Stephen Dedalus may seem an “absurd name” from the perspective of normal Irish experience, but from a literary perspective it is easily one of the most meaningful, over-determined signifiers ever attached to a person. Mulligan is probably referring to his unheard-of family name; but both Stephen and Dedalus are “ancient Greek,” and both reflect the ancient Greek practice of using names to indicate functions or attributes.

Dedalus and Icarus in the workshop, after a Roman relief in the Villa Albani, Rome. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Charles Paul Landon, Daedalus and Icarus (1799), oil painting displayed in the Musee des Beaux Art et de la Dentelle, Alencon, France. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Virgil Solis, woodcut of Dedalus watching Icarus fall in Ovid: Metamorphoses (Frankfurt, 1569), held in the special collections of the University of Glasgow. Source: www.lib.gla.ac.uk.

The Cretan Labyrinth, in an Italian engraving by the school of Finiguerra. Source: www.sacred-texts.com.

Oil painting by Giulio Romano, ca. 1530, showing Pasiphae stepping into Dedalus' contraption.

Europa and Jupiter, oil painting by Noel-Nicolas Coypel, ca. 1726. Source: ancienthistory.about.com.

Roman marble relief sculpture of a bull garlanded for sacrifice, from the 1st century AD. Displayed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Source: www.vroma.org.