As this example illustrates, the hallucinations of “Circe” usually originate in the mental activity of a specific character – here Bloom – but can be presented in language not plausibly known to that character. Nannetti, we are told, is “in dark alpaca, yellowkitefaced, his hand in his waistcoat opening” (U 15.3387-8). The “alpaca” and “his hand in his waitcoat opening” are definitely remembered from Bloom’s dealings with Nannetti in the “Aeolus” episode (U 7.131 and 147), but the nonce-word “yellowkitefaced” has baffled readers and commentators alike ever since Ulysses was published.
The word formation “kitefaced” was in occasional use in Joyce’s time as a derogative term to describe a person, as in this 1895 quotation from Robert Blatchford’s Tommy Atkins of the Ramchunders: "Don't look stubborn at me, you kite-faced, spindle-shanked, red-headed guttersnipe". But Bloom has no grudge against Nannetti and certainly has no reason to think of him as cowardly, as “yellow” might suggest.
And yet “yellowkitefaced” originates in Bloom’s memory of his meeting with Nannetti in the newspaper episode of Ulysses. There, Bloom, glancing at Nannetti’s “sallow” face, thinks that he might have “a touch of jaundice” (U 7.135). As it turns out, the missing link between “jaundice” and “kite” is provided by the Latin word for jaundice – icterus. As early as 1714, the editor of an English translation of Lucretius’s De rerum natura (Of the Nature of Things) explains: “This Disease, the yellow Jaundice, was likewise call'd, Icteros […] from the Greek, Ἴκτεροσ, a Kite, because the Eyes of those who labour under that Disease, seem in Colour like the Eyes of a Kite” (p. 329). The OED offers a slightly different explanation of icterus as “a yellowish-green bird, by looking at which jaundiced persons were supposed to be cured”.
“So inventive is ‘Circe’ in its exploitation of animal imagery and associations that a cushion thrown by one sex worker to another can become a grouse that ‘wings clumsily through the underwood’ (U 15.3414)”.1 The description of Joseph Nannetti as “yellowkitefaced” provides another example.