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This is the third time we have seen the tiled grid of images and associations–again, it’s a technique suited to those moments where Bloom is nostalgic, moving through a series of thoughts and pictures that take him someplace a little painful. He remembers going to a dance with Molly, which turns into remembering that this was the first time she noticed Boylan. This is not a story Bloom wants to tell.
The allusion to Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours comes from his opera called La Gioconda. The plot involves the wife of the villain having a tryst with another man who turns out to be the hero (incidentally, Boylan will be referred to as “the conquering hero” in a later episode). The villain tries to poison the wife in revenge, the wife in reality is only drugged and hidden, and then all resolves itself at the end (think The Winter’s Tale). I hope by now you’re noticing that when Joyce refers to music, especially to opera, the rather convoluted plots involving seduction and mistaken identity usually echo what’s happening between Bloom and Molly: this one, Don Giovanni, and another to come called Martha.
The Dance of the Hours, as Bloom points out in the lower left hand corner panel, is an elaborate ballet interpolated into La Gioconda, where different costumes represent the different times of day and their passing. So Bloom’s imagined sketch becomes a much darker story of seduction and betrayal, and it also prefigures the passage of the day until he can come home; whether the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. L. Bloom will be righted remains to be seen.