Epiphany

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I guess everybody is familiar with the old story of the three Wise Men who had ventured to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. After a long, tiring journey, the Magi seemed to have lost their way, but they eventually succeeded in reaching their destination thanks to the help of the comet star that had lighted up and pointed them the right direction. At the end of that journey they were recompensed by the sight of the physical manifestation of the son of God on earth: Jesus. This event is called Epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia: manifestation, striking appearance), that is a moment of a sudden revelation. We can actually give that narration a non-religious interpretation, as the journey of the Magi may also well represent the crisis of the modern age, where men seem to have lost all their certainties and desperately need a focus, represented by the divine illumination of the comet, to direct them to that truth they need to give meaning to their uncertain lives. James Joyce makes his alter ego Stephen Daedalus lecture on the nature of epiphanies during a discussion with his friend Cranly on Aquinas’ interpretation of beauty. An epiphany is ” a sudden spiritual manifestation” which may be provoked by “the vulgarity of speech or a gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself“(from Stephen Hero), it is a moment of claritas that leads to the truth, the quidditas, as Aquinas would sayJoyce experimented the epiphanetic kind of writing especially in his early production and particularly in Dubliners to abandon it gradually. In Dubliners each character experiences one or more epiphanic moments, but Joyce seems to say that this is not enough to awake them from the state of paralysis that dominates their minds, they are all destined to fail. Eveline, for example, the very night she has to leave with her lover, hears an air that reminds her of the last day her mother was alive. She suddenly understands that she has to abandon any hesitation and escape(claritas) if she doesn’t want to end up miserably like her mother(quidditas). When Eveline arrives at the docks,  the illuminated ship that would take her to Buenos Aires for her is a black mass (claritas)  and the joyful whistle of the boat becomes a mournful lament (claritas), she feels that if she left the sea would engulf her(claritas), therefore overwhelmed by a paralyzing fear she refuses to leave (quidditas) and prefers a hopeless present to a hopeful, even if uncertain, future. She just couldn’t do it.