SMP: Sine Mascula Prole – Preparatory to Bloomsday

James Joyce’s “Ulysses” begins with a large S that takes up most of the first page and begins the first sentence: “Stately, plump….” The book is divided into 18 chapters, or episodes, as Stuart Gilbert called them, though Joyce did not number or title the chapters. A new chapter is signaled with the start of a new page, its first line all caps. Each chapter is characterized by its own, unique writing style (the changing styles are obvious, and one doesn’t need an annotated work to note or enjoy the differences). The 18 chapters are divided into three parts, marked by separate pages with a large Roman numeral at the top: I, II, and III. Part I contains the first three chapters and part III the last three chapters, part II, then, the middle 12 chapters. Each part is signaled with a full page devoted to a large letter that takes up the entire page:


Why S M P? One suggestion is that the letters stand for the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Bloom (P for Bloom, for his nickname: “Poldy”). But P might also point to Penelope, for Molly’s soliloquy, the last chapter (Penelope was the wife of Ulysses). Certainly the first three chapters concern Stephen (the M sentence introduces “Mr Leopold Bloom…,” and the P sentence begins, “Preparatory to anything else Mr. Bloom…”). Scholarly, annotated discussions have suggested sentence, middle, predicate, Aristotle’s syllogism. Whatever.

Frank Budgen, in his book “James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses,” explains that Joyce liked the character Ulysses for his “complete, all round character.” Ulysses was a father, a son, a husband, a soldier (but, Joyce adds, speaking to Budgen: “Don’t forget that he was a war dodger who tried to evade military service by simulating madness.”). Joyce also says that Ulysses was “the first gentleman in Europe,” and “an inventor too.” Joyce says to Budgen of Ulysses, “But he is a complete man as well – a good man. At any rate, that is what I intend that he shall be.”

I remember at CSUDH working with my Joycean mentor Mike Mahon, and I had simply looked up SMP in some dictionary, and found that it was an acronym for the Latin phrase “sine mascula prole,” without male issue. While Bloom is a father, his son, Rudy, has died (Bloom also has a daughter, Milly), and there’s a suggestion that Rudy’s death is the cause for the distance created between Molly and Bloom, and thus Bloom, in addition to being a father, son, and husband, is made by Molly to be a cuckold. Thus indeed he is Joyce’s “complete man,” and “without male issue” may take on yet another connotation.

It’s unlikely Joyce had any of the following in mind with regard to SMP, but since what Joyce had in mind is often beside the point, we might also enjoy considering:

Strategic Management Plan
Sex, Money, Power
Simple Minded People
See Me Please
Smoke More Pot
Standard Maintenance Procedure
Sub Motor Pool

Related: An Invitation to Celebrate Bloomsday with Frank Delaney