After I produced the first version of these annotations in 2018, I was listening to the audiobook of Moby-Dick and heard a paragraph that I was 1) sure I would have annotated it, and 2) sure I had not annotated it. It turns out that the edition I had been using (Penguin Popular Classics, ISBN 978-0-140-62062-7), supplemented with the Project Gutenberg version (mostly for cutting and pasted long quotations), did not include all of "Melville's notes". These are included in the Norton Critical Edition (ISBN 0-393-09670-X)—or at least more are—but it is not clear whether these were included in some published edition of Moby-Dick, or whether they were extracted from other separate articles, letters, etc. The polished language of the notes indicates (to me, anyway) that they were not mere marginalia on some earlier draft. The Penguin edition does not label them as Melville's notes, because unlike the Norton Critical Edition, it does not any any of its own notes.
I have added all the notes (labeled as such), even if I have no additional annotation, since it is possible that they should be considered part of the text (as indeed they were in the audio version).
In retrospect, it would probably have been better using the Norton Critical Edition rather than the Penguin Popular Classics edition, but I did not have the Norton Critical Edition at the time. The first few essays in the Norton Critical Edition discuss the variations in the text between the first American and the first English editions. However, I don't think these variations would have affected my comments in any but very minor ways. (Although the absence of the Epilogue in the first English edition explains why several contemporary reviewers seemed not to have read it, and I have now so noted this.) A totally different reason is that the Norton Critical Edition is bound better; my copy of the Penguin Popular Classics now has the last two dozen pages or so detached.
While I was discovering all this about the Norton Critical Edition, I also found this in the Foreword to that edition:
"We have annotated the text sparingly, most often when a passage presents a problem of identification or recognition which a reader cannot solve without the aid of a desk dictionary, or when a reader might not become aware that there is a problem, and so might miss the point of a passage. ... The allusions in the book come thick and fast, but they normally reveal their relevant denotative and connotative meanings by their contexts. For example, what is important about Cato in the first paragraph of Chapter 1 is not his birth date and death date, but the philosophical flourish with which he commits suicide, and the contrast of Ishmael's less desperate substitute. Footnotes to such limited allusions are irrelevant, and sometimes defeat Melville's (or Ishmael's) purposes. Footnotes which identify all of the allusions in 'The Whiteness of the Whale" do more than destroy the sense of Ishmael as the storyteller—they frustrate his appeal to the reader to follow him imaginatively: "But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety, and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls."
Well, Norton has its philosophy, and I have mine (possibly enhanced by some level of OCD). If you agree with Norton, you can chuck these annotations out the window (or whatever the electronic equivalent is). Otherwise—enjoy!
All references to McWhorter are to Words on the Move: Why English Won't—and Can't—Sit Still (Like, Literally), pages 207–208.
When I recently re-read Moby-Dick for a University of California at Berkeley course, I spent more time taking notes, and looking up names and places I did not recognize. This is the result.
I speak of the text as being Ishmael's words unless it seems more appropriately attributed to Melville. (Critic Kerry McSweeney makes the distinction between Ishmael the character and Ishmael the narrator, particularly in that the latter has knowledge of what will happen later, has researched whales—clearly after his journey—and in general has a more sophisticated viewpoint. The latter I tend to call "Melville" unless he is specifically speaking as Ishmael.)
This has been a labor of love for me. If you've found it enjoyable or useful, please let me know. Also, please consider a contribution to Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg.
Melville gives the word for whale in many languages, the first being Hebrew. And it is here he makes his first mistake. The Hebrew word for whale is "livyatan". However, the word for "crocodile" is "tanin", and several major translations have translated this as "whale". At some point a major Biblical scholar mis-read "tanin" as "tanim" and decided that it must be a plural, of which "tan" would be the singular. So the word "tanin" became "tanim", and then was truncated to "tan", which Melville misremembered as "chan" (chet-nun). ("Tan" means "jackal", not "whale", but hey, at least it is an animal. "Chan" means "grace" or "charm",)
Printers then apparently confused the similar-looking chet and heh, and nun and kaf, changing it into "heh-kaf", or "hakh", which seems to be what is printed in current editions, but does not mean anything so far as I know.
[I wish HTML had codes for Hebrew letters!]
(Information from "Hunting the Whale: Harpooning a Hebrew 'Moby Dick'", THE FORWARD, http://tinyurl.com/forward-moby).
What is most interesting about all this is that all these shifts occurred in the written language. We are often told that when language started to be widely written down, it became more frozen, and we would not have the massive changes we saw between (say) Beowulf and Shakespeare. But writing evidently carries its own dangers.
Some people cite "higgledy-piggledy" as a word Melville coined, but the The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary says otherwise.
However, Melville did coin "cetology" ("the study of whales").
"Vaticans" here refers to the Vatican library, although the word derives from "vaticinia", or prophecies.
There are still street-stalls of books in Rome, and Paris, and even in New York.
"Profane" here means secular, rather than its now more common usage as irreligious or disrespectful.
"Higgledy-piggledy" means all jumbled up, without order, or is assumed to have an etymology relating to a herd of pigs. The construction of the phrases is similar to "harum-scarum" and other such coined phrases. We also see something similar in "talk-shmalk" or other Yiddish-inspired variations. Undoubtedly linguists have spent a lot of time studying these.
"Gospel cetology" would be absolutely true statements about whales (as in "gospel truth"). "Veritable", although also derived from the Latin for truth, actually implies a non-absolute status, though not quite as partial as "virtual".
Pale Sherry actually has a higher alcohol content than wine.
Hampton Court was the home of the British Royal family, and the Tuileries was the home to the French royal family.
The idea of heaven having seven levels (or stories) originated in Mesopotamia before the rise of the Abrahamic religions and appears in all of them as well as in Hinduism.
Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael are archangels who share the feast day of September 29 in the Roman Catholic Church. Michael and Gabriel are recognized by all the Abrahamic faiths; Raphael is mentioned in the Book of Tobit and is recognized by the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox faiths. Islam also recognizes Israfil and Azrael; Judaism also includes Metatron. Uriel is also recognized by some groups. Apparently Melville was most familiar with the Roman Catholic archangels.
"And God created great whales." —GENESIS. [Genesis 1:21]
"Leviathan maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep to be hoary." —JOB. [Job 41:32, though it is clear that the Leviathan described in Chapter 41 is not a whale.]
"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah." —JONAH. [Jonah 1:17, but even though the story is always referred to as "Jonah and the whale", a whale is not a fish.]
"There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein." —PSALMS. [Psalm 104, Verse 26]
"In that day, the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword, shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea." —ISAIAH [Isaiah 27:1, but a whale is not a serpent either.]
"And what thing soever besides cometh within the chaos of this monster's mouth, be it beast, boat, or stone, down it goes all incontinently that foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the bottomless gulf of his paunch." —HOLLAND'S PLUTARCH'S MORALS. Philemon Holland published the first English translation of Plutarch's Moralia in 1603.
"The Indian Sea breedeth the most and the biggest fishes that are: among which the Whales and Whirlpooles called Balaene, take up as much in length as four acres or arpens of land." —HOLLAND'S PLINY. Philemon Holland's most popular translation was in 1601, of Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia. Again, this was the first translation into English of this work. Pliny had finished it but was still making corrections when he died in the Vesuvius eruption of 79.
"Scarcely had we proceeded two days on the sea, when about sunrise a great many Whales and other monsters of the sea, appeared. Among the former, one was of a most monstrous size.... This came towards us, open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides, and beating the sea before him into a foam." —TOOKE'S LUCIAN. "THE TRUE HISTORY." William Tooke published an English translation of Lucian of Sarasota's True History in 1820. Tooke was known primarily for his works about Russia.
"He visited this country also with a view of catching horse-whales, which had bones of very great value for their teeth, of which he brought some to the king.... The best whales were catched in his own country, of which some were forty-eight, some fifty yards long. He said that he was one of six who had killed sixty in two days." —OTHER OR OTHER'S VERBAL NARRATIVE TAKEN DOWN FROM HIS MOUTH BY KING ALFRED, A.D. 890. Alfred was King of England, also know as Alfred the Great; Other (or Octher) was apparently a Norse sailor. "Horse-whales" were walruses.
"And whereas all the other things, whether beast or vessel, that enter into the dreadful gulf of this monster's (whale's) mouth, are immediately lost and swallowed up, the sea-gudgeon retires into it in great security, and there sleeps." —MONTAIGNE. —APOLOGY FOR RAIMOND SEBOND. Michel de Montaigne wrote this essay on skepticism in 1580. A "sea-gudgeon" is fish also known as a "black goby".
"Let us fly, let us fly! Old Nick take me if is not Leviathan described by the noble prophet Moses in the life of patient Job." —RABELAIS. This is spoken by a character named Panurge in Gargantua and Pantagruel, Book 4, Chapter 33, which François Rabelais wrote between 1532 and 1552. "Old Nick" is the Devil. Leviathan is described in the Book of Job, though the description is not that of a whale. Panurge is wrong in attributing the description to Moses, though—while the first five books of the Bible are traditionally attributed to Moses, the Book of Job is not.
"This whale's liver was two cartloads." —STOWE'S ANNALS. John Stow wrote Anales, or a Generale Chronicle of England from Brute until the present years of Christ 1580.
"The great Leviathan that maketh the seas to seethe like boiling pan." —LORD BACON'S VERSION OF THE PSALMS. Francis Bacon translated seven psalms (1, 12, 90, 104, 126, 137,and 149) into English in 1625. This is from Psalm 104.
"Touching that monstrous bulk of the whale or ork we have received nothing certain. They grow exceeding fat, insomuch that an incredible quantity of oil will be extracted out of one whale." —IBID. "HISTORY OF LIFE AND DEATH." Historia Vitae et Mortia was written by Bacon in 1623. The "ork" is what we now call "orca".
"The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise." —KING HENRY. This is said by Hotspur (Sir Henry Percy), in William Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part I, Act I, Scene iii. Hotspur led rebellions against King Henry IV but was killed in 1403 at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Melville leaves off parts of the name of the play, which makes it seem as though one of the King Henrys said it. "Parmacetti" is an older form of the word "spermaceti".
"Very like a whale." —HAMLET. Polonius says this in a dialogue with Hamlet in Act III, Scene ii.
"Which to secure, no skill of leach's art
Mote him availle, but to returne againe
To his wound's worker, that with lowly dart,
Dinting his breast, had bred his restless paine,
Like as the wounded whale to shore flies thro' the maine."
—THE FAERIE QUEEN.
This would be Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen, published in two parts in 1590 and 1596. This is from Book VI, the final book of the first part. The "maine" (or "main") was the "Mainland Provinces" of Spain: Florida, Texas, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America. It became used to mean the coastlines of these areas, and then the seas along them.
"Immense as whales, the motion of whose vast bodies can in a peaceful calm trouble the ocean til it boil." —SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT. PREFACE TO GONDIBERT. Gondibert was an epic poem written in 1651.
"What spermacetti is, men might justly doubt, since the learned Hosmannus in his work of thirty years, saith plainly, Nescio quid sit." —SIR T. BROWNE. OF SPERMA CETI AND THE SPERMA CETI WHALE. VIDE HIS V.E. Hosmannus was Johann Jacob Hofmann; his Lexicon Universale took thirty years to write. In Latin, "nescio quid sit" means "I do not know what it is." "Vide his V.E." means "see his 'Vulgar Errors', or 'Pseudodoxia Epidemica'".
"Like Spencer's Talus with his modern flail
He threatens ruin with his ponderous tail.
Their fixed jav'lins in his side he wears,
And on his back a grove of pikes appears."
—WALLER'S BATTLE OF THE SUMMER ISLANDS.
Edmund Waller's poems were published in 1645. Talus was a metal man (a robot, basically) with a flail. As a robot, he never tires.
"By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or State—(in Latin, Civitas) which is but an artificial man." —OPENING SENTENCE OF HOBBES'S LEVIATHAN. Thomas Hobbes wrote the philosophical work Leviathan during the English Civil War (1642–1651), but the title is purely allegorical.
"Silly Mansoul swallowed it without chewing, as if it had been a sprat in the mouth of a whale." —PILGRIM'S PROGRESS. John Bunyan published Pilgrim's Progress in 1678. A sprat is a small herring.
"That sea beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream." —PARADISE LOST.
John Milton published his epic poem Paradise Lost in 1667, and then a revised version in 1674.
Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretched like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea." —IBID.
"Ibid" is short for "ibidem", meaning "in the same place".
"The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them." —FULLLER'S PROFANE AND HOLY STATE. The full title of Thomas Fuller's 1642 work is The Holy State and the Profane State.
"So close behind some promontory lie
The huge Leviathan to attend their prey,
And give no chance, but swallow in the fry,
Which through their gaping jaws mistake the way."
—DRYDEN'S ANNUS MIRABILIS.
John Dryden published "Annus Mirabilus" ("Year of Miracles" or "Year of Wonders") in 1667. The year was 1665–1666 and the title is ironic—that was the time of the Great Plague and the Great Fire. "Fry" are very young fish.
"While the whale is floating at the stern of the ship, they cut off his head, and tow it with a boat as near the shore as it will come; but it will be aground in twelve or thirteen feet water." —THOMAS EDGE'S TEN VOYAGES TO SPITZBERGEN, IN PURCHAS. Thomas Edge was English, but made his sealing and whaling voyages between 1609 and 1619 for the Muscovy Company.
"In their way they saw many whales sporting in the ocean, and in wantonness fuzzing up the water through their pipes and vents, which nature has placed on their shoulders." —SIR T. HERBERT'S VOYAGES INTO ASIA AND AFRICA. HARRIS COLL. Sir Thomas Herbert was an Englishman who traveled to Persia and other areas and wrote his travelogue from 1634 to 1677.
"Here they saw such huge troops of whales, that they were forced to proceed with a great deal of caution for fear they should run their ship upon them." —SCHOUTEN'S SIXTH CIRCUMNAVIGATION. William Cornelison Schouten co-wrote this with Jacques Le Maire about his voyage of 1615 to 1617.
"We set sail from the Elbe, wind N.E. in the ship called The Jonas-in-the-Whale.... Some say the whale can't open his mouth, but that is a fable.... They frequently climb up the masts to see whether they can see a whale, for the first discoverer has a ducat for his pains.... I was told of a whale taken near Shetland, that had above a barrel of herrings in his belly.... One of our harpooneers told me that he caught once a whale in Spitzbergen that was white all over." —A VOYAGE TO GREENLAND, A.D. 1671 HARRIS COLL. This was written by Frederich Martens.
"Several whales have come in upon this coast (Fife) Anno 1652, one eighty feet in length of the whale-bone kind came in, which (as I was informed), besides a vast quantity of oil, did afford 500 weight of baleen. The jaws of it stand for a gate in the garden of Pitferren." —SIBBALD'S FIFE AND KINROSS. The full title is The History, Ancient and Odern, of the Sherriffdoms of Fife and Kinross: With the Description of Both, and of the Firths of Forth and Tay, and the Islands in Them ... with an Account of the Natural Products of the Land and Waters by Robert Sibbald, published in 1710.
"Myself have agreed to try whether I can master and kill this Sperma-ceti whale, for I could never hear of any of that sort that was killed by any man, such is his fierceness and swiftness." —RICHARD STRAFFORD'S LETTER FROM THE BERMUDAS. PHIL. TRANS. A.D. 1668. I cannot find any reference to this other then this reference.
"Whales in the sea God's voice obey." —N. E. PRIMER. This would be the New England Primer, a schoolbook for young children.
"We saw also abundance of large whales, there being more in those southern seas, as I may say, by a hundred to one; than we have to the northward of us." —CAPTAIN COWLEY'S VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, A.D. 1729. William Abrosia Cowley was an English buccaneer who circumnavigated the globe. He published the first chart of the Galápagos Islands in 1684.
"... and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain." —ULLOA'S SOUTH AMERICA. Antonio de Ulloa was an 18th century Spanish scientist and mathematician. He was in Ecuador from 1736 to 1744. His account of the French Geodesic Expedition was published in 1748 and translated into English in 1806.
"To fifty chosen sylphs of special note,
We trust the important charge, the petticoat.
Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail,
Tho' stuffed with hoops and armed with ribs of whale."
—RAPE OF THE LOCK.
Alexander Pope first published The Rape of the Lock in 1712; after several interim versions the final version appeared in 1717. It has been described as "ock-heroic" and "high burlesque."
"If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those that take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear contemptible in the comparison. The whale is doubtless the largest animal in creation." —GOLDSMITH, NAT. HIST. The Irish novelist Oliver Goldsmith eight-volume work, A History of the Earth and Animated Nature was published posthumously in 1774. Goldsmith is better known for such works as The Vicar of Wakefield.
"If you should write a fable for little fishes, you would make them speak like great wales." —GOLDSMITH TO JOHNSON. Oliver Goldsmith, speaking to Samuel Johnson. When Johnson heard Goldsmith was writing a natural history, said, "Goldsmith, sir, will give us a very fine book upon the subject; but if he can distinguish a cow from a horse, that, I believe, may be the extent of his knowledge of natural history." However, when Johnson wrote Goldsmith's epitaph, he called him "A Poet, Naturalist, and Historian."
"In the afternoon we saw what was supposed to be a rock, but it was found to be a dead whale, which some Asiatics had killed, and were then towing ashore. They seemed to endeavor to conceal themselves behind the whale, in order to avoid being seen by us." —COOK'S VOYAGES. Captain James Cook was a British explorer who made three voyages to the South Pacific. His first voyage (1768–1771) was to observe a transit of Venus, but he also became the first European to visit the Sandwich Islands (now called Hawai'i) and the eastern coast of Australia, and he also circumnavigated New Zealand. On his third voyage, he explored the Bering Strait, but was killed in the Sandwich Islands while attempting to kidnap the king.
"The larger whales, they seldom venture to attack. They stand in so great dread of some of them, that when out at sea they are afraid to mention even their names, and carry dung, lime-stone, juniper-wood, and some other articles of the same nature in their boats, in order to terrify and prevent their too near approach." —UNO VON TROIL'S LETTERS ON BANKS'S AND SOLANDER'S VOYAGE TO ICELAND IN 1772. Uno Von Troil was archbishop of Uppsala from 1786 to 1803. Joseph Banks was an English botanist who accompanied Cook on Cook's first voyage, and then visited Iceland in 1772. After his return to England, he continued to sponsor expeditions and was active in international scientific efforts.
"The Spermacetti Whale found by the Nantuckois, is an active, fierce animal, and requires vast address and boldness in the fishermen." —THOMAS JEFFERSON'S WHALE MEMORIAL TO THE FRENCH MINISTER IN 1778. Thomas Jefferson was an avid naturalist in addition to writing the Declaration of Independence and being the third President of the United States. He was particularly interested in what flora and fauna the Lewis & Clark Expedition (which took place during his Presidency) would find, and believed that there were still live mastodons and megalonyxes in the unexplored territories of North America.
"And pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it?" —EDMUND BURKE'S REFERENCE IN PARLIAMENT TO THE NANTUCKET WHALE-FISHERY. Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman, author, and philosopher who moved to London in 1750 and served in the House of Commons as a Whig from 1766 to 1794..He is best known as the author of Reflections on the Revolution in France. (He was against it, though he was also against the idea of the divine right of kings.) This quote is probably referring to his comments about the whaling industry in his "Reconciliation with America" speech to Parliament (22 March 1775).
"Spain—a great whale stranded on the shores of Europe." —EDMUND BURKE. (SOMEWHERE.) See above.
"A tenth branch of the king's ordinary revenue, said to be grounded on the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from pirates and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and sturgeon. And these, when either thrown ashore or caught near the coast, are the property of the king." —BLACKSTONE. This would be William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in four volumes from 1765 to 1769 and probably the major work on British jurisprudence.
"Soon to the sport of death the crews repair:
Rodmond unerring o'er his head suspends
The barbed steel, and every turn attends."
William Falconer's "The Shipwreck" was an epic poem of close to 3000 lines published in 1762 and recounting the last voyage of the merchant ship Britannia. Falconer was a seaman, though not on the Britannia.
"Bright shone the roofs, the domes, the spires,
And rockets blew self driven,
To hang their momentary fire
Around the vault of heaven.
"So fire with water to compare,
The ocean serves on high,
Up-spouted by a whale in air,
To express unwieldy joy." —COWPER, ON THE QUEEN'S VISIT TO LONDON.
William Cowper wrote "On the Queen's Visit to London, The Night of the 17th March 1789" presumably about a visit by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.
"Ten or fifteen gallons of blood are thrown out of the heart at a stroke, with immense velocity." —JOHN HUNTER'S ACCOUNT OF THE DISSECTION OF A WHALE. (A SMALL SIZED ONE.) John Hunter was a surgeon, anatomist, and naturalist who studied the whales that mistakenly swam up the Thames to london, particularly a bottlenose whale in 1783.
