Where was Moses?

Of the three "enigmas" that Bloom ponders as he prepares to enter the marital bedroom, the last, which he has brooded on for "30 years," sounds nonsensical: "Where was Moses when the candle went out?" And it is nonsensical: this riddle, apparently commonplace in Joyce's day, had nothing to do with the great Hebrew leader and it set the listener up for various jokey answers. Ithaca heightens the sense of absurdity by implying that Bloom, "having effected natural obscurity by the extinction of artificial light" (i.e., turning off the lamp), suddenly finds an answer which should not have required so long to become "selfevident": Moses was in the dark. But lurking beneath the childish silliness of this minor mystery are some sexual resonances that may be relevant to Bloom's current situation.

John Hunt 2020

Advertisement, date unknown, for sheet music of "Where Was Moses When the Light Went Out?" published by Henry J. Wehman in New York, held in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. Source: repository.duke.edu.

Sheet music of "Where Was Moses When the Light Went Out" in Max Vernor's Serio-Comic Character Songs, published in 1878 by Brainard's Sons, Cleveland and held in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Source: www.loc.gov.