William Field, the bard with the tumbling hair at Queen Dido’s banquet


U 12.829-30: Hairy Iopas, says the citizen, that exploded volcano, the darling of all countries and the idol of his own.

 In Surface and Symbol (p. 142) the always sober Robert Martin Adams tells his readers:

Among the unlikely possessors of polite learning must be numbered the Citizen, who [...] describes William Field, M.P. as "hairy Iopas, that exploded volcano, the darling of all countries and the idol of his own". The reference is not to an obscure Gaelic deity, but to Aeneid, I, 740. ["Long-haired Iopas, once taught by mighty Atlas, makes the hall ring with his golden lyre."]

        In the conclusion of his book Adams adds (p. 245):

Dr. Murren, hairy Iopas, and Lanty MacHale's goat are not essential to a broad understanding of the book, and I don't suppose it takes great force of character to live in ignorance of what these particular names mean, since they are so easily detachable.

        Adams is clearly underestimating Joyce's subtle efforts to document Dublin contemporary life, as the drawing of William Field, M.P. (1843–1935), below - from Punch (1892, 27 August, p. 96), illustrates.

In the 1870s Field adopted the style of dress which he maintained for the rest of his life – shoulder-length hair, a black broad-brimmed hat, and a long black coat. This eccentric appearance made him instantly recognisable and frequently caricatured.

Dictionary of Irish Biography

        But Joyce may very well have been aware of other relevant traits that Virgil's bard and William Field had in common. A valuable little booklet, William Field, M.P. by J.F Reid, editor of the Meat Trades' Journal, published apparently in 1918, informs us that Field frequently sang in Blackrock Townhall to aid charitable causes, and that he had a bard's harp in his coat of arms. He was indeed very popular in his own country: Field was elected to Parliament in 1892 with an impressive majority of 2,706 votes in spite of the fact that it was predicted that "not a single Parnellite would be returned". "The darling of all countries" may refer to the fact that he received invitations (which he had to decline) to the USA and Uruguay and paid visits to Hungary, Germany, France, Belgium and Holland.

        Why the citizen calls him an exploded volcano is not entirely clear. Perhaps John Stanislaus Joyce, a fellow-Parnellite and erstwhile citizen of Blackrock himself, provided a forgotten anecdote that his son alluded to. But "extinct volcano" was a common political taunt of the time. When Colonel King-Harmon was called an "extinct volcano" in 1883, someone shouted out ‘Poor crater!’ (Freeman’s Journal, 24 February) - with its pun on 'Poor creature!'

Harald Beck

Search by keyword (within this site)

I am grateful to Vincent Deane for inspecting Reid's booklet in the NLI for me.