"The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the water-works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood gushing from the whale's heart." —PALEY'S THEOLOGY. William Paley was a British theologian and philosopher who published Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Diety in 1802. He is best know for the "watchmaker analogy" for a proof of God.
"The whale is a mammiferous animal without hind feet." —BARON CUVIER. Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, baron Cuvier, also known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist, and called "the father of paleontology." He lived in from 1769 to 1832.
"In 40 degrees south, we saw Spermacetti Whales, but did not take any till the first of May, the sea being then covered with them." —COLNETT'S VOYAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF EXTENDING THE SPERMACETI WHALE FISHERY. James Colnett was an explorer known primarily for his two fur-trading voyages between 1786 and 1791, but in 1792 he sailed to the Galapagos Islands to investigate whaling in that region.
"In the free element beneath me swam,
Floundered and dived, in play, in chace, in battle,
Fishes of every colour, form, and kind;
Which language cannot paint, and mariner
Had never seen; from dread Leviathan
To insect millions peopling every wave:
Gather'd in shoals immense, like floating islands,
Led by mysterious instincts through that waste
And trackless region, though on every side
Assaulted by voracious enemies,
Whales, sharks, and monsters, arm'd in front or jaw,
With swords, saws, spiral horns, or hooked fangs."
—MONTGOMERY'S WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD.
James Montgomery was a Scottish poet of the early 19th century. He wrote The World Before the Flood in 1812. It was "a piece of historical reconstruction in ten cantos" written in heroic couplets.
"Io! Paean! Io! sing.
To the finny people's king.
Not a mightier whale than this
In the vast Atlantic is;
Not a fatter fish than he,
Flounders round the Polar Sea."
—CHARLES LAMB'S TRIUMPH OF THE WHALE.
Charles Lamb was a poet and essayist from the late 18th and early 19th century. He is best known for his Essays of Elia and (with his sister Mary) Tales from Shakespeare, a re-telling for children of some of Shakespeare's plays. "Triumph of the Whale" was published in 1812 and was a satire on the Prince Regent. The Prince Regent later became King George IV; he was named Prince Regent in 1811 due to the mental illness of his father (King George III) and remained Regent until his father's death in 1820.
"In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed: there—pointing to the sea—is a green pasture where our children's grand-children will go for bread." —OBED MACY'S HISTORY OF NANTUCKET. Obed Macy lived in the first half of the 19th century. In addition to writing a history of Nantucket, he was an early settler of the Los Angeles area of California.
"I built a cottage for Susan and myself and made a gateway in the form of a Gothic Arch, by setting up a whale's jaw bones." —HAWTHORNE'S TWICE TOLD TALES. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a Massachusetts author of the early 19th century and a very close friend of Melville. (Indeed, some literary historians postulate that they were lovers.) Hawthorne also had a very strong influence on Melville's writing.
"She came to bespeak a monument for her first love, who had been killed by a whale in the Pacific ocean, no less than forty years ago." —IBID.
"No, Sir, 'tis a Right Whale," answered Tom; "I saw his sprout; he threw up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to look at. He's a raal oil-butt, that fellow!" —COOPER'S PILOT. James Fenimore Cooper was an American author of the early 19th century. He is best known for his frontier "Leatherstocking Tales". The unrelated novel The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea was published in 1823 or 1824 and is the story of a naval pilot during the American Revolution.
"The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette that whales had been introduced on the stage there." —ECKERMANN'S CONVERSATIONS WITH GOETHE. Johann Peter Eckermann was a German author of the early 19th century, best known for this result of his collaboration with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
"'My God! Mr. Chace, what is the matter?' I answered, 'we have been stove by a whale.' —'NARRATIVE OF THE SHIPWRECK OF THE WHALE SHIP ESSEX OF NANTUCKET, WHICH WAS ATTACKED AND FINALLY DESTROYED BY A LARGE SPERM WHALE IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN.' BY OWEN CHACE OF NANTUCKET, FIRST MATE OF SAID VESSEL. NEW YORK, 1821." This would require an entire book to annotate—and there have been those, including In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. This narrative was the inspiration for Moby-Dick. The Essex was stove by a whale in 1820 and sank; only eight of the crew survived the 95-day ordeal in the three remaining whaleboats. Contrary to the depiction in the film, In the Heart of the Sea, Melville never met any of the survivors before writing Moby-Dick, though he did meet the son of one of them and, many years later, the captain of the Essex. Nowadays, "Owen Chace" is usually rendered as "Owen Chase".
"A mariner sat in the shrouds one night,
The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale,
And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale,
As it floundered in the sea."
—ELIZABETH OAKES SMITH.
Elizabeth Oakes Smith was an American poet of the mid-19th century. "The Drowned Mariner" was written in the early 1840s. Smith's father died at sea when she was two years old.
"The quantity of line withdrawn from the boats engaged in the capture of this one whale, amounted altogether to 10,440 yards or nearly six English miles....
"Sometimes the whale shakes its tremendous tail in the air, which, cracking like a whip, resounds to the distance of three or four miles." —SCORESBY. As noted elsewhere, William Scoresby was an early 19th century Arctic explorer who wrote Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery. Phillip Pullman named his character Lee Scoresby after Lee Van Cleef (whose looks Pullman used as the model for the character's) and William Scoresby.
"Mad with the agonies he endures from these fresh attacks, the infuriated Sperm Whale rolls over and over; he rears his enormous head, and with wide expanded jaws snaps at everything around him; he rushes at the boats with his head; they are propelled before him with vast swiftness, and sometimes utterly destroyed.... It is a matter of great astonishment that the consideration of the habits of so interesting, and, in a commercial point of view, so important an animal (as the Sperm Whale) should have been so entirely neglected, or should have excited so little curiosity among the numerous, and many of them competent observers, that of late years, must have possessed the most abundant and the most convenient opportunities of witnessing their habitudes." —THOMAS BEALE'S HISTORY OF THE SPERM WHALE, 1839. Thomas Beale was a Scottish naturalist and opium speculator of the early 19th century.
"The Cachalot" (Sperm Whale) "is not only better armed than the True Whale" (Greenland or Right Whale) "in possessing a formidable weapon at either extremity of its body, but also more frequently displays a disposition to employ these weapons offensively and in manner at once so artful, bold, and mischievous, as to lead to its being regarded as the most dangerous to attack of all the known species of the whale tribe." —FREDERICK DEBELL BENNETT'S WHALING VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, 1840. Bennett was the ship's surgeon on a whaling voyage from 1833 to 1836.
October 13. "There she blows," was sung out from the mast-head.
"Where away?" demanded the captain.
"Three points off the lee bow, sir."
"Raise up your wheel. Steady!" "Steady, sir."
"Mast-head ahoy! Do you see that whale now?"
"Ay ay, sir! A shoal of Sperm Whales! There she blows! There she breaches!"
"Sing out! sing out every time!"
"Ay Ay, sir! There she blows! there—there—THAR she blows—bowes—bo-o-os!"
"How far off?"
"Two miles and a half."
"Thunder and lightning! so near! Call all hands."
—J. ROSS BROWNE'S ETCHINGS OF A WHALING CRUIZE. 1846.
John Ross Browne was an Irish-American traveler and writer. Etchings of a whaling cruise: with notes of a sojourn on the island of Zanzibar, to which is appended a brief history of the whale fishery, its past and present condition (1950) was only the second of his many travel works.
"The Whale-ship Globe, on board of which vessel occurred the horrid transactions we are about to relate, belonged to the island of Nantucket." --"NARRATIVE OF THE GLOBE," BY LAY AND HUSSEY SURVIVORS. A.D. 1828. The Globe was a whaleship whose crew mutinied in 1824. William Lay and Cyrus M. Hussey were the only survivors of the nine crew abandoned on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Being once pursued by a whale which he had wounded, he parried the assault for some time with a lance; but the furious monster at length rushed on the boat; himself and comrades only being preserved by leaping into the water when they saw the onset was inevitable." --MISSIONARY JOURNAL OF TYERMAN AND BENNETT. George Bennet (note correct spelling) and Daniel Tyerman were missionaries in the early 19th century. Bennet met Thomas Beale (or at least visited his house) in Macau. Their journals were published by the London Missionary Society.
"Nantucket itself," said Mr. Webster, "is a very striking and peculiar portion of the National interest. There is a population of eight or nine thousand persons living here in the sea, adding largely every year to the National wealth by the boldest and most persevering industry." --REPORT OF DANIEL WEBSTER'S SPEECH IN THE U. S. SENATE, ON THE APPLICATION FOR THE ERECTION OF A BREAKWATER AT NANTUCKET. 1828. Daniel Webster was an American politician from New Hampshire and later Massachusetts. He served in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and also as Secretary of State under three Presidents.
"The whale fell directly over him, and probably killed him in a moment." --"THE WHALE AND HIS CAPTORS, OR THE WHALEMAN'S ADVENTURES AND THE WHALE'S BIOGRAPHY, GATHERED ON THE HOMEWARD CRUISE OF THE COMMODORE PREBLE." BY REV. HENRY T. CHEEVER. Cheever was a passenger on the Commodore Preble whaleship in the early 1840s and published The Whale and His Captors in 1849 or 1850. It is considered a major influence on Moby-Dick.
"If you make the least damn bit of noise," replied Samuel, "I will send you to hell." --LIFE OF SAMUEL COMSTOCK (THE MUTINEER), BY HIS BROTHER, WILLIAM COMSTOCK. ANOTHER VERSION OF THE WHALE-SHIP GLOBE NARRATIVE. Samuel Comstock led a mutiny on Globe on 26 January 1824, about a thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands. A couple of weeks later, the mutineers landed on Mili Atoll, where Comstock apparently hoped to become king, but was instead killed by several mutineers who became suspicious of him. Some of the mutineers seized the ship and sailed to Valparaiso; most of the rest were killed by the islanders.
"The voyages of the Dutch and English to the Northern Ocean, in order, if possible, to discover a passage through it to India, though they failed of their main object, laid-open the haunts of the whale." --MCCULLOCH'S COMMERCIAL DICTIONARY. This is more accurately, J. R. McCullough's 1841 Dictionary, practical, theoretical and historical, of commerce and commercial navigation, published by Thomas Wardle of Philadelphia.
"These things are reciprocal; the ball rebounds, only to bound forward again; for now in laying open the haunts of the whale, the whalemen seem to have indirectly hit upon new clews to that same mystic North-West Passage." --FROM "SOMETHING" UNPUBLISHED. Not surprisingly, I have no information on this.
"It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being struck by her near appearance. The vessel under short sail, with look-outs at the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around them, has a totally different air from those engaged in regular voyage." --CURRENTS AND WHALING. U.S. EX. EX. This is the 1845 book by Charles Wilkes, written after he led the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838 to 1842 (hence the "U.S. EX. EX.").
"Pedestrians in the vicinity of London and elsewhere may recollect having seen large curved bones set upright in the earth, either to form arches over gateways, or entrances to alcoves, and they may perhaps have been told that these were the ribs of whales." --TALES OF A WHALE VOYAGER TO THE ARCTIC OCEAN. This was written by Robert Pierce Gillies and published in 1826.
"It was not till the boats returned from the pursuit of these whales, that the whites saw their ship in bloody possession of the savages enrolled among the crew." --NEWSPAPER ACCOUNT OF THE TAKING AND RETAKING OF THE WHALE-SHIP HOBOMACK. Wilson Lumpkin Heflin, in Herman Melville's Whaling Years, says that a search of the contemporary newspapers produces no report of a massacre on Hobomack, and believes Melville misremembered reports of a massacre on a different ship, possibly Sharon or Awashonks.
"It is generally well known that out of the crews of Whaling vessels (American) few ever return in the ships on board of which they departed." --CRUISE IN A WHALE BOAT. The full title is A cruise in a whale boat, by a party of fugitives; or Reminiscences and adventures during a year in the Pacific Ocean, and the interior of South America. It is by James Allen Rhodes and was published in 1848.
"Suddenly a mighty mass emerged from the water, and shot up perpendicularly into the air. It was the while." --MIRIAM COFFIN OR THE WHALE FISHERMAN. This was a novel by Joseph C. Hart first published in 1834.
"The Whale is harpooned to be sure; but bethink you, how you would manage a powerful unbroken colt, with the mere appliance of a rope tied to the root of his tail." --A CHAPTER ON WHALING IN RIBS AND TRUCKS. The book is Ribs and Trucks from Davy's Locker; Being magazine matter broke loose, and fragments of sundry things in-edited; it contains a section titled "A Chapter on Whaling". Ribs and Trucks was written by "W.A.G." (a pseudonym for Horatio Hastings Weld) and first published 1842.
"On one occasion I saw two of these monsters (whales) probably male and female, slowly swimming, one after the other, within less than a stone's throw of the shore" (Terra Del Fuego), "over which the beech tree extended its branches." --DARWIN'S VOYAGE OF A NATURALIST. This book is now better known as The Oyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, published in 1839 and covering a period between 1831 and 1836.
"'Stern all!' exclaimed the mate, as upon turning his head, he saw the distended jaws of a large Sperm Whale close to the head of the boat, threatening it with instant destruction;—'Stern all, for your lives!'" --WHARTON THE WHALE KILLER. The full title is Wharton the Whale-killer: Or, the Pride of the Pacific; A Tale of the Ocean; it is a novel and was written by Harry Halyard in 1848.
"So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail, While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!" --NANTUCKET SONG. The song appears to be titled "Bold Harpooner".
"Oh, the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale
In his ocean home will be
A giant in might, where might is right,
And King of the boundless sea."
The song is "The Whale", with words by Joseph Edwards Carpenter and music by N. J. Sporle.
CHAPTER 1: Loomings
"Call me Ishmael." Much has been written about this, so I'll merely point out that Ishmael was an outsider. The full story can be found in Genesis, particularly Genesis 16:1–16 and 17:20–21. But though he is often described as an exile, this is not completely accurate. It is true that his mother Hagar was exiled by Sarai (a.k.a. Sarah), but that was when she was pregnant with Ishmael, and she returned before the birth. Later, God says, "And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." [Genesis 17:20] But God emphasizes that His covenant is with Isaac. So Ishmael is more like a disinherited older son passed over for a favored younger one. Of course, he also got to miss out on almost being sacrificed, so this was an advantage.
The "spleen" was originally thought to be the origin of bad temper. Charles Baudelaire originated the use of "spleen" to mean boredom, sadness, and depression with life.
"The Dark Night of the Soul" ("La oscura del alma") was a poem by 16th century mystic San Juan de la Cruz, but the term in English is usually associated with F. Scott Fitzgerald's line, "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning." Douglas Adams wrote a novel titled The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Since Melville pre-dated Fitzgerald, he presumably have patterned his "damp, drizzly November in my soul" after the original, or references to it.
"Hypos" in "whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me" is an abbreviation for hypochondria, as meaning a morbid depression of spirits rather than a physical illness.
The Cato mentioned is Cato Marcus Porcius (95 B.C.E.–46 B.C.E.), considered the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. After being defeated in his attempts to defend Sicily and to preserve Rome from the tyranny of Julius Caesar, Cato committed suicide by stabbing himself. He is not to be confused with Cato the Elder (also named Cato Marcus Porcius, 234 B.C.E.–149 B.C.E.) or Cato Publius Valerius, the poet, who lived about the same time as Cato the Stoic.
A mole is a solid structure serving as a pier, breakwater, or causeway.
Some names and places were straightforward: "Manhatto" seems to be Ishmael's poetic version of Manhattan. In Manhattan, he mentions Corlears Hook, Coenties Slip, and Whitehall. The first two are now under landfills, Corlears Hook near FDR Drive and Cherry Street, and Coenties Slip near Pearl and South Streets. Whitehall is still there, at the southern end of Broadway. Corlears Hook was known for prostitutes before and during Melville's time, hence (according to many) the term "hookers".
The Saco River runs through northeastern New Hampshire and southwestern Maine.
There has been much discussion of the "poor poet of Tennessee"; the consensus is that Melville was not referring to a specific poet, but more to a generic poor poet.
Rockaway Beach is a seven-mile stretch of beach in Queens, New York, and is a popular summer destination.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was punished for refusing Echo's love by falling in love with his own image in a pond. When he realized he could not possess his heart's desire, he killed himself. (In some versions, he is melted by his passion, but the traditional end is that he drowns himself.)
The Van Rensselaers were Dutch settlers who arrived in New York in 1630 as patroons of Rensselaerwyck, near Albany. This was the largest patroonship granted by the Dutch in what were at the time their colonies. The patroonship continued after the transition to English colonies, and did not end until 1839. Though originally the patroons had almost total control over the land and its tenants, after American independence, they lost all their feudal laws and became merely large estates subject to Federal and state laws. Melville was descended from the Rensselaers.
The Randolphs were one of the First Families of Virginia, arriving in 1643.
By "the Hardicanutes" Melville is probably referring to the descendants of Harthacut, a 11th century king of Demark and Egland. This is a sly bit of humor—it is unlikely the Renssalaers and Randolphs would appreciate being lumped socially with a Viking king of hundreds of years earlier.
Ishmael's talk about "the transition ... from a schoolmaster to a sailor" indicates that he was a schoolmaster before signing on to the Pequod.
A league is three miles. (This means, by the way, that Jules Verne's title 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the distance is 60,000 miles, and hence is not a depth—as is often assumed—but the total distance sailed.)
Spiles are wooden pegs driven into nail holes on a ship.
Ishmael makes the same sort of error in asking, "Why did the Greeks give it [the sea] a separate deity, and own brother of Jove?" as the coiners of the word "television" and other hybrid words did. He mixes Greek and Latin indiscriminately (Jove being the Latin name for Zeus). This is probably due to Melville's having to leave school at age fifteen to help support his family, and hence receiving only a partial classical education, covering the Romans, but not the Greeks (except as somewhat vague exemplars as culture).
An example of Melville's humor: "Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick—grow quarrelsome—don't sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook,—though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board—yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls;—though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids."
In Melville's time, both men and women used a purse to carry money.
"The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it." Seneca the Elder (Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.) was a Stoic philosopher eventually forced to commit suicide for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Nero. Stoicism was a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century B.C.E. and emphasized the suppression of destructive emotions; Seneca and others claimed that "virtue is sufficient for happiness" and so true Stoics would ignore misfortune.
A hunks is a surly ill-natured person, especially a miser. Though it appears plural it is actually singular.
Ishmael says of how to go to sea, "I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!" The two orchard thieves are, of course, Adam and Eve. But money itself is not "the root of all earthly evils"; the reference is to 1 Timothy 6:10, which says, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." [italics mine]
Ishmael says, "For in this world, head winds are more prevalent than winds astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagoean maxim)." This is not the Pythagorean Theorem, but the best-known maxim he promoted in his philosophy: Do not eat beans. (Yes, friends, even Melville made fart jokes!)
CHAPTER 2: The Carpet-Bag
To say that Nantucket is "Tyre of this Carthage" to New Bedford is to mean that Nantucketers were the founders of New Bedford (or at least the progenitors in some sense). Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) was founded three thousand years ago by Phoenician colonists from Tyre (in present-day Lebanon).
"The first thing I did was to stumble over an ash-box in the porch. Ha! thought I, ha, as the flying particles almost choked me, are these ashes from that destroyed city, Gomorrah?" The ash-box was there to provide ashes to spread on icy steps, paths, etc., during the winter. The dark color helped absorb sunlight (and heat) and melted the ice faster, plus the ash provided a grittier surface. In Melville's time, ash (from fireplaces, cooking fires, etc.) was plentiful and free, while salt cost money, and also did not provide a non-slip surface.
Gomorrah was destroyed along with Sodom for its wickedness: "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; ... And [Abraham] looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. [Genesis 19:24,28] It is interesting to note that in the Bible, Sodom is occasionally mentioned on its own, but Gomorrah is only mentioned in conjunction with Sodom. So Melville's choice of Gomorrah rather than Sodom here is intriguing.
Then Ishmael enters what he thinks may be an inn, and reports, "It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet. A hundred black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro church; and the preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha, Ishmael, muttered I, backing out, Wretched entertainment at the sign of 'The Trap!'" Tophet was a shrine to Moloch in ancient times: "And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." [Jeremiah 7:31]. It is also another name for Hell. There was no "Black Parliament" in either, but there were several English and Scottish Parliaments given that name. Ishmael's use of the words "blackness of darkness" emphasizes how ironic it is for a black preacher to preach using those terms for the representation of evil. And Melville did not invent them; the preacher's text was Jude 1:13: "Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever." With its "raging waves of the sea," how appropriate a text for a sea-faring town such as New Bedford! And is it a prefiguration in miniature of Father Mapple's sermon?
"Pea coffee" is just what it sounds like—a coffee substitute made from roasted English (green) peas.
"It stood on a sharp bleak corner, where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse howling than ever it did about poor Paul's tossed craft." This is a reference to the northeast wind mentioned in Acts 27:14–18: "But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven. And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; ..." And of course, to New Englanders, the nor'easter is the most feared storm.
There follows a long analogy to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16:20–25. (This is a different Lazarus than the one who rose from the dead.) When Ishmael refers to "old Dives, in his red silken wrapper," that is the rich man, "Dives" being a Latin appellation for wealth.
"... this is more wonderful than that an iceberg should be moored to one of the Moluccas." According to McWhorter, "wonderful" here (and in many if not all the other instances) has the old meaning of "curious", "peculiar", or "bizarre".
The Moluccas (now the Maluku Islands) are an archipelago in the eastern part of what is now Indonesia.
Is the painting in the Spouter Inn a well-known painting, or just a generic whaling painting?
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary thinks "squitchy" means "squishy"—having to do with water. However, "to squitch" means "to jerk or twitch", and the only use of the word "squitchy" is in Moby-Dick, so I think Melville coined a portmanteau word, incorporating both the watery element of the subject of the painting and the reaction it generates in the viewer of it.
"It's a Hyperborean winter scene." Boreas was the North Wind, who supposed lived in Borea, which was later called Thrace and is north of Greece. Hyperborea was the land "above/beyond Boreas", which at the time of Homer would have been around what is now Bulgaria, Macedonia, and possibly Serbia. Borea was known as a place where the sun shone twenty-four hours a day (or whatever the ancient Greek units were) and so the fact that it has come to mean extreme northern lands, in the Arctic, is only fitting. ("Aurora Borealis" means "Northern Dawn".)
(Thrace is best known these days as the home of Spartacus, although this is not absolutely certain. When Spartacus was described as "a Thracian gladiator" it is not clear if they were speaking of his origins or his style of fighting.)
Did Nathan Swain really kill fifteen whales in a single day with a single harpoon? I cannot find any reference other than Melville.
Where is the Cape of Blanco? Who knows? There is a Cape Blanco in Oregon, but no Cape of Blanco.
"Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though true cylinders without—within, the villanous green goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom. Parallel meridians rudely pecked into the glass, surround these footpads' goblets. Fill to this mark, and your charge is but a penny; to this a penny more; and so on to the full glass—the Cape Horn measure, which you may gulp down for a shilling." I love the description of deceptive marketing, and proof that it is nothing new. But why a shilling? Well, it was not until 1857 that United States coins became the sole legal tender in this country, and in the first half of the 19th century United States coins were not very popular. Add to this that New Bedford was a port full of sailors from all over the world and it is not surprisingly that the price might be in a more universal currency, much as prices in cruise stops now are often in dollars, or Euros, or yen. So the penny is probably a British penny, or one-twelfth of a shilling. Assuming the traditional "one-pound-equals-five-dollars" rule held back then, a British penny would be about two American cents, and a full glass would cost 25 American cents.
"Skrimshander" is an alternative spelling for "scrimshander", which is someone who practices scrimshaw, the art of carving on ivory, bone, or shells. In a whaling village, it would probably be almost exclusively on ivory.
"I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooneer might be, and that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for me, and the harpooneer was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with the half of any decent man's blanket." More of Melville's humor.
A monkey jacket is a waist-length jacket tapering to a point in the back and traditionally worn by sailors. A box coat is one that hangs loosely from the shoulders.
When Peter Coffin starts dropped hints about Ishmael's bedmate, Ishmael thinks, "I could not help it, but I began to feel suspicious of this 'dark complexioned' harpooneer. At any rate, I made up my mind that if it so turned out that we should sleep together, he must undress and get into bed before I did." There are undoubtedly some who use the second sentence to re-enforce the idea that there is a homosexual relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg, but it is clear in context that Ishmael here is more concerned that his bedmate have no concealed weapons.
A coffer-dam is a temporary watertight enclosure that can be pumped dry to allow the construction of piers, locks, etc. It can also be a watertight compartment on the side of a ship that can be pumped out to allow repairs below the water-line without entering dry dock.
Mt. Hecla (now spelled Hekla) is a volcano in Iceland. During the Middle Ages, it was called "the Gateway to Hell". (The entrance in the Spouter Inn seems reminiscent of the entrance to Dante's Hell.)
Curios are "rare, unusual, or intriguing objects"; Melville is credited by The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary with coining this word.
Coffin tells Ishmael, "I'll give you a glim in a jiffy." A glim is a candle, but I was surprised at the use of "in a jiffy"—somehow that sounds anachronistic. "I vum it's Sunday," must mean something like, "I think/suppose it's Sunday."
"Had not the stranger stood between me and the door, I would have bolted out of it quicker than ever I bolted a dinner," is (I believe) an example of zeugma.
"Ignorance is the parent of fear ..." At first, one is tempted to say, a parent, perhaps, but the whalers fear the whales, no matter how knowledgeable they are about them. Or are they knowledgeable? In spite of all their familiarity with them, maybe the whole point is that there remains a permanent mystery about the nature of the whale.
"Going to his heavy grego, or wrapall, or dreadnaught, ..." A grego is "a short coat made of a coarse, tick fabric with a hood attached." A dreadnaught is "a garment made of very thick cloth, that can defend against storm and cold." I could not find a definition for wrapall, but I assume it is similar. The only differences seem to be whether or not the garment has a hood.
Ishmael refers to Queequeg's idol as a "Congo idol", but this is because he has previously said it was "exactly the color of a three days' old Congo baby." He knows that Queequeg comes from the South Seas.
Ishmael describes Queequeg's sacrifice to his idol: "... then blowing off the heat and ashes a little, he made a polite offer of it to the little negro [idol]. But the little devil did not seem to fancy such dry sort of fare at all; he never moved his lips." There's an echo of the story from the Apocrypha of Bel and the idol, in which Daniel proves to Cyrus that the grain supposedly consumed by the idol was really eaten by the priests. (He does this by scattering ashes around the idol—in the morning the footprints of the priests and their families were revealed.) And who else remembers leaving cookies and milk out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning finding they had been consumed?
After offering a sacrifice to it, and praying to it, Queequeg "took the idol up very unceremoniously, and bagged it again in his grego pocket as carelessly as if he were a sportsman bagging a dead woodcock." Melville gives us a real contrast in Queequeg's religion and in Western religions, and an ironic one. Most (all?) Western religions, which claim to eschew idolatry, have some sacred objects, be they transubstantiated wafers, holy books, or relics of some sort or other. Even statues of saints would not be treated so "unceremoniously." Yet Queequeg, who Ishmael probably assumes worships this actual idol, treats it more as a symbol. During the actual worship, it is endowed with sacred characteristics, but when the worship is over, it reverts to be a lump of wood. By this account, Queequeg is less an idolater than most Christians.
(The review in London's "John Bull" on October 25, 1851, says, "... it is all the greater pity, that he should have defaced his pages by occasionally thrusts against revealed religion which add nothing to the interest of his story, and cannot but shock readers accustomed to a reverent treatment of whatever is associated with sacred subjects." Well, that's the point!)
And Ishmael regrets his hasty judgment of Queequeg based on religion: "'You gettee in,' he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and throwing the clothes to one side. He really did this in not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him a moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian."
This brings up another topic: the representation of pidgin in Moby-Dick (and in literature in general). Pidgin is often represented by to suffix '-ee' attached to just about everything: nouns, verbs, adjectives, ... (The famous "No tickee, no washee" hits the nouns, but in "You gettee in" it is the verbs, and words like "biggee" abound for the adjectives.) But is this an accurate representation? Daniel Defoe used it (in Robinson Crusoe and other works), and Benjamin Franklin referenced it. Yet it is not clear that this suffix is at least typical of pidgins. Nevertheless, by Melville's time it had become standard in literature. (Similarly, dialect is often represented by strict phonetic spelling, even when that phonetic spelling represented the standard accepted pronunciation.)
CHAPTER 4: The Counterpane
Much has been made of: "Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. ... For though I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain." And certainly Melville does emphasize the similarity to a marriage bed (even to the "till death do us part" aspect), but it is just as possible that he does this to point out the incongruity of it all rather than hint at a secret homosexual subtext.
Ishmael comes from a family in which he has a stepmother and hence is a somewhat second-class child. This is similar to his Biblical namesake, who was the "illegitimate" son of Abraham and his servant Hagar. I put "illegitimate" in quotes because I am not sure the word really expresses the connotations in Biblical times. There was less stigma attached on men fathering children with their servants or slaves, but those children were nonetheless lower in status than those whose mother was married to their father.
When Ishmael was sent to his room as a child, he feel asleep in the afternoon, he later woke up and relates, "I opened my eyes, and the before sun-lit room was now wrapped in outer darkness." This is just one of many references to black, or darkness, presumably to contrast with the whiteness of the whale. It is worth noting that while Biblical references connect darkness and blackness with evil, almost all the incidents of actual darkness and blackness in the novel are either benign or positive. The Spouter Inn is very dark, yet it provides a meal and a bed for Ishmael. Queequeg is dark, yet he is portrayed almost entirely in positive terms and is ultimately the means of Ishmael's salvation.
In the morning, Queequeg climbs naked under the bed where soon "he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that I ever heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature in the transition stage—neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners. His education was not yet completed. He was an undergraduate ... If he had not been a small degree civilized, he very probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage, he never would have dreamt of getting under the bed to put them on." One of the themes in Moby-Dick is transition—as the Pequod travels further from home (and civilization), many of the crew undergo transitions in the reverse of Queequeg's supposed direction. Ishmael thinks of Queequeg as transitioning from primitive to civilized, while the crew goes from civilized to primitive.
When Ishmael sees Queequeg shaving with a harpoon, he thinks, "Queequeg, this is using Rogers's best cutlery with a vengeance. Afterwards I wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of what fine steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp the long straight edges are always kept." One might think Ishmael is referring to Wm. Rogers, who was a silversmith starting around 1825, and whose name is currently a trademark of the Oneida Company. (My parents' good silver was Wm. Rogers.) But harpoon points are steel, not silver.
At breakfast, Ishmael sees "a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards." "Bosky" means "having an abundance of bushes, shrubs, or trees."
CHAPTER 5: Breakfast
Ledyard is John Ledyard, Connecticut-born explorer who traveled with Captain Cook, crossed overland from Paris to Irkutsk and back, and died on an African expedition. Mungo Park was a Scottish explorer who made several expeditions into Africa. Each died on one of his voyages.
CHAPTER 6: The Street
Ishmael's description of cannibals—"savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh"—reminds me of the lines from Antony & Cleopatra:
... on the Alps It is reported thou didst eat strange flesh, Which some did die to look on: [ Act I, Scene IV]
This is usually taken to refer to cannibalism. But there is also Jude 1:7: "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Recall that the preacher's text earlier was also from the first chapter of Jude.)
Ishmael refers to "the Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs, Erromanggoans, Pannangians, and Brighggians." The best I can figure out, these are what we would call today (respectively) Fijians; Tongans; natives of Erromango Island, Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides); natives of either Penang (Panang), Malaysia, or of Pango Pango (there is some dispute as to which Melville meant); and (possibly) a native of the New Hebrides. Some feel that Melville is just making these up, but given the bizarre spellings distant lands had in the 19th century, these could well be as indicated.
The green Vermonter "wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and sheath-knife. Here comes another with a sou'-wester and a bombazine cloak." The former is clearly improperly dressed for the rigors of a whaling ship (one can just imagine those long tails flapping in everyone's face in a brisk wind!), and bombazine is a dressy fabric, as opposed to the bearskin of Ishmael's "shaggy jacket".
The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary says that "Hay-Seed" is a humorous name for a rustic used in the United States, but also gives the first use as being 1889. Moby-Dick pre-dates that by almost forty years.
"Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?" This is proof that one must check every reference. I thought this was a reference to Alexander the Great, but apparently it refers to the German magician Johann Friedrich Alexander Heimbürger who, though now totally forgotten, was internationally famous at the time Moby-Dick was written. The obvious analogy would be a reference to someone in 2150 reading what was a reference to "David Copperfield" and thinking it referred to Charles Dickens's character.
In New Bedford, people are so rich, "they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles." Spermaceti candles give a very steady, good light and don't melt or soften in hot weather, but were much more expensive than tallow candles or other cheaper forms of illumination.
Ishmael reports, "And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens. Elsewhere match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in Salem, where they tell me the young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of the Puritanic sands." The reference to the effect of the women of Salem seems to be a veiled suggestion that they are (still) using witchcraft, but there is also a more mundane explanation. The Moluccas (now the Maluku Islands) were also known as the Spice Islands, they had exported spices for at least two thousand years, and Salem had become enormously successful in the spice trade. (In 1790 it was the sixth-largest city in the United States.) The odor Ishmael refers to would have been primarily pepper, nutmeg, and cloves.
CHAPTER 7: The Chapel
Ishmael claims, "In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot." Apparently all the cannibals, savages, and South Sea islanders do not count in calculating this percentage.
Modern readers might think that bearskin, like moleskin, is just a name for some fabric but, no, Ishmael's jacket is made from the skin (and fur, apparently) of an actual bear.
After reading the marble tablets on the walls, commemorating those who died at seas, Ishmael muses, "Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in those black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in those immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished without a grave. As well might those tablets stand in the cave of Elephanta as here." There is much to say about this. One is that this still happens, not necessarily in accidents at sea, but in larger contexts. When we visited Latvia, for example, we visited a Jewish cemetery where all the headstones were either from before 1939 or after 1945. For any families left to these people, surely there was some consolation in that they knew where there relatives were buried, while those who lost relatives in the Holocaust often had no knowledge even of where they had died (or been killed).
In Turkey, at Gallipoli, we were told that it was contrary to Muslim custom to put names on anything but the actual headstone on the grave—for example the Turkish memorial at Gallipoli does not include any individual names. So these cenotaphs are not a universal thing.
The caves of Elephanta are seven caves (five Hindu and two Buddhist) near Mumbai (formerly Bombay) containing elaborate sculptures carved from the basalt of the caves. I do not think there are any cenotaphs, making Ishmael's statement a bit peculiar, sort of like saying that they might as well be in the Louvre as here.
"[I]n what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago..." Bishop James Ussher had famously calculated the Creation as happened in 4004 B.C., which would make 1850 the year 5853. Of course, since Adam supposed died at age 960, this would mean it had been only 4693 years earlier, rather than 6000. (The Jewish calculation for 1850 would make the earth 5611 years old, rather than 5853.)
"[A] universal proverb says of [the dead], that they tell no tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands" The Goodwin Sands is a ten-mile sand bank in the English Channel. Its location near major shipping routes means it is quite dangerous, and one estimate is that over two thousand vessels have been wrecked upon it, leaving their hulls and their crews as the "secrets."
Musing on these memorials, Ishmael asks, "[How] it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss." Indeed, this is a good question, but there is more to it than that. If in fact the afterlife is unspeakable bliss, then the Church has to come up with some reason for people to keep living. Why not just commit suicide and get there even faster? The argument is made that God hates suicide, but the reasoning is a bit contrived, and full of holes. One might claim that many of the martyrs knew that if they continued their activities they would be killed, and so in some sense they were committing suicide.
"Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems—aye, a stove boat will make me an immortal by brevet." A brevet is a warrant giving a temporary promotion to a commissioned officer, for example if he needs to fill a position that requires someone of higher rank.
"Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot." Is this Plato's Cave in reverse? In Plato's Cave people see shadows and believe them to be reality, while someone who has seen the bodies creating those shadows knows that the shadows are illusions. Yet one could as easily believe that the shadow—the soul—is the "real" entity, and the body merely a shell it wears. Certainly the churches emphasize the preservation of the spirit over that of the body in their glorification of martyrs. And again, Melville's use of "Jove" rather than "Zeus" might indicate an education that got through Latin but not Greek. Then again, there was a lot more emphasis on Roman values than Greek ones in the early days of the American republic.
CHAPTER 8: The Pulpit
What denomination is the Whaleman's Chapel? I suppose it could be a non-denominational chapel as one finds on military bases, but what of Father Mapple's honorific? Most Protestant denominations do not refer to preachers as "Father"; the only ones I know of that do so are the Anglicans and Episcopalians, and the chapel hardly seems to belong to either of them.
"For I was not prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn round, and stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder step by step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec." Quebec (or rather, Quebec City) has had forts on its location since the 16th century, and is best known for the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759) in the Seven Years War when the English General Wolfe defeated the French General Montcalm. During the American Revolution, American troops attacked the fort, but failed to take it.
Another fortress is described: "Yes, for replenished with the meat and wine of the word, to the faithful man of God, this pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold—a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water within the walls." Ehrenbreitstein Fortress is on the Rhine, opposite the city of Koblenz, originally built around 1000 C.E. However, its water supply is a series of cisterns capable of holding a three years' supply of water. The water itself comes from springs outside the walls.
There is an interesting story to go with, "[And] this bright face shed a distinct spot of radiance upon the ship's tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted into the Victory's plank where Nelson fell." Shortly after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the ship's carpenter made a round brass plaque that said "Here Nelson fell" with the date and nailed it to the quarterdeck. Some time in the middle of the 19th century it was removed and remained in private hands until it was recently auctioned. Melville probably did not know of its removal, and also mistakenly thought it was silver.
CHAPTER 9: The Sermon
"The ribs and terrors in the whale, Arched over me a dismal gloom, While all God's sun-lit waves rolled by, And lift me deepening down to doom. "I saw the opening maw of hell, With endless pains and sorrows there; Which none but they that feel can tell— Oh, I was plunging to despair. "In black distress, I called my God, When I could scarce believe him mine, He bowed his ear to my complaints— No more the whale did me confine. "With speed he flew to my relief, As on a radiant dolphin borne; Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone The face of my Deliverer God. "My song for ever shall record That terrible, that joyful hour; I give the glory to my God, His all the mercy and the power."
This is not a pre-existing hymn, but one written by Melville for Moby-Dick. Or rather, it is a poem written by Melville. However, it is not totally original. It appears to be based on the hymn "Death, and the Terrors of the Grave" of the Dutch Reformed Church (in which Melville was raised), which in turn is a rephrasing of Psalm 18. Melville's hymn has been set to music by (among others) Philip Sainton for the 1956 John Huston film Moby-Dick.
"We sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters." "Kelpy" could mean "covered with kelp", or seaweed, but a kelpy (a.k.a. kelpie) is also a Celtic water-spirit related to a horse, so there is a hint of the supernatural and mysterious in the term as well.
"By all accounts Tarshish could have been no other city than the modern Cadiz. That's the opinion of learned men." In 1837, William Parkin put forward the claim that Rufus Festus Avienus identified Tarshish as Cadiz in the Fourth Century.
The Captain's statement, "We sail with the next coming tide," and Father Mapple later narrating, "And now the time of tide has come," are errors on Melville's part—the Mediterranean has no tides, or rather very small tides, not enough to affect the sailing time of ships. [added 10/06/23]
Father Mapple asks in his sermon, "Is not the main-truck higher than the kelson is low?" A "truck" is a "small piece of wood at the top of a mast through which halyards can be passed." The main-truck is the piece of wood at the top of the mainmast, the tallest mast on a ship. The "kelson" (or "keelson") is a piece of timber running along the keel but on the inside of the hull and timbers.
CHAPTER 10: A Bosom Friend
Describing Queequeg, he says, "He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor. Whether it was, too, that his head being shaved, his forehead was drawn out in freer and brighter relief, and looked more expansive than it otherwise would, this I will not venture to decide; but certain it was his head was phrenologically an excellent one. It may seem ridiculous, but it reminded me of General Washington's head, as seen in the popular busts of him. It had the same long regularly graded retreating slope from above the brows, which were likewise very projecting, like two long promontories thickly wooded on top. Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed." On the one hand, this builds up Queequeg as physiognomically similar to George Washington, and in Melville's time, cranial shape was considered a prime predictor of intelligence, character, and everything else essential about a person. On the other, "cannibalistically developed" reminds us that (in Ishmael's opinion, anyway) all the flesh on Queequeg's head was originally someone else's. And from that one thinks of the theological question: if on the Day of Judgement, everyone is resurrected in their re-assembled bodies, what about a cannibal whose body is entirely made up of other people's bodies? (Yes, this demonstrates a misunderstanding about how the biology of the body works, but that is the sort of theological debate people used to have.)
"Here was a man some twenty thousand miles from home, by the way of Cape Horn, that is—which was the only way he could get there—thrown among people as strange to him as though he were in the planet Jupiter." To get from Boston to Fiji around Cape Horn, one has to travel around the bulge of South America, so it is basically Boston to Recife (Brazil) to Cape Horn to Fiji, which is 4164-3247+5707 miles (according to one calculator), or 13,118 miles. Even allowing for varying from straight-line paths due to winds and currents, twenty thousand miles seems a high estimate.
We would speak of being "on the planet Jupiter" rather than "in the planet Jupiter." Given the low density of Jupiter, "in" may be more accurate, but I doubt Melville knew that.
"This soothing savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very indifference speaking a nature in which there lurked no civilized hypocrisies and bland deceits. Wild he was; a very sight of sights to see; yet I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him. And those same things that would have repelled most others, they were the very magnets that thus drew me. I'll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy." Ishmael's disdain of Christian kindness must be based on events prior to the novel, since we have not seen anything (yet, anyway) that would account for his disillusionment.
"Thus I soon engaged his interest; and from that we went to jabbering the best we could about the various outer sights to be seen in this famous town." So then comes the engagement, then ...
"He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be. In a countryman, this sudden flame of friendship would have seemed far too premature, a thing to be much distrusted; but in this simple savage those old rules would not apply." Even if Queequeg used the word "married", it seems odd that Ishmael would repeat it unless there were more to the ceremony than becoming the equivalent of blood brothers. And his description of Queequeg as a "simple savage" is belied by almost everything else he says about him. Or more accurately, when Ishmael is talking about Queequeg in offhand terms and generalizations, he describes him patronizingly, but when he talks about specific conversations, or actions, or beliefs, then Queequeg is his equal (if not his superior). (One example is the story of the punchbowl [later, Chapter 13, page 73], where when Ishmael is not thinking about what he is saying, he sees Queequeg as primitive and inferior, but Queequeg's story—and the fact that Ishmael relates it—indicates that when he is thinking about Queequeg he sees him entirely differently.)
It has long been argued (though probably not back to Melville's time) that knowing individuals belonging to a group makes it harder to negatively stereotype that group, and this seems to be the case with Melville. He starts out with the standard beliefs about South Sea Islanders everyone "knows," but as he gets to know Queequeg, most of them fall away.
"He made me a present of his embalmed head; took out his enormous tobacco wallet, and groping under the tobacco, drew out some thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one of them towards me, and said it was mine." Interestingly enough, Queequeg does not seem to expect Ishmael to give him a gift or to divide up his belongings.
"He then went about his evening prayers ... I deliberated a moment whether, in case he invited me, I would comply or otherwise. ... I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth—pagans and all included—can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?—to do the will of God—that is worship. And what is the will of God?—to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me—that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world."
One can argue that Ishmael is merely trying to justify what is easiest for him to do. Clearly what he is doing is prohibited by the Bible (in the first of the Ten Commandments, no less!), and all his justification cannot get around that. (He could presumably argue that Jesus has negated all the commandments of the Pentateuch, but that is a bit too deep for a man such as Ishmael.) Presumably, one might agree with Ishmael that God should not be jealous of a piece of wood, but the use of the word "jealous" reminds us of the constant characterization of God as "a jealous God" in the Old Testament. And if Ishmael is "a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church," he would be reminded of it too. But nevertheless, he does pose a valid theological question. Why should an all-powerful God care about this sort of thing? Asking God, of course, is likely to get you a non-answer such as , "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?" [Job 38:4–8] It makes for great rhetoric, but it is not really an answer.
"How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair." Well, okay, while the first couple of references to "loving" and "affectionate" might be chalked up to different times, I think it becomes apparent after a while that there is more going on than just friendship.
CHAPTER 11: Nightgown
"The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more." This is a philosophical expression of a physical phenomenon. If your house is set to 70° F year round, it will feel warm when you come in from outside in the winter, and cool in the summer. But it goes further than this, because Ishmael is also saying that one cannot appreciate what one has until one experiences its lack. Does anyone in a developed country appreciate electricity (and its corollaries, such as a hot meal and a hot shower) so much as when it returns after a one-week outage? The situation Ishmael describes is one in which one can have the benefits of a creature comfort simultaneously with the reminder of what one would miss without it.
"Because no man can ever feel his own identity aright except his eyes be closed; as if darkness were indeed the proper element of our essences, though light be more congenial to our clayey part." Melville returns again to the contrast of light and darkness, and again he prefers darkness to light.
"Be it said, that though I had felt such a strong repugnance to his smoking in the bed the night before, yet see how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them. For now I liked nothing better than to have Queequeg smoking by me, even in bed, because he seemed to be full of such serene household joy then." What Ishmael is expressing is more than the love (a.k.a. "charity") of I Corinthians: "Love suffereth long, and is kind; ... Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. [I Corinthians 13:4,7] Ishmael does not endure Queequeg's smoking, or bear it, but actually wants it and enjoys it. He does not, as it were, "close his eyes and think of England."
CHAPTER 12: Biographical
"Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are." Ishmael is accurate here, Rokovoko is a fictional island. In British editions, the island is "Kokovoko" rather than "Rokovoko". Could this have been intentional on Melville's part to emphasize the impossibility of locating this island? Probably not, but I like the idea.
"[Queequeg's] father was a High Chief, a King; his uncle a High Priest; and on the maternal side he boasted aunts who were the wives of unconquerable warriors. There was excellent blood in his veins—royal stuff; though sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his untutored youth." Is Ishmael to some extent punning on the word "blood"? We speak of "royal blood" and "bad blood", and while it is true that people of Melville's time believed in such things as criminal tendencies being inherited, did they think that blood was the carrier? Maybe—it seems unlikely that there would be such insistence in keeping separate blood banks for whites and blacks during World War I if some people did not believe that blood was the carrier. On the other hand, there does seem something peculiar about the idea that Queequeg's royal blood has been diluted by the other humans he ate, especially since no one claims that the consumption of (non-human) animals dilutes royal blood.
"A Sag Harbor ship visited his father's bay ..." Sag Harbor, New York, is a village currently partly in Southampton and partly in East Hampton. It was extremely active in the whaling industry in the early 19th century.
Of Queequeg's consignment to manual labor in the outside world, Ishmael says, "But like Czar Peter content to toil in the shipyards of foreign cities, Queequeg disdained no seeming ignominy, if thereby he might happily gain the power of enlightening his untutored countrymen." In 1697 Peter the Great of Russia traveled to the Holland, where he lived incognito and worked in the shipyards there to learn enough to be able to establish a modern navy for Russia.
"He ... was fearful Christianity, or rather Christians, had unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan Kings before him. But by and by, he said, he would return,—as soon as he felt himself baptized again. For the nonce, however, he proposed to sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans." Again, Ishmael reverses the usual prejudices—while most of his Christian acquaintances would believe that extended contact with "savages" or "pagans" or "heathens" would defile them, Ishmael finds that Queequeg has the same concern about spending too much time with Christians.
There is, of course, an irony to Queequeg's statement that he will be ready to return after being "baptized again"—that is indeed Queequeg's fate, though his return to Rokovoko afterwards is questionable.
The four oceans Ishmael knew were the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization recognized a fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean, which is all water below 60° south.
"He at once resolved to accompany me to that island, ship aboard the same vessel, get into the same watch, the same boat, the same mess with me, in short to share my every hap; ..." The Northwestrn edition glosses this to note that Melville must have changed his plan of the plot, because Queequeg doesn't get into the same watch, or the same boat, and couldn't share the same mess. But I read this as Queequeg's intention, or perhaps poetic license in exaggeration for the companionship they would have. [-added 10/21/23]
CHAPTER 13: Wheelbarrow
"Next morning, Monday, after disposing of the embalmed head to a barber, for a block, ..." A barber's block is a wooden model of a head used for fitting wigs, so the head must be embalmed full-sized rather than a "shrunken head". (Readers unfamiliar with the term "barber's block" might parse this as Ishmael trading the head to a barber and getting a block in return.)
The punchbowl story reminds me of several similar stories—the person at a fancy dinner who when given a fingerbowl thinks it is a beverage, or the soup; the person who tears open the tea bag to make tea and, upon being admonished that that is wrong, then drop the unopened sugar packet directly into the cup; and so on. Melville's point, of course, is that culture and etiquette is arbitrary, and while he is not entirely subtle, the point is still valid.
"How I snuffed that Tartar air!" Is that the air of Tatary, or is it air that is like "a person of irritable or violent temper"?
"Lubber-like" means "like a clumsy seaman", a lubber being a clumsy seaman. This seems odd, since we think of "land-lubber" as deriving from "land-lover", but "lubber" does not mean "lover".
Queequeg, feeling himself slighted at one point, tosses a sailor in the air, and "then slightly tapping his stern in mid-somerset, the fellow landed with bursting lungs upon his feet." A "somerset" is a somersault.
CHAPTER 14: Nantucket
"Nantucket! ... how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse." The Eddystone lighthouse is on the Eddystone Rocks, nine miles off the coast of Cornwall. Nantucket is even more isolated, being about twenty miles off the coast of mainland Massachusetts and fifty miles from New Bedford, at the time the closest population center. On the other hand, Nantucket is large enough that it had a substantial population itself, rather than just a lighthouse keeper.
"What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogs in the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for mackerel; more experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod; and at last, launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this watery world; put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in at Behring's Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans declared everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has survived the flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That Himmalehan, salt-sea Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of unconscious power, that his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and malicious assaults!" A quohog is a thick-shelled American clam. The British editions call it the quahogs. Behring's Straits is obviously an old name for what we call the Bering Strait, and "Himmalehan" is Melville's spelling for Himalayan. Its use emphasizes the description of the whale in the preceding sentence as "most mountainous." At the time Melville was writing, the mastodon was (almost) the largest land animal known, hence the appropriateness of using that appellation for the whale, the largest sea animal. Dinosaur fossils were not identified as such until 1838, and it was not until the end of the 19th century that the larger species were found. However, mastodons were actually smaller than mammoths, so one might expect Melville to say "salt-sea Mammoth". The problem with that, however, is that the word "mammoth" has come to mean almost anything big and would not necessarily evoke the image of a specific large land animal the way "mastodon" does.
"And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's." The Nantucketers are compared to ants, symbols of industriousness and (along with bees) animal symbols of the "work ethic". The Alexander referred to here is Alexander the Great. The "three pirate powers" were Russia, Prussia, and Austria, who divided Poland up among themselves at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
America added Mexico to Texas as a result of the Mexican-American War (1844–1847). The references to Cuba and Canada are more speculative as to what America wanted to do. The United States had invaded Canada in the past, and during the first half of the 19th century, Cuba was one of Spain's most loyal colonies, mostly out of fear of the United States. "Piling Cuba upon Canada" is a modification of Virgil's phrase "to pile Pelion on Ossa" (from the Georgics). The reference there is to two giants, Otus and Ephialtes, who piled Mount Pelion on Mount Ossa in their attempt to storm Mount Olympus. The English had been "swarming over" India since the 18th century (note the repetition of ant imagery), and in Melville's time India was still run/ruled by the East India Company. It would not be until 1858 (after the 1857 Indian Mutiny) that the British government would take over the governance of India.
"This terraqueous globe" is Earth, a mixture of land and earth surfaces, and approximately two-thirds of the surface is indeed water. (A more accurate, but less poetic, fraction would be 70%.)
"[He] hides among the waves, he climbs them as chamois hunters climb the Alps." Chamois are "goat-antelopes" that live in the mountains of Europe (the Alps, the Carpathians, the Tatras, the Balkans, and the Caucauses).
"[The] Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales." Actually, this is not likely. Walruses live in shallow waters, and the furthest away from land they get would be on the continental shelves. While that is out of sight of land, it is less likely that herds of whales would be rushing there rather than in deeper water. Melville's implication is that the ship is over deep ocean, but that is not the walrus's home.
"We cannibals must help these Christians." Queequeg neatly reverses the standard Christian explanation for why Christians send missionaries out to the "heathen".
CHAPTER 15: Chowder
"Hosea Hussey of the Try Pots" has a Biblical name—no surprise there, as almost everyone (well, all the Christians) in the novel has a Biblical name. Hosea was a prophet of doom and restoration, which might have some meaning, but then again, he is not exactly a major character. "Try pots" are the large kettles used to render down the whale oil on the ship. It seems odd to name a hotel after them, though I suppose the hotel may be best known for its restaurant.
"Two enormous wooden pots painted black, and suspended by asses' ears, swung from the cross-trees of an old top-mast, planted in front of an old doorway." I assume "asses' ears" are some sort of hanging device, but I cannot find any references to them.
"Are these last [two large black pots] throwing out oblique hints touching Tophet?" This probably refers to the sacrifices to Moloch at the ancient Tophet rather than Hell, although those sacrifices were by burning directly, not throwing into large bubbling pots.
Mrs. Hussey "turned round to us and said—'Clam or Cod?'" I cannot help but think of New Mexico's Official State Question: "Red or green?" (referring to chili).
"It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt." And thus Melville becomes part of the great tradition of novels with recipes in them. No, it is not a detailed recipe, but it is the way recipes were given in Melville's time. No one measured anything (measuring utensils are a 20th century invention), and it was assumed you could figure out how hot and how long to cook something. Hazel nuts are also called filberts; ship biscuit is just another name for hardtack.
The term "chowder head" comes from "cholter head", which comes from "jolter head", which means heavy and dull. This is an example of a word mutating into a more familiar word that sounds like it, but has no etymological connection.
Stiggs "was gone four years and a half, with only three barrels of ile ..." Ile sounds French, but since "three islands" makes no sense, I think it is just a strange pronunciation of "oil".
CHAPTER 16: The Ship
"Queequeg now gave me to understand, that he had been diligently consulting Yojo—the name of his black little god ..." This is the first time we find out the god's name. "Yojo" seems to mean something like "healthy maintenance" in Japanese, or the name of an area where yoga is practiced, but I suspect Melville just made it up as a short name that sounded like something from the South Seas.
"I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great confidence in the excellence of Yojo's judgment and surprising forecast of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good sort of god, who perhaps meant well enough upon the whole, but in all cases did not succeed in his benevolent designs." Contrast this view of Yojo as benevolent but not omnipotent with the traditional view of the Christian God as both benevolent and omnipotent. The latter sounds better, but the fact is that often the omnipotence seems to be far more evident than the benevolence, for example, in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 or the story of Job. Melville might be suggesting that a less powerful but more benevolent god is preferable. The end of the novel does not entirely support that view, but throughout one sees many examples of the apparent absence of benevolence, so it is not to be totally discounted.
"Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up with Yojo in our little bedroom—for it seemed that it was some sort of Lent or Ramadan, or day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer with Queequeg and Yojo that day; how it was I never could find out, for, though I applied myself to it several times, I never could master his liturgies and XXXIX Articles—leaving Queequeg, then, fasting on his tomahawk pipe ..." During the forty days of Lent, Roman Catholics "fast", which apparently meant abstaining from meat and eating only one full meal a day (though small amounts of food at other times were permitted). (I use the past tense, because the current rules are not as strict.) I presume the Protestant churches have variations on this. Greek Orthodox fasting during Lent is much more complicated with meat, fish, dairy products, oils, and alcoholic beverages are prohibited most days, with some easing up on special days within Lent. Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, which means no food or beverages (including water) between sunrise and sunset for the entire month. (In Judaism, fast days mean no food or water for slightly more than twenty-four hours.)
When Ishmael says "how it was I never could find out," he may be thinking of the fact that all of the fast days he mentioned (and others he did not) drift around on the common calendar. Lent remains in the February-April timeframe (though the exact dates vary from year to year and the Eastern Orthodox dates are different from the Western Christian ones). Ramadan drifts even more, since the Islamic calendarr is a lunar calendar not adjusted to stay in sync with the solar one, so Ramadan cycles through the entire year, coming a little bit earlier each solar year.
The XXXIX Articles are the doctrinal statements that defined the Church of England during the English Reformation. By extension, Ishmael uses the term to mean the doctrinal statements that define "Yojoism", or at least explain the fast days.
However, Queequeg breaks with all tradition by "fasting on his tomahawk pipe ..." since Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all seem to agree that one must also abstain from smoking during fasting.
Looking for a ship, Ishmael says, "I learnt that there were three ships up for three-years' voyages—The Devil-dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod. Devil-Dam, I do not know the origin of; Tit-Bit is obvious; Pequod, you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians; now extinct as the ancient Medes." The Devil-Dam would be the Devil's Wife, the Tit-Bit a small pleasing morsel. The Pequod was named after what we call the Pequot tribe. (The Pequot were actually a Connecticut tribe. -added 10/23/23.) The Medes did not so much become extinct as become assimilated into the peoples around them. The Medes themselves left no written records.
Ishmael talks about "square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks; butter-box galliots, and what not ..." A lugger is "a small sailing ship with two or three masts and a lugsail on each." A lugsail is "an asymmetrical four-sided sail that is hoisted on a steeply inclined yard." A junk is not Japanese, but is rather "a flat-bottomed sailing vessel typical in China and the East Indies, with a prominent stem, a high stern, and lugsails." A galliot is "a single-masted Dutch cargo boat," and "butter-box" is a derogatory name that the British gave the Dutch during the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century (sort of like "frogs" for the French).
The Pequod "was a ship of the old school, ..., with an old-fashioned claw-footed look about her." This refers to an older style of furniture in which the base of the legs looked like an animal's claw.
"[The Pequod's] old hull's complexion was darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia." This refers to Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt in 1798–1801 and Russia in 1812. Strictly speaking, the French never got as far as Siberia.
"[The Pequod's] masts stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne." Medieval legend identifies the Three Kings of Cologne as the Three Magi. Presumably there is a statue somewhere of them, though the primary object associated with them is a reliquary containing their bones.
"Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Becket bled." Thomas Becket was a friend of Henry II of England. Henry made him Archbishop of Canterbury, assuming he could control Becket. When he discovered that was not the case, and that Becket was resisting all attempts by Henry to exercise control over the Church in England, he had Becket assassinated. (Some say he did not actually intend his question, "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" to be taken as a command to kill him.) Becket was stabbed in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, and when he was declared a martyr and a saint it became a major pilgrimage destination, and was the destination of the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales two hundred years later. (By the way, the British editions have "Beckett", which makes no sense—wouldn't they know how to spell Becket's name?)
Old Captain Peleg is one the two main owners of the Pequod, Captain Bildad is the other, and Captain Ahab is the actual captain. Peleg was Shem's great-great-grandson (or Noah's great-great-great-grandson). [Genesis 10:22–25] The name "Peleg" means "division", and one assumption was that he lived around the time of the Tower of Babel, when the Earth was divided into many languages. (But that would imply he was born shortly after the division—if he were born before, how would they know to name him Peleg?)
Bildad the Shuhite was one of Job's "friends" in Job, though instead of comforting Job, he spends his time telling Job he must have done something wrong to earn all his difficulties.
Ahab was a king of Israel in the 9th century B.C.E. whose reign is described in I Kings 16:29–20:40. He married Jezebel, worshipped Baal, and in short, "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him." [I Kings 16:33] Not surprisingly, Captain Ahab is going to go down the same path, rejecting God and engaging in heathen ceremonies and worship. P>
"[The Pequod's] unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. ... [There was] a strange sort of tent, or rather wigwam, pitched a little behind the main-mast. ... It was of a conical shape, some ten feet high; consisting of the long, huge slabs of limber black bone taken from the middle and highest part of the jaws of the right-whale." Everything on the Pequod that can be made of materials from the whale is made of materials from the whale. First, it is practical: the ship is at sea for months if not years on end, and if something needs repair, there is not a supply of lumber from which to repair it. Second, it is a religious statement: just like all of Nature, whales were put on earth to serve man. And third, it turns the ship into a sea-going trophy room. You cannot mount heads the way you do for land animals, but just as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast sings, "I use antlers in all of my decorating," the crew or the Pequod uses whale parts.
"... like the top-knot on some old Pottowottamie Sachem's head." The British edition spells it "Potowotamie"; other spellings can also be found. The Pottowottamie were a tribe in the upper Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois). The actual term for the Pottowottamie sachem is "Ogema".
"There was nothing so very particular, perhaps, about the appearance of the elderly man I saw; he was brown and brawny, like most old seamen, and heavily rolled up in blue pilot-cloth, cut in the Quaker style ..." The Quakers believed in plain clothing, so presumably one would not find shiny buttons or elaborate decoration on his clothing.
Peleg asks Ishmael, "Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale's throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!" This is yet another reminder of Jonah, but it makes me wonder whether Peleg has any notion of how whale digestion works. Ishmael may be a little clearer on it, since he replies, "I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to do so; not to be got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the fact." In other words, sure, if I have to, but I cannot imagine any situation in which it would be.
Note also that Peleg uses the Quaker style of speech, with actual second-person pronouns (thee, thou, ye, etc.).
Ishmael told Peleg that he had been four years in the merchant service (which Peleg is very dismissive of), and when asked why he wants to go whaling, that he wants to see the world. So Peleg tells him, "... step forward there, and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there." So Ishmael looks out over open ocean and thinks, "The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see. So he reports to Peleg, "Not much, nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think." And Peleg tells him, "Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where you stand?"
In other words, all Ishmael is going to see is open ocean, and that looks the same everywhere. It is no wonder that Peleg pooh-poohs the merchant service—in the merchant service you are on a ship that goes from port to port, and while you spend a lot of time on open ocean, you also spend a lot of time in various ports while cargo is delivered and taken on. In the merchant service, you see a lot of different places; on a whaler you see a lot of what is effectively the same place.
The weather bow is the side of the bow towards the wind.
The flood-tide is the incoming tide.
Captain Peleg "had built upon [the Pequod's] original grotesqueness, and inlaid it, all over, with a quaintness both of material and device, unmatched by anything except it be Thorkill-Hake's carved buckler or bedstead." So far as I can tell, Thorkill-Hake is a fictional Norwegian warrior of the Viking era. <
By the 19th century, sailors knew how to use the currents as well as the winds, so the longest time between ports was probably only a couple of months, and that only in crossing the oceans. Once in (say) the South Pacific, one would visit ports with a much higher frequency.
One peculiarity with all three captains is that they are known only by their given names. (One has to assume that these Biblical names are their given names, rather than family names, since that is what one sees in late 18th and early 19th century names. Indeed, Ishmael later says, "So that there are instances among them of men, who, named with Scripture names—a singularly common fashion on the island ...") This is not standard usage on ships, so Melville must have some reason for it. A couple of ideas come to mind. One is that whaling by its nature separates men from their families, and so in some sense they are not deserving of family names. Another is that whaling is a return to the primitive (or at least the 19th century view of the primitive) particularly given the non-European members of the crew. And family names are a sign of European civilization—none of the non-white crew have family names. Indeed, many Europeans had no family names until the 20th century, and even today Icelanders use patronymics rather than family names. On a whaling ship, family names are superfluous. What is important is the individual (the given name) and his hierarchical rank (Captain, First Mate, etc.).
(Note that Ishmael has no family name—but then, "Ishmael" is a pseudonym. Queequeg has no family name either. But the people of New Bedford and Nantucket—Peter Coffin, for example—have both given and family names.)
"Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other Nantucketers, was a Quaker, the island having been originally settled by that sect; and to this day its inhabitants in general retain in an uncommon measure the peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For some of these same Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance." Of course, the Quakers' traditional pacifism is directed at other human beings—there is, for example, no history of vegetarianism among them. Their presence in Nantucket dates back to the early 18th century, and they were the first church to organize there. One of the organizers was named Mary [Coffin] Starbuck, so Melville's choice of the names "Coffin" and "Starbuck" has a historical basis, though the teetotaling aspect of the Quakers makes Peter Coffin's ownership of a bar a bit problematic.
"And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at the north ..." The belief in Melville's time was that a larger brain meant a greater intelligence. And of course voyagers were familiar with the fact that the Southern hemisphere had entirely different constellations than the Northern. (In a related piece of astronomy, it is known that ancient Greek sailors circumnavigated Africa in 600 B.C.E., because they reported the sun being to the north of them. [Herodotus, Histories 4.42] They had no understanding of the astronomy that would cause this phenomenon, and so would not have made it up.)
Bildad is another "fighting Quaker": "Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore." Here Melville makes the distinction between humans and whales. He also makes a pun: a "tun" is a cask or barrel, but one can easily read this as "tons upon tons". For that matter, a "tun" is also an old English measure of volume, about 954 liters, which conveniently works out to be about a ton in weight if it is water.
A "Categut whaleman" is a whaler of some sort, but I cannot find an explanation of "Categut" anywhere.
"Ship's articles" are basically the contract that seamen sign when they join a ship's crew.
Ishmael decides, "I made no doubt that from all I had heard I should be offered at least the 275th lay—that is, the 275th part of the clear net proceeds of the voyage, whatever that might eventually amount to. ... Upon the whole, I thought that the 275th lay would be about the fair thing, but would not have been surprised had I been offered the 200th, considering I was of a broad-shouldered make." In this, he seems to be just like all too many young people today, because he ends up with the 300th lay, or about 8% less than the 275th lay, or 33% less than the 200th lay.
At first Bildad offers him the 777th lay. Some Christians believe that, just as 666 is the Number of the Beast, 777 is the number of perfection. And "though from the magnitude of the figure it might at first deceive a landsman, yet the slightest consideration will show that though seven hundred and seventy-seven is a pretty large number, yet, when you come to make a TEENTH of it, you will then see, I say, that the seven hundred and seventy-seventh part of a farthing is a good deal less than seven hundred and seventy-seven gold doubloons; and so I thought at the time." The mathematics of this is something I fear today's students might have problems with; is anyone learning reciprocals these days?
A stiver is a small Dutch coin. It still exists (or did until the implementation of the Euro) as one-twentieth of a florin or gulden.
Peleg tells Ishmael that Ahab was "a crowned king" and Ishmael responds, "And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood?" But Bildad admonishes him, "Captain Ahab did not name himself. 'Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died when he was only a twelvemonth old. And yet the old squaw Tistig, at Gayhead, said that the name would somehow prove prophetic. And, perhaps, other fools like her may tell thee the same." That raises the question of whether the names or prophetic, or causal. Is it that Tistig can foretell the future, or is it that Tistig knows that people's names affect their personalities?
Apparently Ishmael has given that pseudonym to Peleg and Bildad when he signs on, because otherwise Peleg's statement about people telling Ishmael that his name may be prophetic makes no sense.
Gay Head was a town at the Gay Head cliffs of clay on Martha's Vineyard. In 1998 the residents voted 79 to 76 to officially rename it Aquinnah, a Wampanoag word meaning "land under the hill." The claim was that they wanted to reflect the Wampanoag heritage (and the population is over a third Native American), but one suspects that the changing meaning of the old name may have had something to do with it as well.
Of Ahab, Peleg says, "Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals ... I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home, he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of moody—desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. ... Besides, my boy, he has a wife—not three voyages wedded—a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man has a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!" This tells us things about Ahab that humanize him, but then vanish from the tale. He does speak like an educated man, rather than a common sailor, but of his personality we see only the moody and savage—it never "passes off." And though he has a family, he seems to have abandoned his family with his family name. We also learn that Ahab was the best harpoonist out of Nantucket. (It is not clear exactly how good that is, since none of the three harpoonists on the Pequod are from Nantucket, or even from the United States.)
CHAPTER 17: The Ramadan
"I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate possessions yet owned and rented in his name." The ants and the toad-stool do not seem to be specific to any particular story, but I cannot help but feel that the reference to the "deceased landed proprietor" is supposed to have a specific referent.
"I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals, pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;—but what of that? Queequeg thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content; and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." Ishmael begins by talking about how absurd Queequeg's religion is, and just when he has gotten the reader to agree with him, he throws out the zinger: that Presbyterians are just as "dreadfully cracked about the head" in regards to religion as the Pagans they denigrate are.
Ishmael becomes convinced that Queequeg is in trouble in his locked room, and thinks, "Apoplexy!" Then he meets the chamber-maid and "quickly [states his] suspicions to her," and she cries out, "Mistress! murder! Mrs. Hussey! apoplexy!" Apparently "apoplexy" was not a mere passing thought, but Ishmael must genuinely have thought that Queequeg had suddenly lost consciousness (the historical meaning of apoplexy). Where the chambermaid got "Murder!" is not clear, but probably from her own over-active imagination.
"Mrs. Hussey soon appeared, with a mustard-pot in one hand and a vinegar-cruet in the other, having just broken away from the occupation of attending to the castors, and scolding her little black boy meantime. ... I was unmethodically rushing up stairs again empty-handed, when Mrs. Hussey interposed the mustard-pot and vinegar-cruet, and the entire castor of her countenance." "Castor" is apparently an alternate spelling for "caster", a small bottle, pot, or shaker for holding a condiment. "The entire castor of her countenance" is a play on words of the previous "castor" and the phrase "cast of countenance" (meaning form, appearance, or character).
The "little black boy" is a presumably a servant, since slavery was abolished in Massachusetts in 1781. He is a parallel on land to Pip on the sea.
"It's unfort'nate Stiggs done over again there goes another counterpane—God pity his poor mother!—it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister? Where's that girl?—there, Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell him to paint me a sign, with—"no suicides permitted here, and no smoking in the parlor;"—might as well kill both birds at once." Stiggs's suicide was mentioned earlier. While Mrs. Hussey tries to seem concerned, her practicality wins out in trying to pay for only one sign even though the two admonitions are so disparate.
Queequeg is "squatting on his hams ..." A ham is a cut of meat from the hind thigh of an animal, so Queequeg is squatting on his legs. This sounds a bit redundant—how else could he squat?
[His] Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't believe it's very punctual then." Another reference that seems to refer to the Muslim Ramadan cycling through the year.
"schooner ... brig" A schooner has fore and aft sails with the forward mast no taller than the rear masts. A brig has two square-rigged masts.
Queequeg has missed breakfast and lunch, and Ishmael admonishes him, "For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself; get up and have some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself, Queequeg." Between this and the "apoplexy" concerns, Ishmael seems rather excitable; surely no one would think that not eating for a single day will starve an otherwise healthy person. (See my comments earlier on Jewish and Muslim fasting.)
"But as soon as the first glimpse of sun entered the window, up he got ... and said his Ramadan was over." Apparently Queequeg's religious days run from sunrise to sunrise (rather than the sunset to sunset of Jewish days, or the sunrise to sunset of Muslim fasting). This is re-inforced by the earlier statement, "Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up with Yojo in our little bedroom ..."
"I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him." Then Ishmael tries to convince Queequeg that all this fasting and mortification of the flesh is contrary to reason and causes "dyspepsia": "hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans. I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever troubled with dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he could take it in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was after a great feast given by his father the king, on the gaining of a great battle wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two o'clock in the afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening."
"Dyspepsia" is simply indigestion. Queequeg clearly refutes Ishmael's contention that abstinence causes dyspepsia; rather, it is caused (at least in his case) by over-indulgence, and one could certainly argue that it is unlikely that fasting would cause indigestion at all. Also, Ishmael is having a bit of fun with us, setting so precise a time as "two o'clock in the afternoon" in a culture without timekeeping devices other than the sun, the moon, and the stars.
A pilau is a dish of rice flavored with spices and cooked in stock, to which meat or fish may be added.
It is unlikely that parsley was placed in the mouths, though, as parsley is a Mediterranean herb, and while one finds it throughout the lands settled by Mediterraneans, I do not think it would be found on Rokovoko.
At first when Peleg says "he let no cannibals on board that craft, unless they previously produced their papers," one might think he meant some sort of sailor's papers, and it sounds almost like Ishmael's comments about not sleeping two in a bed, but then applying all sorts of easy qualifiers on it. But no, Peleg wants baptism papers, presumably to re-assure himself that the cannibal has abandoned his cannibal ways.
CHAPTER 18: His Mark
In response to a question about Queequeg's religion, Ishmael says, "Why, ... he's a member of the first Congregational Church. ... Queequeg here is a born member of the First Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is. I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands." This is more than a way to placate Peleg and Bildad about hiring Queequeg; it is a statement of Ishmael's religious beliefs. All his other statements and attitudes support this and provide a contrast to the religious beliefs common in New England at that time.
It is true that earlier he said, "I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church." [See Chapter 10.] But now he says, "[Queequeg] no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than I did." One could, I suppose, argue that he is sincere in his first statement and sarcastic in his second, but I do not think so. Unless he is some sort of henotheist, he is being sarcastic both times, and believes neither church "true" or "infallible," although both claim it.
"Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman" has another one of those Biblical names, this one even more bizarre than most. "Deuteronomy" comes from the Greek words for "second" and "law" and refers to the second giving of the law. It hardly seems like a reasonable first name. But this was a generation in which there was a general named States Rights Gist, and in our time we have gone through a phase of names such as America, Sunshine, and Freedom.
The Philistines were ancient enemies of Israel, but the term has also come to mean someone generally uncultured, a barbarian.
Melville must have liked the word "skylarking". First he uses it to refer to Peter Coffin's misleading of Ishmael regarding Queequeg. Then Bildad uses it regarding Queequeg's membership in the First Congregational Church, and later Stubb is accused of skylarking.
The Hittites to which Bildad refers are the Biblical Hittites, who were a tribe (or perhaps different tribes at different times) which may not be the same as the tribe known archaeologically as the Hittites. Then are often allies of the Hebrews rather than enemies, so while Bildad sees Queequeg as a Philistine—an enemy—Ishmael is a Hittite, or an ally.
Peleg calling Queequeg "Quohog" is an example of how little importance he attaches to him as an individual. Certainly "Quohog" is an obvious misnomer, being (as earlier noted) a type of clam. Later he calls him "Hedgehog" as well.
Queequeg gets the 90th lay, while Ishmael got the 300th lay. That means that Queequeg would get more than three times as much as Ishmael. This reflects both the high value of a good harpooner and the low value of an inexperienced whaler such as Ishmael.
When Queequeg signs his contract, he uses his sign rather than a signature, and his sign is the symbol for infinity (the lemniscate), invented by John Wallace in 1655. Is Queequeg a connection to the infinite, in the spiritual sense?
[R. Looney said, "In my Penguin Classics edition, a patty cross is depicted as his mark (closer to the traditional use of an 'x' as one's mark). Other texts don't show anything." Indeed, the figure shown in most editions seems to look like a patty or Maltese cross (which certainly does not look like a "queer round figure"), but the figure shown in the Rockwell Kent is the infinity symbol (which is certainly at least round[ed]). For some reason people seem to have picked up on this. It does not appear that we have a record of what Melville thought. -added 08/25/23]]
"[Bildad] took out a bundle of tracts, and selecting one entitled "The Latter Day Coming; or No Time to Lose," placed it in Queequeg's hands ..." There may well have been such a tract, but so far as I can tell, Melville made up the title. Note that the "Latter Day" referred to here is clearly Judgment Day, while the "Latter Day" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" means merely the modern day (modern times).
Bildad exhorts Queequeg, "I beseech thee, remain not for aye a Belial bondsman. Spurn the idol Bell, and the hideous dragon ..." "Bell" is the idol Bel from the Apocryphal book "Bel and the Dragon". It also appeared as Chapter 14 of the Book of Daniel in the original King James Version, but was later dropped from the Protestant Bible. [See note for Chapter 3.] It is mentioned in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles. [See note for Chapter 16.]
You might think that "Belial bondsman" also refers to Bel (and I suspect that Melville intends us to believe that Bildad thinks so), but in fact Belial is one of the four Crown Princes of Hell and is mentioned in II Corinthians 6:15.
Peleg says, "Pious harpooneers never make good voyagers—it takes the shark out of 'em; no harpooneer is worth a straw who aint pretty sharkish. There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest boat-header out of all Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the meeting, and never came to good. He got so frightened about his plaguy soul, that he shrinked and sheered away from whales, for fear of after-claps, in case he got stove and went to Davy Jones." This is presumably the same Nathan Swain who killed fifteen whales in a single day with a single harpoon. [See note for Chapter 3.] However, a boat-header is the one in charge of the whaleboat, who usually stands in the stern and kills the harpooned whale with a lance. It would seem unusual for one to be both a harpooner and a boat-header.
To "join the meeting" is the Quaker equivalent of joining a church. The origin of the name "Davy Jones" is unclear, but "Davy Jones' Locker" is the sea floor, the final resting place of drowned sailors. A jury-mast is a temporary mast erected to replace one that has been broken or lost. (Its rigging is also temporary, hence our term "jury-rigged".)
When Bildad suggests that Peleg was pious during a terrible storm—at least in the sense of thinking of "Death and the Judgment", Peleg replies, "When every moment we thought the ship would sink! Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making such an everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking over us, fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No! no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of; and how to save all hands—how to rig jury-masts—how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was thinking of." This reminds one of the claim that there are no atheists in foxholes. Bildad puts forth what is basically that premise, while Peleg denies it, in some sense claiming that in the heat of battle (or other crisis), religion is the last thing on people's minds. (Then again, there is, I suppose, a difference between being in a foxhole waiting for a battle, and in the battle itself.)
CHAPTER 19: The Prophet
"He was but shabbily apparelled in faded jacket and patched trowsers; a rag of a black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent small-pox had in all directions flowed over his face, and left it like the complicated ribbed bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have been dried up." The word "trowsers" is an alternate spelling of "trousers"; apparently spelling was somewhat less strict in the 19th century and variants of words were common. Confluent small-pox is a severe form in which the lesions are not distinct but form large patches of disease.
"[Nothing] about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the altar in Santa?— heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing about the silver calabash he spat into?" A calabash is a bottle gourd. In this case, it seems to be a spittoon, possibly in the shape of a bottle gourd. (One professor seems to believe this sentence indicates that Ahab spat into the holy water because it follows some comment about a skrimmage in a church, but "calabash" is just too specific a word for a receptacle for holy water, which is usually called a font.)
"[If] you are only trying to bamboozle us, you are mistaken in your game." "Bamboozle" sounds like too new a word for Melville, but it actually dates to around 1700.
The stranger they meet is named Elijah. Elijah was a prophet during the reign of King Ahab, and indeed Ahab's major opponent, so the stranger is not just any prophet but the namesake of the original Ahab's nemesis.
Queequeg and Ishmael agree "that he was nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear." A bugbear is a type of hobgoblin, while a humbug is merely a deceiver.
However, there is still an element of doubt in Ishmael's mind as to whether Elijah was following them, or it was his imagination.
CHAPTER 20: All Astir
Peleg stays on board, while Bildad does the provisioning. Is this because Peleg is too easy-going, and as the more serious of the two, Bildad feels that he should do the negotiating? (Remember that Peleg offered a much bigger share to Ishmael than Bildad. [See note for Chapter 16.]
Regarding this provisioning, Ishmael says that "whaling ... necessitates a three-years' housekeeping upon the wide ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and bankers. And though this also holds true of merchant vessels, yet not by any means to the same extent as with whalemen. For besides the great length of the whaling voyage, the numerous articles peculiar to the prosecution of the fishery, and the impossibility of replacing them at the remote harbors usually frequented, it must be remembered, that of all ships, whaling vessels are the most exposed to accidents of all kinds, and especially to the destruction and loss of the very things upon which the success of the voyage most depends." We now understand why Peleg was so dismissive of the merchant service that Ishmael had seen, and apparently Ishmael has come to agree with him even before the voyage starts.
Aunt Charity is Captain Bildad's sister. Later we find out that Stubb is her brother-in-law. [See note for Chapter 21.] That means that:
CHAPTER 21: Going Aboard
When Queequeg uses a sleeping sailor as a sofa, Ishmael cries out, "[But] how hard he breathes, he's heaving himself; get off, Queequeg, you are heavy, it's grinding the face of the poor. Get off, Queequeg! Look, he'll twitch you off soon. I wonder he don't wake." This is an allusion to Isaiah 3:15: "What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts."
CHAPTER 22: Merry Christmas
"And, as for Captain Ahab, no sign of him was yet to be seen; only, they said he was in the cabin. But then, the idea was, that his presence was by no means necessary in getting the ship under weigh, and steering her well out to sea. Indeed, as that was not at all his proper business, but the pilot's ..." For most harbors, a specially licensed pilot is required to take the ships in and out. While captains are considered fine navigators on the open ocean, within the confines of a harbor, with other traffic, and shallower spots, a pilot specifically trained for that harbor is usually required by law.
Peleg says, "Well, call all hands, then. Muster 'em aft here—blast 'em!" and Bildad responds, "No need of profane words, however great the hurry, Peleg ..." But then later he cries out, "Aft here, ye sons of bachelors ..." so Bildad clearly has a very refined definition of what constitutes profanity. While we apply it to all sorts of "improper" language, in Melville's time, it appears to apply specifically to religious-based terminology, and "blast" was a synonym for "damn".
A capstan is "a mechanism for raising or lowering heavy weights [in this case the anchor] by winding cable around a vertically mounted spindle drum." A handspike is a bar used as a lever.
"And here Bildad, who, with Peleg, was one of the licensed pilots of the port—he being suspected to have got himself made a pilot in order to save the Nantucket pilot-fee to all the ships he was concerned in, for he never piloted any other craft ..." Here's another example of the penny-pinching that seems to have gone on.
The whalers "roared forth some sort of a chorus about the girls in Booble Alley." Booble Alley was also mentioned in Melville's Redburn. It was a street in Liverpool's red-light district.
"Charity, his sister, had placed a small choice copy of Watts in each seaman's berth." Isaac Watts was an English hymn writer from the early 18th century. It is not clear what particular work Charity placed there. Possibly it was Improvement of the Mind, which went through many editions in the early 19th century, though it could have been a collection of hymns.
When Peleg cries out, "Spring, ... Quohog! spring, thou chap with the red whiskers; spring there, Scotch-cap; spring, thou green pants," it seems clear that as mangled as he gets Queequeg's name, at least he has some notion that Queequeg has a name, and what it sounds like. Everyone else is identified by whatever distinguishing visuals exist at the time, and "Scotch-cap" and "green pants" will almost definitely be unrecognizable to him after a change of clothes.
A windlass is similar to a capstan (see above), but is a horizontally mounted barrel rather than a vertical one.
The Pequod sails on Christmas Day. To some extent this indicates how disconnected it is from any considerations other than whaling—they do not delay even a day in order to celebrate Christmas. Many will also say this is merely the first of many indications that the Pequod will be abandoning "the Christian life" from a pagan existence. But it is also true that Christmas did not have the overwhelming significance in the early 19th century that it does now, and it was only with the rise of the social upheavals brought about by industrialization, transportation, and the Civil War that people started feeling the need for a major family holiday, and focused on Christmas. So at the time of the Pequod, it was becoming more popular, but was not yet the "stop-everything" holiday it has become.
Bildad sings, "Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, Stand dressed in living green. So to the Jews old Canaan stood, While Jordan rolled between." This is one of Watts's hymns.
When Ishmael thinks of "meads and glades so eternally vernal" he is thinking of meadows and glades, not honey wine.
Bildad's advice is a mixture of thrift and religion: "Don't stave the boats needlessly, ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent. within the year. Don't forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck, mind that cooper don't waste the spare staves. ... Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days, men; but don't miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's good gifts." The last is a particularly fine touch, finding a rationale for breaking the prohibition against working on the Sabbath.
CHAPTER 23: The Lee Shore
"The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities." Clearly here, McWhorter notes, "pitiful" has the older meaning of "showing or feeling pity".
CHAPTER 24: The Advocate
"... among people at large, the business of whaling is not accounted on a level with what are called the liberal professions." The liberal professions are those involving public service and some mastery of liberal arts or sciences, e.g., law, medicine, teaching in colleges, and engineering. Whaling is most definitely not included.
"But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honour." This was written before the Civil War, but that just continued the trend.
"Why did the Dutch in De Witt's time have admirals of their whaling fleets? Why did Louis XVI. of France, at his own personal expense, fit out whaling ships from Dunkirk, and politely invite to that town some score or two of families from our own island of Nantucket?" De Witt must be Johan De Witt, effectively Prime Minister of Holland 1653 to 1672, but I can find no reference to admirals of whaling fleets.
CHAPTER 25: Postscript
"... whaling may well be regarded as that Egyptian mother, who bore offspring themselves pregnant from her womb." The technical term for that seems to be paedogenesis, but in real life it seems to apply only to aphids (and tribbles, of course). The reference appears to be to some mythological occurrence, but I cannot find a reference.
"[Whaling] has explored seas and archipelagoes which had no chart, where no Cook or Vancouver had ever sailed." Cook is Captain James Cook, who made three exploratory voyages in the South Pacific, was the first European to reach Hawai'i and the east coast of Australia, and was killed by Hawaiians while exploring there in 1779. Vancouver is Captain George Vancouver, who explored the northwest coast of North America at the end of the 18th century. Interestingly, Vancouver also visited Hawai'i and Cook visited what would become known as Vancouver Island.
"... the heroes of Exploring Expeditions, your Cookes, your Krusensterns;" The British edition has "Cooks", so the reference is to James Cook again. Krusenstern is Adam Johann von Krusenstern, the first Russian to circumnavigate the globe.
"... those whalemen at last eventuated the liberation of Peru, Chili, and Bolivia from the yoke of Old Spain ..." "Chili" is clearly an alternate spelling of Chile. Even though today we have settled on Chile for the country, we still waver between "chile" and "chili" for the peppers and the dish.
"That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia," is an apt description in many ways. Australia and the (continental) United States are approximately the same dimensions. Both were settled, at least in part, as prison colonies. And both had the same sort of frontier, "Wild West" attitude. (One still sees this in films such as Quigley Down Under and The Man from Snowy River and even Ned Kelly.)
"If that double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due; for already she is on the threshold." This was somewhat prescient, since when Japan did "become hospitable" (or at least was forced to open up to the outside world) in 1854, the only immediate commercial effect of the treaty was to open three ports to American whaling ships seeking provisions.
To the claim "The whale has no famous author, and whaling no famous chronicler," Ishmael cites Job, Alfred the Great, Burke, and many others already quoted in the Prologue.
Mary Folger nee Morell (a.k.a. Morill) was indeed Benjamin Franklin's grandmother, and also an ancestor of the co-founder of Cornell University and of the founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Of her whaler descendants there does not appear to be much record, but that is not surprising, and since she was a Nantucketer, one assumes that there were at least a few.
Ishmael says, "By old English statutory law, the whale is declared "a royal fish." This is true and means that whales (and sturgeons) become the property of the monarch when caught.
"In one of the mighty triumphs given to a Roman general upon his entering the world's capital, the bones of a whale, brought all the way from the Syrian coast, were the most conspicuous object in the cymballed procession." For ages there was a skeleton of a whale in a temple in Joppa (a.k.a. Jaffa), where it was claimed to be the sea beast that menaced Andromeda and that Perseus defeated. The triumph referred to was probably that of Vespasian and Titus in 71 C.E. Conveniently, Joppa was also the port from which Jonah sailed.
Melville's Note (included in Penguin edition): "See subsequent chapters for something more on this head." Melville is referring to chapters 82 and 90.
"I know a man that, in his lifetime, has taken three hundred and fifty whales. I account that man more honourable than that great captain of antiquity who boasted of taking as many walled towns." Ishmael says "that great captain" rather than "a great captain," so he must have someone in mind, but I cannot figure out who.
"And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard." So says Ishmael, but it is Melville speaking of his own education.
"Certain I am, however, that a king's head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it be, though, that they anoint it with a view of making its interior run well, as they anoint machinery? Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential dignity of this regal process, because in common life we esteem but meanly and contemptibly a fellow who anoints his hair, and palpably smells of that anointing. In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can't amount to much in his totality." Melville is having a bit of fun here at the expense of monarchies, but after all, he is a good son (or grandson) of the American Revolution. And the stereotype seems persistent: In early cinema, it was the actor with the slicked-down hair who was the villain or the seducer; the actor will the "tousled" hair was the hero. And even today, we refer to someone untrustworthy as "oily".
I am also reminded of a sign board for the classic pub "The Queen's Head & Artichoke" with the logo of a queen with an artichoke hairstyle (or is it a crown?).
I had originally said, "'Quoggy' is a word Melville created, but unlike the many words Shakespeare created, it never caught on and is not to be found in The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary." But someone wrote in correction, "It may be true that the Compact OED does not contain the word, but at least the 2nd & 3rd Editions of the OED (1989 & 2007, resp.) do, under the headword 'quaggy': 'quaggy, adj., Forms: 15–16 quaggie, 16 qaggy, 16- quaggy, 18 quoggy. ... 2. Of flesh, a body, etc.: soft, yielding, flabby. Also fig.' with citations for that usage including the very same passage you quoted from Moby-Dick, but also earlier ones dating back to 1611."
"Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear's oil, nor train oil, nor cod-liver oil." Olive oil is from olives. Macassar oil was a commonly used hair oil in the 19th and early twentieth centuries, thus called because it was made from ingredients (including coconut oil) obtained in Makassar, Indonesia. Its use resulted in the creation of "antimacassars": small doilies, often crocheted, placed on the backs of chairs to protect the upholstery. (We had many antimacassar sets my grandmother had crocheted, each one consisting of one large piece for the back of the chair and two smaller ones for the arms.)
Castor oil is now the oil of the castor bean. It is also the oil secreted by beavers. ("Castor" is Latin for "beaver".) It is not clear whether the latter was ever taken as a medicine the way the former was/is. (Consider that "dolphin" has two distinct meanings, one a mammal and one a fish, and we eat only the latter.)
Bear's oil (note this is not "bear oil") was another hair oil sold in the early 19th century. It was originally made from bear oil (which in turn was made from bear fat), but that tended to turn rancid quickly and was replaced with other, plant-based oils. The bottles are now collectibles.
Train oil was another name for whale oil extracted from the blubber of the right, bowhead, and other baleen whales. Cod-liver oil does come from cod livers, and is considered a source of vitamins A and D.
Sperm oil is the oil from the head cavity of the sperm whale.
CHAPTER 26: Knights and Squires
"The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a Quaker by descent." Starbuck was not a particularly heavy coffee-drinker, but he is the source of the name for the coffee house chain. Of course, that was only after some of the founders rejected the first choice—Pequod. (One of the founders, Jerry Baldwin, was an English teacher.)
(For a good laugh, see "If Starbucks Had Been Named After Other Characters from Moby Dick" by Amanda Lehr [http://tinyurl.com/mcsweeneys-moby].)
"Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a war-horse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne!" Bunyan is John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress. Swart means swarthy, or dark, here contrasting with the "pale ... pearl"—yet another light/dark dichotomy. He was imprisoned several times for preaching without a license. (Contrast this with Father Mapple, who probably has no credentials, and certainly required no license.)
Cervantes is Miquel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quijote. He lost the use of his left arm from an injury in the Battle of Lepanto. Melville seems to think Cervantes lost part of his arm, but the historical consensus seems to be that he retained the entire arm. Whether Cervantes's arm was ever clothed in beaten gold is a matter not generally addressed, though since his fame was established before his death, it is quite possible that he had occasion to wear a gold armlet or sleeve of some sort.
Andrew Jackson, President of the United States (1929–1937), died in 1845, when Melville would have been working on Moby-Dick. Jackson was both in a backwoods area of one of the Carolinas (the exact location is not clear, and the area was so remote it had not been completely surveyed). In any case, he came from very humble stock, but was "hurled upon a war-horse" to become the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. His actions during the First Seminole War (1817–1919) are deplored today, but probably contributed to his stature as a war hero in Melville's time.
Apparently Melville realized that not all his nautical terms would be familiar to his readers, because after saying that Flask was called "King-Post" on the Pequod, Melville tells his audience what a King-Post is (a "short, square timber that ... serves to brace the [entire] ship").
Tashtego was from Gay Head, previously mentioned as the home of Tistig, who prophesied about Ahab's name (Chapter 16, page 93). In keeping with his previous declarations regarding how to denote the various origins of people, Melville tells us that people of Gay Head are called Gay-Headers.
"[You] would almost have ... half-believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air." The reference is to Ephesians 2:1–2: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:" and refers to the Devil.
"Third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread—an Ahasuerus to behold." None of the harpooners' names—Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo—seem to have any inherent meaning. The Ahasuerus referred to here is the one mentioned in Esther, also known as Xerxes, and those who have seen the film 300 may feel that they understand the concept of someone "gigantic" being compared to Ahasuerus. However, while Xerxes was described as being taller than the average Persian of the time, the real Xerxes was not seven feet tall and covered with piercings. The best estimates seem to be that he was about six feet tall.
There are other Biblical references to people named Ahasuerus that seem to refer to two other Persian kings and a Babylonian scribe. Ahasuerus is also the traditional name given to the "Wandering Jew".
"Herein it is the same with the American whale fishery as with the American army and military and merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in the construction of the American Canals and Railroads. The same, I say, because in all these cases the native American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles." In Melville's time, "native American" meant a white person descended from residents of the original colonies, not an American Indian. There was a rise in Nativism in the early 19th century which continued over the years, even though its main targets changed with time. However, there is definitely a level of sarcasm here.
"Islanders seem to make the best whalemen. They were nearly all Islanders in the Pequod, ISOLATOES too." Melville specifically names the Azores and the Shetland Islands, but of course Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard are islands also, if not as isolated as the others. "Isolato" is another word coined by Melville and not found in The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
They form an "Anacharsis Clootz deputation ... to lay the world's grievances before that bar from which not very many of them ever come back." Anacharsis Clootz, also known as Jean-Baptiste du Val-de-Grâce, Baron de Cloots, was a Prussian active in the French Revolution and nicknamed "The Orator of Mankind."
CHAPTER 28: Ahab
"[Their] supreme lord and dictator was [in his cabin], though hitherto unseen by any eyes not permitted to penetrate into the now sacred retreat of the cabin." This makes Ahab into a sort of High Priest, the only person allowed into the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem.
"For though the harpooneers, with the great body of the crew, were a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies which my previous experiences had made me acquainted with, still I ascribed this—and rightly ascribed it—to the fierce uniqueness of the very nature of that wild Scandinavian vocation in which I had so abandonedly embarked." After a few days, Ishmael is beginning to see why Captain Peleg felt that Ishmael's merchant service was irrelevant to signing on a whaling ship.
Ishmael seems to think of whaling as a "Scandinavian vocation," but its origins are more Inuit and Basque, and it appears to be the Basque who introduced it to the Scandinavians.
Ishmael re-iterate that were "every one of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vineyarder, a Cape man." Earlier, he had said the correct term was a "Cape-Cod-man," especially since a "Cape man" might refer to someone from the Cape of Good Hope.
The taffrail is the railing around the stern of a ship.
"His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus." The most famous of Benvenuto Cellini's large sculptures is the bronze "Perseus with the Head of Medusa".
On a sailing ship, the quarter-deck was the part of the main deck behind the mainmast from which the captain commanded the ship. The mizzen shrouds are the hindmost shrouds ("pieces of standing rigging which hold the mast up from side to side").
"[A] crucifixion in his face" is obviously a prefigurement of his death, but it is interesting that the makers of the 1956 film version show Ahab crucified upon Moby Dick.
CHAPTER 29: Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb
"Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic." Quito (Ecuador) was called "the City of Eternal Spring" because of the weather there. The Pequod was nowhere near the actual Quito.
The Tropic mentioned would be the Tropic of Cancer, at 23°26'13"N, the northernmost point at which the sun passes directly overhead. "The Tropics" is the region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, 23°26'13"S.
Apparently, plain old sherbet used to be called Persian sherbet.
The "narrow scuttle" Ahab descended was a small hatch or opening. The term "scuttle" also referred to an opening used as a drain, hence the term "scuttling a ship"."
"Taffrail" and "mainmast" have already been defined. (In general, I will not note terms already commented on.)
A "globe of tow" would be a ball of the fiber of flax, hemp, or jute.
CHAPTER 30: The Pipe
"Smoking to windward" would be blowing smoke into the wind and having it blown back in your face.
CHAPTER 31: Queen Mab
"In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of ..." That would be the Order of the Knights of the Garter.
CHAPTER 32: Cetology
William Scoresby was an Arctic explorer who wrote Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery. Thomas Beale wrote The Natural History of the Sperm Whale. Phillip Pullman named his character Lee Scoresby after Lee Van Cleef (whose looks Pullman used as the model for the character's) and William Scoresby.
"Thus speak of the whale, the great Cuvier, and John Hunter, and Lesson, those lights of zoology and anatomy." Georges Cuvier was a major figure in many of the natural sciences in the early 19th century. John Hunter was a Scottish scientist, primarily a surgeon, of the late 18th century, mentioned for his studies in anatomy. René-Primavère Lesson was a naturalist (primarily an ornithologist and herpetologist) of the early 19th century.
"Many are the men, small and great, old and new, landsmen and seamen, who have at large or in little, written of the whale. Run over a few:—The Authors of the Bible; Aristotle; Pliny; Aldrovandi; Sir Thomas Browne; Gesner; Ray; Linnaeus; Rondeletius; Willoughby; Green; Artedi; Sibbald; Brisson; Marten; Lacepede; Bonneterre; Desmarest; Baron Cuvier; Frederick Cuvier; John Hunter; Owen; Scoresby; Beale; Bennett; J. Ross Browne; the Author of Miriam Coffin; Olmstead; and the Rev. T. Cheever."
The Authors of the Bible wrote the Book of Jonah.
Aristotle was the first to recognize that whales were not fish, in his Historia Animalium.
Pliny the Elder (who died in 79 during the eruption of Vesuvius) described orcas hunting whale calves near the Straits of Gibraltar.
Aldrovandi was an artist/illustrator who drew whales (not always entirely accurately) in the 17th century.
Sir Thomas Browne wrote Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book of Vulgar Errors (1646).
Gesner is Conrad Gesner, who drew and wrote about whales and sea monsters in "Animaux aquatiques et monstres des mers septentrionales" (1560). (There is also Abraham Gesner, who patented kerosene in 1854, just a few years after Moby-Dick was published, and which was far cheaper than whale oil as a lighting fuel.)
John Ray published several works on cetaceans in the 17th century and eventually concluded that they were not fish.
Linnaeus developed a classification system for plants and animals and in the 1758 edition of Systema Naturae placed cetaceans in the Mammalia.
Rondeletius is Guillaume Rondelet, who wrote Libri de Piscibus Marinis in quibus verae Piscium effigies expressae sunt in 1554 and Universae Aquatilium Historiae pars altera the following year.
I can find no information on Thomas Willoughby or Joseph Henry Green (unless Melville is referencing Samuel Taylor Coleridge's literary executor).
Peter Artedi was an 18th century Swede called the "Father of Ichthyology", and recognized that cetaceans were distinct from fish, though based on the position of the fins rather than mammalian characteristics.
Robert Sibbald wrote about the Blue whale in Phalainologia Nova (1692); it was originally called "Sibbald's rorqual" and originally had Sibbald's name in its Latin denotation.
Mathurin Jacques Brisson described the humpback whale in Regnum Animale (1756), and his name was originally used for the Latin denotation.
Friedrich Martens (not to be confused with the Russian diplomat of the same name) wrote an account of his time as a ship's surgeon on an Arctic whaling voyage in the late 17th century.
Bernard-Germain-Étienne de La Ville-sur-Illon, Comte de Lacépède was a French naturalist who contributed to the Comte de Buffon's great work on natural history in the late 18th century.
Abbé Pierre Joseph Bonneterre contributed several sections on whales to the Tableau encyclopédique et méthodique. in the 1780s and 1790s.
Anselme Gaëtan Desmarest was a French zoologist of the early 19th century.
When Melville refers to "the great Cuvier" earlier, he means Georges Cuvier, while here he lists both him and Frédéric Cuvier, Georges's younger brother, a well-known zoologist in his own right.
John Hunter published Observations on the structure and oeconomy of whales (1787).
Sir Richard Owen founded the British Natural History Museum, and it was specifically intended and designed to be able to display whales, being the largest living animals.
Scoresby and Beale were also mentioned earlier.
Frederick Debell Bennett wrote A Whaling Voyage round the Globe, from the Year 1833 to 1836.
J. Ross Browne wrote Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (1846).
Joseph C. Hart was "the Author of Miriam Coffin" (Miriam Coffin -or- The Whale-Fishermen: A Nantucket Novel (1834), a novel based on a real person).
Francis Allyn Olmstead wrote Incidents of a Whaling Voyage (1841).
The Rev. T. Cheever is Henry T. Cheever, who wrote The Whale and His Captors (1850).
[Credit for much of this information goes to to "When Whales Became Mammals: The Scientific Journey of Cetaceans From Fish to Mammals in the History of Science" by Aldemaro Romero, accessed at https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/40763, and Steven Olsen-Smith's Melville’s copy of Thomas Beale’s "The natural history of the sperm whale and the composition of Moby Dick" https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37363364.]
[Melville tends to capitalize the names of his whales in this chapter. I will follow modern custom and use lower-case except in direct quotes.]
The "Greenland, or Right Whale" is also known as the arctic whale or the bowhead whale. The sperm whale is indeed larger than it—in fact, the sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales (the larger blue whale is a baleen whale), and has the largest brain of any animal.
"I shall not pretend to a minute anatomical description of the various species, or—in this place at least—to much of any description. My object here is simply to project the draught of a systematization of cetology. I am the architect, not the builder." We now spell "draught" as "draft". Melville clearly thinks that architect just needs to know the general idea of a project, while the builder fills in the details. I suspect architects would have a different opinion.
"To grope down into the bottom of the sea after them; to have one's hands among the unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing." The pelvis of the world would also hold the womb of the world, and be the birthplace of life. The ancient fertility figures emphasized a broad pelvis, not the ample breasts modern people tend to expect.
Melville notes that Linnaeus declared, "I hereby separate the whales from the fish." But then Melville goes on, "But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan." This is a pun on the notion of separation and division. An alewife is a species of herring. (It is also a popular T-station for people to park at to go into Boston, but that's neither here nor there.)
Melville is supposedly quoting Linnaeus as saying, ""On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem," and finally, "ex lege naturae jure meritoque." This is as much gobbledy-gook as Karloff's Latin mass in The Black Cat: "Penem intrantem feminam" refers to the penis entering the female, and "mammis lactantem" to breasts giving milk, while "ex lege naturae jure meritoque" is "out of the law of nature by right and merit."
In fact, Melville hints at this when he then writes, "I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug." It is not clear whether Macey and Coffin were actual messmates of Melville's at one point, or whether they are fictional messmates of Ishmael's.
Ishmael then "call[s] on holy Jonah to back [him]" in his contention that the whale is a fish. Scholars still dispute over exactly what the author of Jonah meant. The word "dag", for example, is currently taken to mean "fish", but did it have a more general meaning three thousand years ago? Other words used are equally problematic. It is true that the word "livyatan" never appears in the Jonah story. (Arguments about anatomical impossibilities are fairly useless—neither whales nor fish are likely to provide a survival opportunity to a swallowed prophet.)
Linnaeus noted that whales have lungs and warm blood, while fish have no lungs and cold blood. Melville ignores this, and gives the definition, "A whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail." (In this, he seems to follow Artedi's use of the position of the fins as determinative.) He claims that the walrus spouts, but is amphibious. This should not be confused with amphibian. Amphibians develop in water during their larval stage, but then develop lungs and live on land (or at any rate, in air rather than water). Walruses are not amphibians; they are mammals. However, amphibious means able to operate either on land or in water, which applies to walruses, seals, and sea lions, among others.
Melville compares the three sizes of whales to sizes of books: folio (12" by 15"), octavo (6" by 9"), and duodecimo (5" by 7.375"). This skips the quarto size (9.5" by 12"), but Melville later explains (in a note) that is because the octavo retains the proportions of the folio, while the quarto does not. Alas, this is not true. The folio has a width/height ratio of 0.80, the quarto 0.79, and the octavo 0.67. The duodecimo has a ratio of 0.69, which means that Melville's choice retains the proportion between the two smaller sizes, with the largest size the anomaly, rather than the other way around.
(However, sizes were not really standardized through most of the history of book-binding, so it is quite possible that Melville had a different notion of folio, quarto, and octavo sizes. However, I thought that traditionally the sizes were created by folding the previous size in half, which would certainly imply that two sizes separated by an intermediate size should be in the same proportion.)
Melville's Note (included in Penguin edition): "I am aware that down to the present time, the fish styled Lamatins and Dugongs (Pig-fish and Sow-fish of the Coffins of Nantucket) are included by many naturalists among the whales. But as these pig-fish are a nosy, contemptible set, mostly lurking in the mouths of rivers, and feeding on wet hay, and especially as they do not spout, I deny their credentials as whales; and have presented them with their passports to quit the kingdom of Cetology." A lamatin is a manatee, or sea cow. Three species of lamatins and one of dugongs are the only remaining members of the order Sirenia in the class Paenungulata, and are now believed to be descendants of land animals, and more closely related to elephants than to whales. They live in shallow waters along coasts and rivers, rather than in the deep ocean.
Melville does a fairly complete annotation of whale species, so I will not attempt one, but I will make some comments.
Melville says that the sperm whale is also known as "the Trumpa whale, and the Physeter whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the French, and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words." The sperm whale is the only living member of the Genus Physeter. I can find no references to the Trumpa whale or the anvil headed whale other than Melville. "Macrocephalus" is from the Greek for "large head".
Contrary to Melville's statement that the sperm whale "is, without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe," the blue whale and the fin whale are larger.
Rhubarb was used medicinally in China and in medieval Europe, and its high cost led to attempts to cultivate it in Europe, which seems to have occurred in the 18th century. Until then it was indeed as expensive as spermaceti. It was only when the price of sugar dropped that people began growing it as a food crop.
Melville says that the right whale is also known as "the Whale, the Greenland Whale, the Black Whale, the Great Whale, and the True Whale." The black whale was considered a separate species of right whales, but now consist of two species, the North Atlantic right whale, and the North Pacific right whale. The bowhead whale is considered to be in a separate genus entirely from right whales.
Melville says that the fin-back whale is also known as "Fin-Back, Tall-Spout, and Long-John," as well as "broad-nosed whales and beaked whales; pike-headed whales; bunched whales; under-jawed whales and rostrated whales." "Rostrated" means having a beak or beaklike projection. I cannot find references to any of these names, which have apparently fallen totally out of use. However, the razorback whale mentioned later is actually a fin-back whale.
"Packet-tracks" are the routes taken by packet ships.
An "Ahaz-dial" or "Deal of Ahaz" is a sundial, named after the supposed inventor, the eighth century B.C.E. King of Judah [2 Kings 16:23], and the gnomon is the upright piece on the sundial.
Cain, of course, is the Cain of Genesis 4:15, who bears a mark for having killed his brother Abel.
Melville claims trying to classify whales by "baleen, hump, back-fin, and teeth" would be incorrect: "[The] humpbacked whale and the Greenland whale, each of these has baleen; but there ... the similitude ceases." However, cetologists have settled on a classification system that distinguishes two suborders of Cetacea: baleen whales (Mysteceti) and toothed whales (Odonoceti).
The Elephant and Castle was a section of London that had become commercialized at the end of the 18th century.
Melville says of the razor-back whale, "Of this whale little is known but his name." Apparently, since this is actually a whale that is larger than the sperm whale (which Melville claims is the largest whale), and is another name for the finback whale, or fin whale.
Melville says of the sulphur-bottom whale, "Another retiring gentleman, with a brimstone belly, doubtless got by scraping along the Tartarian tiles in some of his profounder divings. He is seldom seen; at least I have never seen him except in the remoter southern seas, and then always at too great a distance to study his countenance. He is never chased; he would run away with rope-walks of line. Prodigies are told of him. Adieu, Sulphur Bottom! I can say nothing more that is true of ye, nor can the oldest Nantucketer." This is the blue whale, the largest of all whales, but apparently little known in Melville's time.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "Why this book of whales is not denominated the Quarto is very plain. Because, while the whales of this order, though smaller than those of the former order, nevertheless retain a proportionate likeness to them in figure, yet the book-binder’s Quarto volume in its diminished form does not preserve the shape of the Folio volume, but the Octavo volume does."
The Grampus is also called Risso's dolphin, and hence while a cetacean, is not a true whale.
According to Wikipedia, Black Fish is "a catch-all slang term for small, dark-colored toothed whales such as the pygmy sperm whale, the false killer whale, and the short-finned pilot whale," but since Melville suggests called the Black Fish whale the Hyena whale, he seems to mean specifically the pilot whale.
"Mephistophelean" refers to Mephistopheles, a demon in German folklore, best known for his appearance in the Faust legend, and is usually depicted as grinning.
What Melville spells "narwhale", we now spell "narwhal".
Of the Narwhal's tusk, Melville writes, "What precise purpose this ivory horn or lance [the Narwhal's tusk] answers, it would be hard to say. It does not seem to be used like the blade of the sword-fish and bill-fish; though some sailors tell me that the Narwhale employs it for a rake in turning over the bottom of the sea for food. Charley Coffin said it was used for an ice-piercer; for the Narwhale, rising to the surface of the Polar Sea, and finding it sheeted with ice, thrusts his horn up, and so breaks through. But you cannot prove either of these surmises to be correct. My own opinion is, that however this one-sided horn may really be used by the Narwhale—however that may be—it would certainly be very convenient to him for a folder in reading pamphlets." And they say there is no humor in Moby-Dick.
Sir Martin Frobisher was an English privateer in the 16th century. I presume "Black Letter" was a periodical of the time. The Earl of Leicester would be Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester, a long-time suitor of Queen Elizabeth I. The "land beast of the unicorn nature" would probably be the rhinoceros. This section is considered one of Melville's many "phallic jokes" (along with Chapter 94, "A Squeeze of the Hand", and Chapter 95, "The Cassock").
Of the killer whale, Melville philosophizes, "Exception might be taken to the name bestowed upon this whale, on the ground of its indistinctness. For we are all killers, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included."
A ferule is a flat ruler with a widened end, used in Melville's day for punishing children.
Melville admits that the "Huzza Porpoise" is his own name; the official name is "bottlenose dolphin". In fact, porpoises and dolphins are distinct: dolphins have longer snouts, bigger mouths, different teeth, more curved dorsal fins, and longer, leaner bodies than porpoises. In fact, they are not even in the same family.
It is worth noting that there is also a dolphin fish, which is usually called mahi-mahi to avoid confusion with the mammal. When Melville says, "Porpoise meat is good eating, you know," he is referring to the mammal (which is still eaten in Japan and Peru), and not the dolphin fish.
The algerine porpoise may be the pygmy killer whale or the false killer whale, but that is speculation.
And the mealy-mouthed porpoise is actually the southern right whale dolphin.
In fact, none of Melville's "porpoises" appear to be porpoises at all. Porpoises are shy, and live more along the coasts and in rivers, so it is not surprising that Melville was unfamiliar with them. Porpoises and dolphins are often confused.
Melville speaks of "a rabble of uncertain, fugitive, half-fabulous whales, which, as an American whaleman, I know by reputation, but not personally." They include "the Bottle-Nose Whale, the Junk Whale, the Pudding-Headed Whale, the Cape Whale, the Leading Whale, the Cannon Whale, the Scragg Whale, the Coppered Whale, the Elephant Whale, the Iceberg Whale, the Quog Whale, and the Blue Whale."
The bottle-nose whale and the blue whale are real (although as noted earlier, the Blue Whale was barely known in Melville's time and its true size not realized).
Environmental historians think the Scragg whale might be the Atlantic gray whale.
The junk whale, the pudding-headed whale, the cape whale, the leading whale, the cannon whale, the coppered whale, the elephant whale, the iceberg whale, and the quog whale appear to be either not whales at all or only known by some other name.
Melville then says he has not included even more uncertain names. Thank goodness!
Melville left his catalog unfinished, "even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower." The Cathedral of Cologne was started in 1248, but construction stopped in 1473. leaving a crane atop the south tower, which had been completed up to the belfry. Work resumed in 1842, and the cathedral was finished in 1880. Presumably it became more famous after work re-started, and that may have had something to do with why Melville was familiar with it.
CHAPTER 33: The Specksnyder
There is "an officer called the Specksnyder. Literally this word means Fat-Cutter ..." In German, "speck" is bacon, and "schneider" is tailor (i.e., "someone who cuts"). "Snyder" would be a variant spelling.
"[Never] mind how much like an old Mesopotamian family these whalemen may, in some primitive instances, live together; for all that, the punctilious externals, at least, of the quarter-deck are seldom materially relaxed," In other words, although everyone is living together in a very small area and sleeping in a common room, yet the formalities of rank are maintained. "Mesopotamian" emphasizes the primitiveness, and also has the notion of water embedded in it, since it means "between the rivers."
"... though the only homage he ever exacted, was implicit, instantaneous obedience; though he required no man to remove the shoes from his feet ere stepping upon the quarter-deck ..." Melville engages in a little bit of irony here.
"[He] addressed them in unusual terms, whether of condescension or IN TERROREM, or otherwise ..." "In terrorem" means "in order to frighten" and is a method of compelling someone to do (or not do) something without resorting to a lawsuit or arrest (e.g., a clause in a will giving a legacy only if the legatee does not challenge the will).
"For be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base. This it is, that for ever keeps God's true princes of the Empire from the world's hustings; and leaves the highest honours that this air can give, to those men who become famous more through their infinite inferiority to the choice hidden handful of the Divine Inert, than through their undoubted superiority over the dead level of the mass." The "hustings" are the workings of an election campaign (or specifically, the speaking platforms). What is interesting is that what Melville saw as the truth of mid-19th century politics is still true almost two hundred years later: the nature of politics is such that the people with the best intellects—which Melville seems to equate with character—do not want to be involved in it, so it attracts only the second-rate intellects. (Melville refers to "men" because of course in his time women were not even considered.)
CHAPTER 34: The Cabin-Table
"Dough-Boy, the steward, thrusting his pale loaf-of-bread face from the cabin-scuttle, announces dinner to his lord and master; who [is], sitting in the lee quarter-boat ..." The "pale loaf-of-bread face" emphasizes that the term "Dough-Boy" is more than just the usual term for baker's assistant, but implies a below-decks pallor and an unnatural whiteness (whiteness again!). The cabin-scuttle would be the narrow hole down into the cabin. And the lee quarter-boat would be the boat hung over the ship's quarter, or sternward part of the side, on the leeward (protected from the wind) side.
The hierarchy of the going in and coming out from meals recalls the lines from Macbeth:
Stand not upon the order of your going,
But go at once.
[Act III, Scene IV]
Belshazzar (also known as Balthazar) was a 6th century B.C.E. prince of Babylon mentioned in Daniel.
"Who has but once dined his friends, has tasted what it is to be Caesar. It is a witchery of social czarship which there is no withstanding." This is an interesting repetition: the word "Czar" (a.k.a. "Tsar") derives from "Caesar". as does "Kaiser". "Caesar" was intended to mean "emperor", but ended up closer to "king". According to The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Melville coined the term "czarship".
"For, like the Coronation banquet at Frankfort, where the German Emperor profoundly dines with the seven Imperial Electors, so these cabin meals were somehow solemn meals, eaten in awful silence ..." Originally the Electors served an actual electoral function in the Holy Roman Empire but after the 15th century their function was purely formal. In this, they followed the pattern of the Senate in the original Roman Empire: at first they chose the ruler, but eventually they became a rubber stamp.
"His were the shinbones of the saline beef; his would have been the drumsticks." The shinbones are the lower front legs of beef cattle; the meat is from well-developed muscle with a high percentage of connective tissue, so it is very tough and requires special cooking. It is not likely to get such attention on a whaling ship. And though both the shinbones and drumsticks are the legs, the parallel is not perfect: shinbones are the forelegs, while the drumsticks are (in some sense) the hind legs.
"Least of all, did Flask presume to help himself to butter. [Perhaps] he deemed that, on so long a voyage in such marketless waters, butter was at a premium, and therefore was not for him, a subaltern; however it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!" Here we have an instance where Flask is not bound by any specific rule, but just knows he should not take butter.
Contrary to the custom at most banquets, where the guest of honor must be the first to leave, here the lowest-ranking must leave first. This is because the meal on the ship, for all the talk about ceremony, is a functional meal, not a formal banquet.
"And then the three harpooneers were bidden to the feast, they being its residuary legatees." Residuary legatees are the people who get the remainder of a deceased's fortune after the specific bequests are disbursed (e.g., if A gets $1000, B gets $500, and C and D divide the rest, then C and D are the residuary legatees).
"[Often] the pale Dough-Boy was fain to bring on a great baron of salt-junk ..." "Salt-junk" is salt-cured meat, also called just "junk", or "salt horse". A baron of beef in Britain is a large cut of beef that include the loins and both legs; in the United States it is any cut that is suitable for roasting or braising. For the context, I suspect Melville was using it in the British sense. It is possible that the change in meaning in the United States did not happen until after Moby-Dick was written.
"[This] bread-faced steward [was] the progeny of a bankrupt baker and a hospital nurse." Women serving as nurses in hospitals was widely considered as improper through much of the Civil War, so having a mother who was a hospital nurse would not be indicative of a genteel or educated background. (Indeed, nurses of either sex got very little advanced education or training.) The father could not have been the nurse, since a professional woman baker is even less likely. That someone could go bankrupt as a baker indicates a fairly poor business sense.
"Daggoo [was] seated on the floor, for a bench would have brought his hearse-plumed head to the low carlines ..." Hearses of Melville's time were drawn by horses that wore large plumes of black feathers. (I believe for children's funerals, white plumes were substituted.)
A carline is an old woman; a carling a support for a deck or a deck opening. Melville must have meant that Daggoo had a tall hairstyle on top of his six-foot-five-inch frame would have brushed against the low ceiling of the cabin.
"[The] last of the Grisley bears lived in settled Missouri." There were hundreds of thousands of grizzly bears along the Missouri River when Lewis and Clark explored the region in the early 19th century, but by the middle of the century most of the ones in the settled area of the Missouri Territory had been killed or driven further west.
When Ishmael says, "[My] first mast-head came around," he means his first watch to stand at the top of the mast.
Masts were built in four sections: lower, top, top gallant, and royal (from lowest to highest). The skysail poles are the parts of the royal masts above the shoulder when skysails are carried.
CHAPTER 35: The Mast-Head
Ishmael claims that there is a "general belief among archaeologists, that the first pyramids were founded for astronomical purposes: a theory singularly supported by the peculiar stair-like formation of all four sides of those edifices; whereby, with prodigious long upliftings of their legs, those old astronomers were wont to mount to the apex, and sing out for new stars ..." This belief needs clarification. There are step pyramids in several locations around the world, but primarily in Egypt and Mesoamerica. The Egyptian step pyramids were tombs, plain and simple—the step formation was purely for ease of construction. The Mesoamerican pyramids are not tombs—they are solid inside—and may have been used for observations, though it is believed they served more as ceremonial platforms. In both cases, though, there was advanced astronomical knowledge, since the pyramids tended to be aligned with astronomical objects.
"Saint Stylites" is actually Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder ("stylites" just means "pillar"). He lived from 390 C.E. to 459 C.E. and spent the last thirty-seven years living on a platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo, Syria. Several other early Christians imitated his example. The first pillar was about four meters high, but this did not provide enough isolation; the final one was about fifteen meters. The platform was a meter square.
Ishmael compares Simeon's pillar-sitting to that of famous statues set atop pillars: Napoleon in the Place Vendôme, Washington in Baltimore, and Nelson in Trafalgar. The Vendôme Column is 42 meters tall and was erected by Napoleon to commemorate the Battle of Austerlitz. It was torn down in 1871 by the Paris Commune, but re-erected in 1874.
The Washington Monument in Baltimore was completed in 1829 and is 178 feet tall. Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square was finished in 1843. It is 169 feet tall, although until 2006 it was thought to be 183 feet tall.
Obed Macy did indeed write a history of Nantucket, The History of Nantucket: Being a Compendious Account of the First Settlement of the Island by the English, Together with the Rise and Progress of the Whale Fishery, and Other Historical Facts Relative to Said Island and Its Inhabitants (1835). The title is long enough that book may not have fit on the island. :-)
We find out that the mast-head is a hundred feet high.
"[Beneath] you and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes." The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, constructed in the early 3rd century B.C.E. but destroyed in an earthquake in 226 B.C.E. It stood about a hundred feet high. The idea that it straddled the harbor was a medieval invention, based on some odd interpretation of the text of the dedication. Eventually logic won out: they would have had to close the harbor during its construction, its collapse after the earthquake would have blocked off the harbor, and the structural strength of bronze is such that if it straddled the harbor, it would have collapsed under its own weight. Also, the remains were visible on land for 800 years after its collapse; if he straddled the harbor it would have fallen into the harbor and the Greeks would have had no way to remove it to land in any recognizable pieces.
The best-known reference to it is by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow worldWhen on mast-head duty, "a sublime uneventfulness invests you." Clearly this is before cell phones (though I suspect reception in mid-ocean is fairly poor even now).
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
[Act I, Scene II]
The mast-head is "destitute of anything approaching to a cosy inhabitiveness, or adapted to breed a comfortable localness of feeling, such as pertains to a bed, a hammock, a hearse, a sentry box, a pulpit, a coach, or any other of those small and snug contrivances in which men temporarily isolate themselves." Ishmael's inclusion of a hearse here is yet another bit of wry humor. The reference to a pulpit recalls the Whaleman's Chapel and the isolation of Father Mapple after he draws up the ladder.
The gallant (or topgallant) sail is just above the topsail, so the gallant-mast is that part of the mast holding it, and the gallant cross-trees are what hold it.
"Captain Sleet" here is actually a parody of William Scoresby, with much attributed to Sleet that was in fact written by Scoresby.
"In shape, the Sleet's crow's-nest is something like a large tierce or pipe ..." The crow's-nest is the small "basket" at the top of the mast in which a lookout is posted. A tierce was a cask holding a sixth of a tun, or 42 gallons. These are called wine gallons in England to distinguish them from imperial gallons, but are equal to United States gallons.
A brief digression into wine measures, since so many of them are mentioned in Moby-Dick. A tun is 252 gallons, or a cylinder 42 inches high and 42 inches in diameter. A butt (or pipe) is half a tun, a hogshead is a quarter of a tun, and a tierce is a sixth of a tun. This would be equivalent to a cylinder 23 inches high and 23 inches in diameter, assuming it retains the proportions of a tun.
A speaking trumpet is a megaphone, though probably shaped more like a trumpet, with a more gradual widening, than with the larger opening of a megaphone.
Captain Sleet's use of a compass in the crow's-nest for "the purpose of counteracting the errors resulting from what is called the 'local attraction' of all binnacle magnets; an error ascribable to the horizontal vicinity of the iron in the ship's planks" would seem to be an example of parody, since all ships used a binnacle compass for navigation. A binnacle was a waist-high stand on the deck for navigational instruments, including the ship's compass. In the film The Land That Time Forgot the binnacle compass does vary wildly from true, but that is because someone stuck a lump of iron into the binnacle right next to it. In case you doubted the parody, Ishmael suggests that on Sleet's ship's, the deviations may be due "to there having been so many broken-down blacksmiths among her crew."
The "well replenished little case-bottle" would have been a square bottle, designed that way to be packed neatly in cases.
"Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness; and who offers to ship with the Phaedon instead of Bowditch in his head." The "Phaedon" (or "Phaedo") was a dialogue of Plato's on the immortality of the soul. "Bowditch" was an early 19th century mathematician and astronomer who wrote the definitive (for its time) book on navigation.
