The episode begins at noon in the newspaper offices of the Weekly Freeman and National Press and the Freeman's Journal and National Press. The sprawling building also houses the Evening Telegraph, all of the above papers being under common ownership. After the burial of Dignam, the funeral coaches have taken the mourners to the center of Dublin, and Bloom has gone directly to the printing works of the combined newspapers in connection with the advertisement for Alexander Keyes.
The episode corresponds with the Odyssey in two main respects. In Homer's epic, Aeolus, the custodian of the winds, gave Odysseus a great boon: all adverse winds, which could hamper his return to Ithaca, were sealed tightly in a leather bag. Within sight of home, Odysseus's men, out of curiosity and greed, opened the bag as their leader dozed, and both the crew and the commander were blown back, off their course. In Ulysses, the newspaper headlines, reproduced in large type, parody the often windy, empty journalism that makes up the daily news. And Bloom, within sight of "home" — that is, successfully negotiating the Keyes advertisement — is foiled in his attempt by the demanding Keyes and by the irritation of Bloom's own boss, Myles Crawford, the editor.
Bloom's movements in "Aeolus," form, as it were, a mini-odyssey by themselves, and they must be carefully traced. At the beginning of the episode, it seems that Bloom will have no trouble with the Keyes advertisement. Red Murray cuts out a past version of it and tells Bloom, who is to take the snipped-out square to the Telegraph wing of the building, that the Freeman's Journal will indeed run a paragraph (gratis), calling attention to Keyes's establishment.
Trouble begins, though, when Bloom meets Councillor Nannetti, the business manager for the Freeman's Journal. Nannetti is an Italian and, like Bloom, he is an outsider, but Nannetti has succeeded in making himself accepted by Dubliners and is a member of the Dublin city council. (In fact, the actual Nannetti — Joseph Patrick — served as mayor of Dublin in 1906 and 1907.) Nannetti agrees to print the paragraph about Keyes's establishment, but only with the condition that Keyes guarantees to run the advertisement for three months. Bloom explains that Keyes wants the design of the advertisement changed to a rebus of two crossed keys, a design that appeared in a Kilkenny paper (the Kilkenny People) and, furthermore, he will go to the National Library to track down this particular design. This journey will place Bloom in the library at the same time that Stephen is there in "Scylla and Charybdis."
Deciding to call Keyes instead of taking the chance of going to his place only to find that he is out, Bloom enters the office of the Evening Telegraph to use the phone. Professor MacHugh, Ned Lambert, and Simon Dedalus are there, and later (but before Bloom leaves for Dillon's Auction Rooms in Bachelor's Walk to find Keyes) J. J. O'Molloy, Myles Crawford, and Lenehan enter the room. Bloom is struck by the opening door when O'Molloy enters, and later he bumps into Lenehan after he finishes his phone call to Keyes; symbolically, there is no room for Bloom in the group. Lambert and Mr. Dedalus leave for a drink at a nearby pub, The Oval, and Bloom leaves to talk to Keyes. As he does so, newsboys mimic his manner of walking, and Lenehan, following their childish lead, does a mazurka to imitate the departing protagonist. After Bloom has left, Stephen and O'Madden Burke enter the office to join Crawford, O'Molloy, Lenehan and MacHugh.
From this point on, things go downhill for Bloom. He tries to talk to Crawford over the phone but is told (by MacHugh) to come back to the building. (Crawford gives MacHugh the message: tell Bloom to go to hell.) At the exact wrong moment, Bloom, returning, accosts Crawford just as he is leaving the newspaper building; Keyes will accept a renewal, but for only two months, not three. The reply of the irritated and thirsty-for-a-drink editor, that Keyes "can kiss [his] arse," leaves Bloom in a muddle. He simply does not know whether to take Crawford seriously or not. To Crawford, the exchange is a minor contretemps, but, for Bloom, the Keyes advertisement is his major commercial transaction of the day. In effect, Bloom's "return" is as ambiguous as that of Odysseus, who, after a reconciliation with Penelope, had to journey farther, carrying an oar on his shoulder, until he came to a land whose inhabitants had never beheld the sea. Odysseus's bearing an oar blends well with the Christocentric symbolism that surrounds Bloom.
Bloom's frustrated comings and goings here show even more clearly than the events in "Hades" (where the reactions of his fellow Dubliners towards him were muted because of the solemn occasion) his isolation from the people with whom he comes into daily contact. In "Aeolus," for the most part, Bloom is either ignored or treated shabbily. His "third hint" to Hynes about the money (three shillings) that he owes Bloom ("If you want to draw the cashier is just going to lunch") accomplishes nothing. Nannetti's responses to Bloom are curt and terse, even more than the noisy machinery of the printing press necessitates. When Bloom does try to become part of the group by asking what newspaper story is being quoted (Dan Dawson's speech), MacHugh says insultingly that it is a recently discovered fragment of Cicero's; Mr. Dedalus answers in a more kindly manner, perhaps remembering that it was he who diverted Bloom from reading Dan Dawson's speech on the way to Glasnevin. And Lenehan's "Pardon, monsieur," when he and Bloom collide is an exaggerated politeness meant to ridicule. Bloom, for his part, as he stands waiting for Nannetti to again acknowledge his presence, seems to realize that he does not have the ability to engage in the light banter, the mild blasphemies that knit Dublin men together; he recalls his rebuff by the pompous Menton (in "Hades") and wishes that he had been able to make a joke about the dinge (dent) in Menton's hat: "I ought to have said something about an old hat or something."
Bloom's plight forms half the episode's "matter"; the conversations of Stephen, Professor MacHugh, O'Madden Burke, Crawford, and the others make up the other half, and the two halves are viscerally connected: the principals in the newspaper office, while dismissing Bloom, worship the lifeless heroes of the past. The great irony of this windy chapter, "Aeolus," is that the true hope of Ireland, Bloom, a man of decency, understanding, and charity, is rejected, while the leaders of Dublin, a professor, a newspaper editor, etc., pursue chimeras.
The conversations in the newspaper office consist of three major topics: the ridicule of the speech which Dan Dawson made the night before; effulgent praise of the mythic reporter Ignatius Gallaher, who 'broke" the story of the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 to a New York paper; and the deep respect for a patriotic speech made by John F. Taylor, the orator, in 1901.
The ample quotations from the Dawson speech in "Aeolus," justly parodied by Simon Dedalus and Ned Lambert, show the triteness of Dawson's attitude towards the emerald isle. The speech's many cliched adjectives resemble the descriptive phrases of those who think of Ireland in terms of purling rills and smiling leprechauns. Dawson's speech occludes Ireland's problems as effectively as Haines's shrugging gesture and comment that the land's troubles are the fault of "history." There is irony, though, in the inability of Dedalus and Lambert to see the hackneyed element in themselves, even as they criticize the superficiality of another.
The discussants' bungling of facts about the Phoenix Park murders reveals Joyce's derisive attitude towards those who live in the past. The murders of two high officials whom a segment of the Fenians (the Invincibles) felt were repressing the Irish (they were), took place on May 6, 1882, near the Viceregal Lodge, in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Gallaher, who worked for the Freeman, answered the request, of the New York World for news about the killings by referring the publishers to an advertisement in the Weekly Freeman of March 17. By explaining a code in an ad of that day, Gallaher was able to provide details of the assassins' route on May 6. Joyce may be implying that the legendary reporter actually knew of the plans for the assassinations before they took place, even though the whole story is, of course, apocryphal.
In any event, Joyce berates the pressmen, including Myles Crawford (who is more drunk than he usually is at noon), by having them place the murders in 1881 instead of the correct year, 1882. It is virtually impossible that Joyce himself slipped in this regar; after all, 1882 was the year of his own birth. Again, Joyce's negative attitude towards Gallaher is defined as early as the short story "A Little Cloud": here, he pictures Gallaher as an apostate Irishman who wears an orange tie, sits enshrouded in a cloud of smoke, and fabricates stories about Parisian sexual excesses.
The John F. Taylor speech was part of the debate over whether the Irish language should be revived. It was impromptu and delivered by a man who had just left a sick bed. So moved is Stephen, in "Aeolus," by the quotations from Taylor's discourse, that he is, for the moment, tempted to consider remaining in Ireland to work for its eventual glorification — a seductively deadly trap for an aspiring writer.
The quotations from Taylor synthesize major themes in Ulysses: the bondage of Ireland by England is compared to Israel's enslavement by the Egyptians, and those Irish who would urge capitulation to English interests are seen as being no better than the Egyptian high priests who tried to entice the young Moses to give up the cause of freedom. Professor MacHugh, recalling patriots such as Taylor, laments the fact that he must teach Latin, the language of the Roman barbarians, and not Greek (Ulysses, when first published as a whole, in 1922, was covered in Greek blue), and he views the British of 1904 as embodiments of the ancient Romans, who were more interested in clean bodies than in pure hearts. The men agree that Ireland needs a Messiah, a Moses, to lead them to a Promised Land, but Moses (like Bloom) was never allowed to enter the land; he received only a so-called Pisgah Sight of it, a vision from afar.
Stephen's answer to Taylor's "vision" is his own "vision": his Pisgah Sight of Palestine or the Parable of the Plums. His lecture is delivered with only mild sarcasm, for Stephen is portrayed sympathetically in "Aeolus": He is among people who respect him (his father has left by the time Stephen arrives), and he is more at ease than in other episodes, more deferential, and even humble. The meaning of his parable is fairly evident. Two old women (one of whom is probably the same "Florence MacCabe" who appeared in "Proteus") become dizzy as they try to look up at Nelson after they have climbed to the base of his statue. Thus they are caught between two unpleasant alternatives: a stultified Dublin and its imperialistic conqueror. The plum seeds ("stones") that they spit onto the city below through the railings (actually "screenings") are symbols of sterility, in contrast to Boylan's soon-to-be potted meat (Plumtree's). And it is significant in "Aeolus" that a power failure stops the heart of Dublin's life: its trams. Dublin is indeed a paralyzed city.
Finally, "Aeolus," as do all the episodes in Ulysses, carries through motifs common to the entire novel. Keyes's demand for two crossed keys at the top of his ad suggests the keyless plight of Ulysses's two male protagonists, as does the allusion to "home rule." Bloom's sight of a typesetter reading print backwards reminds him of his father's method of reading his "hagadah book." Lenehan gives the (ultimately incorrect) tip on the Gold Cup: Sceptre. Crawford's act of locking his desk with jingling keys anticipates the jingling bed of Boylan and Molly later that afternoon. Crawford wonders if Deasy was "short taken," when Stephen presents him with the letter about the foot and mouth disease (Stephen tore off part of the letter to write poetry in "Proteus"), and again the theme of creativity and defecation is implied. And, finally, we discover why Deasy is so misogynistic; he has a shrewish wife.