar high above what he regards as the constraints of living in Ireland and become a great artist.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Stephen Dedalus's unusual surname is entirely appropriate given his ambitions in life. Like his Greek near-namesake Stephen wants to soar high into the sky. Not literally, of course, but metaphorically.

He feels tied down by what he sees as the "nets" of contemporary Irish life: parochialism, nationalism, and the enormous power of the Roman Catholic Church. Stephen wants to free himself from these constraints and rise above them, becoming a great European artist in the process.

Whereas many of his contemporaries are enthusiastic about the Gaelic cultural revival, Stephen's eyes are firmly fixed on much broader horizons. He doesn't want to be a great Irish artist but a great European one, just like Dante, Shakespeare, or Cervantes.

This inevitably means that he has no time for what he see as a narrow-minded society in the firm grip of cultural and intellectual paralysis. As Irish society isn't really developing in any meaningful sense, it's up to Stephen to leave Ireland. And that's precisely what he intends to do at the earliest opportunity. When he finally does leave, he will be embarking upon a similar voyage of discovery to that of Daedalus in ancient Greek mythology, flying towards the sun of artistic greatness.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial