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The book "Dodger's Guide to London" has two jokes on page 103.

  1. Why is the City of Rome* like a candle wick?... Because it's in the middle of Greece.

  2. A horse has ten legs: he has two forelegs and two hind ones. Two fores are eight, and two others are ten!

Second joke is clear and funny. But what does first mean? It also has a footnote:

*He would have it Rome

I think it refers to former capital of Roman empire and current capital of Italy, but this city has nothing to do with Greece.

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  • "grease" and "Greece" are pronounced the same. (see tallow candles)
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 10:19
  • Grease would explain it if Rome was located in Greece. But Rome is in Italy, it's not Greece.
    – Damir
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 12:27
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    The pun is the pun. The geographical error is something you will have to take up with the jokester. Some geographical ignorance on the part of the joke teller and audience might be assumed. “They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance” ( Terry Pratchett)
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 13:06
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    It was a pretty lame joke to start with, but originally it was Athens But the "extra" joke in your cite hinges on (he would have it Rome) - implying that whoever's retelling the joke is so ignorant they don't know the difference between Rome and Athens. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 15:42
  • Or they didn't understand the joke at all and thought one capital could be replaced with another one.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 21:20

3 Answers 3

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The jokes are based on puns

Why is the City of Rome* like a candle wick?... Because it's in the middle of Greece.

*He would have it Rome

(Greece = "grease") A wick can be ignited in grease and burn as a candle does.
(Rome = "roam") Since most people know that Rome (the city) is not in Greece, the footnote is saying that the speaker would allow the city, Rome, to move, to accommodate the joke.

A horse has ten legs: he has two forelegs and two hind ones. Two fores are eight, and two others are ten!

(fore = four) Again a pun in the mathematical sense.

Punning and double entendre are time honoured traditions in English (the country) comedy.

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  • Incidentally, Athens is not in the middle of Greece either; it's at the southern tip, on the coast. But I appreciate your efforts at rehabilitating this joke, focused on the word Rome.
    – Chaim
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 22:44
  • +1 he would have it Rome (=roam) was lost on me. Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 0:20
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The candlewick / Greece joke was originally told by a street entertainer witnessed by Sir Henry Mayhew in the mid 1800s and is recounted in his masterly book "The Lives and Labour of the London Poor." The afternote "He would have it Rome" was Mayhew's indication that he had tried to correct the entertainer to no effect.

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The point of the Rome joke is that after Rome conquered Greece, Greek philosophers, playwrights, and other thinkers became quite popular in Rome. To the extent that, for example, the Greek Pantheon of deities essentially "conquered" the Roman one, and the Roman Gods and Goddesses were replaced by Greek ones with slight name changes.

So, intellectually, Rome was "in the middle of Greece".

To the extent that the Eastern "Roman" Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) was essentially a Greek Empire, not a Roman one.

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