Referring to the philosopher-sailor as a Platonist is very interesting. Plato was concerned with the differences between perceptibility and intelligibility, and Ishmael spends a lot of time talking about both what can be perceived of whales and what can be understood. The painting at the Spouter-Inn is merely the first example of both the perception and the incomprehensibility of the whale. Ishmael later talks about how it is impossible to portray a whale accurately, because so much cannot be perceived from above the water's surface. And no matter how much Ishmael sees and describes whales, they remain unintelligible to him.
Plato also promoted the theory of forms as archetypes, and that certainly seems to have affected Melville's approach.
"Ten wakes around the world" would be ten circumnavigations, since the wake is the trail of the ship.
Childe Harold was the hero of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage", written by Lord Byron from 1812–1818; Childe Harold was a world-weary traveler looking for adventure in exotic lands. But while Byron did write, "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll! Ten thousand blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain," it was from "The Dark, Blue Sea", not "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage". But the line "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!" presages the line of Chapter 135.
"Cramner's sprinkled Pantheistic ashes" is an error on Melville's part. It was not Thomas Cranmer, but John Wycliffe who was burned to death for heresy and his ashes scattered (in the 14thC). Wycliffe preached that God's omniscience and omnipotent implied that He was also present in everything, i.e., pantheism. Cranmer was one of the "Oxford Martyrs" burned by Queen Mary I in 1556.
"Descartian vortices" sounds like "Cartesian vertices", but I suspect Melville was aiming for a philosophical connotation rather than a mathematical one.
CHAPTER 36: The Quarter-Deck
Bulwarks are the sides of a ship above the upper decks.
Moby Dick is first named here, almost a third of the way into the book), and not by Ahab, but by Tashtego. But how did Moby Dick get his name?
Well, there was an actual albino whale (whose head was covered with barnacles, no less!) that lived around the island of Mocha off the coast of Chile in the early nineteenth century, and was named Mocha Dick. (It is a bit ironic that a white whale would be named with a word usually used to refer to a brown beverage.) Mocha Dick was large enough to wreck several whaling boats before being killed in 1838. Several other albino whales have been reported over the years. It is believed that Melville changed the name to "Moby Dick" after a meeting with his friend, Richard Tobias Green, a.k.a. "Dick Toby".
The other major source for Melville's story was the (true) story of the sinking of the Essex, told in In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of The Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick.
A Spanish ounce of gold was worth US$16 in Melville's time.
A top-maul, or just maul, is a heavy hammer used for driving wooden wedges or piles.
The harpooners (and Starbuck) all seem to know of Moby Dick already, and indeed we later hear stories about him from other ships' crews as well.
Of Moby Dick, Ahab swears, "I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up." The Horn is Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America, Good Hope is the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Africa, and the Norway Maelstrom is probably the Moskstraumen, a tidal current in the Lofoten Islands off Norway. This is the "maelstrom" Poe referred to in "A Descent into the Maelström" and Jules Verne used in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, there is also the Saltstraumen, 30 kilometers east of Bodø, Norway, which is an actual maelstrom and in fact the world's strongest.
So these three sites cover both the northernmost and southernmost reaches of a whaling ship, and also the most hazardous. Ahab does not say he will travel all the oceans, but it is implied since the two Capes cover the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the Norway Maelstrom covers the Arctic.
Ahab tells the steward to "draw the great measure of grog." Grog was made from water or weak beer and rum, and was commonly served on board ships. It was issued in fixed-size servings; presumably Ahab ordered the largest possible serving.
When Ahab says, "Look! see yonder Turkish cheeks of spotted tawn—living, breathing pictures painted by the sun. The Pagan leopards—the unrecking and unworshipping things, that live; and seek, and give no reasons for the torrid life they feel! the crew, man, the crew!" it sounds as though he is referring to the crew. But I think he is talking about the sea—the "spotted tawn" and "leopards" both have spots similar to the dappling of sunlight on water, and he was just talking about the sun in the previous sentences. Though in the English edition "the crew, man, the crew!" appears to be part of the same sentence as the tawn and leopards, in the Project Gutenberg edition, it is a new sentence—"The crew, man, the crew!"
Turks and animals would both be pagans ("those who do not acknowledge the God of the Christians") to Ahab, though one could not call Turks "unworshipping." At the time, Muslims were considered pagans, though Jews seem to have avoided this appellation through some sort of "grandfather clause." Now, if the term is used in a technical sense, it tends to refers to all those outside any of the Abrahamic faiths. When used informally, it tends to mean "anyone outside my particular religion." It is also consider to be the same as "heathen".
"Unrecking" means "uncaring or unconcerned," presumably about God.
Pewter is an alloy of tin and lead formerly widely used for plates, cups, flatware, etc.
A flagon is a large metal or pottery drinking vessel with a handle, a spout, and often a lid.
"Round with it, round! Short draughts—long swallows, men; 'tis hot as Satan's hoof." "Draught" is an alternative spelling from "draft"—Ahab is saying to take only small mouthfuls and swallow slowly. As for Satan's hoof, in Dante's Inferno it is encased in ice, so is not very hot at all.
When the flagon returns to him, Ahab cries, "Ha! boy, come back? bad pennies come not sooner. Hand it me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming again, were't not thou St. Vitus' imp—away, thou ague!" This recalls the old saying about a bad penny always turning up, etc. (Supposedly this was true, because as soon as someone discovered they had a bad (counterfeit) penny, they would attempt to pass it as soon as possible, so a bad penny circulated more than a good one.)
St. Vitus was a Sicilian martyred in the persecutions of 303 C.E. In the Middle Ages, Germans celebrated his feast by dancing in front of his statues, hence "Saint Vitus Dance." He was also the patron saint of epileptics, so the "imp" may be the evil spirit thought by some in medieval times to afflict those persons.
An ague is a sharp fever or fit of shivering.
Ahab would have "the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life." A Leyden jar is a device for storing static electricity using two electrodes inside and outside a glass jar. It was invented in the city of Leyden (a.k.a. Leiden), hence its name.
"What, when the great Pope washes the feet of beggars, using his tiara for ewer?" On Maundy Thursday the Pope traditionally washes the feet of some parishioners (usually twelve) in accordance with John 13:14–17. I can find no indication that any pope used his tiara as a ewer (the receptacle for the water). The Papal tiara was last used by Pope Paul VI.
CHAPTER 37: Sunset
"The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass." We can see that Melville has not entirely given up the word "whelm" for its replacement, "overwhelm".
"Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see not its far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. 'Tis iron—that I know—not gold. 'Tis split, too—that I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight!"
The Iron Crown of Lombardy consists of a narrow band of iron, supposedly one of the nails from the Crucifixion (given by St. Helena to her son Constantine, who gave it to Princess Theodelinda), held in sections of beaten gold and set with gemstones. So Ahab is right about the gems, but wrong about the gold. The "jagged edge" may refer to the joins of the segments, or it may refer to a spot where supposedly two segments were removed and the crown rejoined.
"The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and—Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer." To be dismembered would seem to imply more than the loss of part of one limb. But clearly that prophet was better than Ahab at prophecy.
"I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists, ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes!" James Burke was a deaf English heavyweight champion of the early 19th century. He was forced to flee England after killing a man in the ring, and ended up in the United States. Bendigo Thompson (William Abednego Thompson) was a great bare-knuckle fighter in the early 19th century. His last fight was the year before Moby-Dick came out. He was not blind—the allusion may be comparing him to Samson, who had Bendigo's strength but was blinded through Delilah's betrayal. Bednigo fought and defeated Burke in 1839. Both were pugilists. I have no idea why cricket-players are included in this list.
CHAPTER 38: Dusk
"Demigorgon (a.k.a. "Demogorgon") is the name of demon in hell. It is not connected to Greek mythology, but was first mentioned by a 4th century Roman.
"We'll drink to-night with hearts as light, / To love, as gay and fleeting / As bubbles that swim, on the beaker's brim, / And break on the lips while meeting." This is from "Sparkling and Bright" by Charles Fenno Hoffman, although the original has "to loves" rather than "to love" in the second line.
Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies!
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain!
Our captain's commanded.—
This should be familiar—it is sung by Quint in the movie Jaws, as well as appearing in several other films. It is titled "Spanish Ladies" and dates back to at least the 18th century.
Our captain stood upon the deck,
A spy-glass in his hand,
A viewing of those gallant whales
That blew at every strand.
Oh, your tubs in your boats, my boys,
And by your braces stand,
And we'll have one of those fine whales,
Hand, boys, over hand!
So, be cheery, my lads! may your hearts never fail!
While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!
This was probably also a traditional song. If not, it became one, because versions can be found on YouTube.
CHAPTER 39: First Night Watch
CHAPTER 40: Midnight, Forecastle
I originally wrote, "'Star-bo-l-e-e-n-s, a-h-o-y!' A boleen (or bollen) is a small white-handled knife with a curved blade used by witches for herb harvesting." However, someone corrected me, noting that the Oxford English Dictionary says that it is a variation of "starbowlines", or starboard [bow]lines.
"Eight bells there below! Tumble up!" There is one bell for each half-hour of a four-hour watch. Eight bells means the end of the watch, and time for the next watch to "tumble up."
"I mark this in our old Mogul's wine; it's quite as deadening to some as filliping to others. We sing; they sleep—aye, lie down there, like ground-tier butts. At 'em again! There, take this copper-pump, and hail 'em through it. Tell 'em to avast dreaming of their lasses. Tell 'em it's the resurrection; they must kiss their last, and come to judgment. That's the way—THAT'S it; thy throat ain't spoiled with eating Amsterdam butter." In this context, a Mogul is a rich or powerful person, in this case Ahab. To fillip is to stimulate. Ground-tier butts are the large barrels on the bottom layer, quite immovable. The copper-pump would be the speaking trumpet. "Avast" is a naval word meaning "stop". I suspect Amsterdam butter is good butter, since Holland is also known for its cheese.
Blanket Bay is probably a reference to sleep (similar to "Slumberland", for example) rather than an actual location.
Windlass-bitts are upright timbers used to secure the windlass.
The Chinese sailor says, "Rattle thy teeth, then, and pound away; make a pagoda of thyself." Someone has suggested that this is a reference to one's body being a temple. One finds this in various parts of the Bible, including twice in I Corinthians: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" [3:16] and "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" [6:19] I find this interpretation a bit strained, but, hey, what the heck.
The Manx sailor is from the Isle of Man. In Melville's time it was entirely controlled by England, but obtained limited home rule in 1866, and this has been extended over the years. It is not part of the United Kingdom. Currently its status is complicated (in some ways similar to that of Puerto Rico).
"O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews!" This refers to the covering of the sunken ships and skeletons with seaweed, moss, and other green plant life.
The Lascar sailor says, "By Brahma! boys, it'll be douse sail soon. The sky-born, high-tide Ganges turned to wind! Thou showest thy black brow, Seeva!" A Lascar is a sailor (or soldier) variously from the Indian subcontinent or from East India. Brahma is the Hindu god of creation. The Ganges is Hinduism's most sacred river and worshipped as the goddess Ganga. "Sky-born" could refer to its source being high in the Himalayas. Seeva (or Siva, or Shiva) is the Destroyer or Transformer, and is the most powerful god in Hinduism.
The Maltese sailor's "chassee" is probably chassé, a French dance step with a related verb form.
When the Tahitian sailor says "Hail, holy nakedness of our dancing girls!—the Heeva-Heeva!" he is referring to what we call the hula.
"Hear I the roaring streams from Pirohitee's peak of spears, when they leap down the crags and drown the villages?" Pirohitee would seem to be a mountain or volcano, though I cannot find any of that name in French Polynesia.
The Danish sailor's "crack" probably means to move swiftly, with full sail (as in the current usage, "Get cracking!").
The Danish sailor says, "He's no more afraid than the isle fort at Cattegat, put there to fight the Baltic with storm-lashed guns, on which the sea-salt cakes!" Cattegat (or Kattegat) is a body of water off the North Sea and the Skagerrak, and also off the Baltic Sea, and is the area surrounded by Jutland, the Straits islands, and Sweden.
When the Manx sailor refers to "the three pines," he is referring to the masts.
A halyard is a rope used to hoist a sail, a flag, or a yard. (A yard on a sailing ship is a spar, which is a pole in the rigging used to support the sails.)
St. Jago was the nineteenth century name for the island of Santiago, Cape Verde, "Santiago" being Portuguese for "Saint James". (In Cape Verde Creole, it is "Santiagu".)
Reefing the sails reduces the area exposed to the wind.
CHAPTER 41: Moby Dick
"[We] find some book naturalists—Olassen and Povelson—declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be a consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to be so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood." Olassen and Povelson wrote Travels in Iceland (1805).
Cuvier has been mentioned previously.
The "Nor' West Passage" (or Northwest Passage) was a sea route through the Arctic Ocean along the northern Canadian border. It was first navigated by Roald Amundsen in 1903–1906, although for some of his route the water was only three feet deep, making commercial navigation impractical. Global climate change has now opened up the Passage for commercial use for at least part of the year.
The "inland Strello mountain in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a lake in which the wrecks of ships floated up to the surface)" refers to the Serra de Estrela, but while Wikipedia refers to the legend mentioned by Melville, there is little indication that it exists anywhere but Melville.
Arethusa was a nymph who was transformed into a fountain at Ortygia in Syracuse, Sicily.
"That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil ..." This refers to the Devil, though the theology is confused. To claim that the Devil (or Satan) has existed from the beginning is to claim that he is co-eternal with God, which is a form of Dualism, and is not a tenet of any mainstream Christian church, all of which contend that God created everything. If the story in which the angel Satan rebelled and was cast out and became the Devil is accepted, then even if Satan were co-eternal with God, his malignancy was not. I also doubt that any Christian church cedes to Satan "half the worlds" (which sounds almost like Melville is referring to planets!).
The Patagonian Cape is Cape Horn.
"Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge." The Hudson Highlands are mountains on both sides of the Hudson River between Newburgh and Haverstraw Bays, which form a gorge.
The Hôtel de Cluny was home to astronomer Charles Messier's Observatory of the Navy. It, and the attached Roman baths (Thermes de Cluny), are now the Musée de Cluny, or the Musée National du Moyen-Age et las Thermes de Cluny (Museum of the Middle Ages and the Thermal Baths of Cluny).
A seventy-four was a two-decked sailing ship with 74 guns.
CHAPTER 42: The Whiteness of The Whale
"Japonicas" probably refers to flowering quinces or other plants with that name. (In general, "japonica" refers to things Japanese.)
Pegu (now called Bago) is a city in Burma that was formerly a royal capital of the Mon. The title "Lord of the White Elephants" was apt—as recently as 2007 villagers in the Pegu region of Burma complained that elephants have been killing people and destroying crops.
"[The] modern kings of Siam [unfurled] the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard ..." That would be modern as of 1850. As a point of reference, Anna Leonowens was the Royal Governess there from 1862 to 1868. The term "white elephant" comes from Siam (Thailand) where supposedly the King would give a rare white elephant to people who had offended him, forcing them into ruin with the cost of maintaining the expensive, but useless (and unsellable) animal. King Mongkut did in fact design the official flag of Siam as having a white elephant on a red field, but not until 1855. However, a very similar design apparently existed before that as a naval flag.
Hanover was a kingdom of the German Confederation, in "personal union" with the United Kingdom until 1837. The Hanoverian flag did in fact have a white horse on it.
"[And] the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial colour the same imperial hue ..." "Caesarian" was another term for "Austrian".
"... for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day" on their calendar, either with a white stone or a white piece of chalk to mark it.
"[Among] the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honour..." "Wampum" comes from a Narragansett word meaning "white shell beads".
"The ermine of the Judge," "kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds", and in religions, "the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power" are all probable, though a bit too vague to annotate. By "Persian fire worshippers" Ishmael undoubtedly means Zoroastrians, but the Zoroastrians do not worship fire—the claim is from anti-Zoroastrian propaganda. Zoroastrians do consider fire to be a symbol of purity and truth. As such, they refuse to cremate bodies, to avoid polluting it. The flame symbol most commonly seen has more parts than just the two flames implied by "forked".
"Great Jove himself [was] made incarnate in a snow-white bull" in order to carry off Europa. Note again Melville's use of the Latin rather than the Greek names in referring to the gods. To say he was "made incarnate" is disingenuous, though—he did it himself.
It is indeed true that through the 19th century, "the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of [the Iroquois] theology." According to one source on the Internet the Iroquois now use a "white basket" instead of a dog; I suspect this might rather be a white wicker dog.
The Latin word for white is "albus", hence the egg white is albumin. The "Romish faith" is a derogatory reference to the Roman Catholic Church. The Vision of St. John refers to Revelation 6:9–11: "And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
The twenty-four elders are also from the Revelation 4:4: "And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold." And the Holy One is from Revelation 1:13–14: "And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire."
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there, dashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime. At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to embrace some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it. Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king’s ghost in supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of God. As Abraham before the angels, I bowed myself; the white thing was so white, its wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had lost the miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns. Long I gazed at that prodigy of plumage. I cannot tell, can only hint, the things that darted through me then. But at last I awoke; and turning, asked a sailor what bird was this. A goney, he replied. Goney! I never had heard that name before; is it conceivable that this glorious thing is utterly unknown to men ashore! never! But some time after, I learned that goney was some seaman’s name for albatross. So that by no possibility could Coleridge’s wild Rhyme have had aught to do with those mystical impressions which were mine, when I saw that bird upon our deck. For neither had I then read the Rhyme, nor knew the bird to be an albatross. Yet, in saying this, I do but indirectly burnish a little brighter the noble merit of the poem and the poet. I assert, then, that in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird chiefly lurks the secret of the spell; a truth the more evinced in this, that by a solecism of terms there are birds called grey albatrosses; and these I have frequently seen, but never with such emotions as when I beheld the Antarctic fowl. But how had the mystic thing been caught? Whisper it not, and I will tell; with a treacherous hook and line, as the fowl floated on the sea. At last the Captain made a postman of it; tying a lettered, leathern tally round its neck, with the ship’s time and place; and then letting it escape. But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in Heaven, when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim!"
There was indeed a legend of the White Steed of the Prairies. To say he was elected Xerxes is to compare him to Xerxes the Great, king of the Persian Empire from 486 B.C.E. to 465 B.C.E. He invaded Greece but was defeated at the Battle of Marathon.
"How wildly it heightens the effect of that passage in Froissart, when, masked in the snowy symbol of their faction, the desperate White Hoods of Ghent murder their bailiff in the market-place!" Jean Froissant was a French chronicler of the 14th century. The White Hoods were the masters of Ghent; they murdered the bailiff, Roger d'Auterme, apparently during a rebellion.
"Why to the man of untutored ideality, who happens to be but loosely acquainted with the peculiar character of the day, does the bare mention of Whitsuntide marshal in the fancy such long, dreary, speechless processions of slow-pacing pilgrims, down-cast and hooded with new-fallen snow?" Whitsuntide is the week following Whitsunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter; in 2012 it was May 27), and was one of the three traditional vacation weeks for serfs. It seems unlikely to have been connected with new-fallen snow, even by one untutored and loosely acquainted with it.
"Or, to the unread, unsophisticated Protestant of the Middle American States, why does the passing mention of a White Friar or a White Nun, evoke such an eyeless statue in the soul?" The White Friars and Nuns would be Carmelites.
The White Tower is the principal tower and keep of the Tower of London, which is actually the entire castle rather than a single tower. The Byward Tower and the Bloody Tower are also within the Tower of London. The latter acquired its name after the presumed murder of the two young princes by Richard III in it.
The White Sea is an inlet of the Barents Sea on the northwest coast of Russia. The Yellow Sea is the northern part of the East China Sea.
The "tall pale man" of the Hartz forests is also known as the Demon of the Hartz. The Blocksburg is the highest peak in the Hartz mountains. ("Harz" is an alternate spelling for "Hartz".)
The "tearlessness of arid skies that never rain" over Lima refers to the fact that coastal Lima gets only one to three centimeters of rain a year (about one inch). However, high humidity and other conditions lead to very cloudy skies, with morning fogs, hence Ishmael saying, "For Lima has taken the white veil." But it is considerably older than Pizarro's founding of the city in 1535, though I suppose calling it Lima could technically date back only as far as Pizarro.
"[Her] cathedral-toppling earthquakes" refers to the October 28, 1746, Lima-Callao Earthquake (8.7 on the Richter scale), which almost completely destroyed Lima and killed 6000 people. Its tsunami also destroyed the associated port of Callao.
A howdah is an elaborate seat on an elephant's back, so "snow-howdahed Andes" is doubly apt: the mountains resemble giant pachyderms, and the snow sits atop the peaks like howdahs.
There were "black bisons of distant Oregon" (Bison bison oreganus) but only in the southeastern portion of the state, and they were wiped out by the early part of the 19th century.
"Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright." And what more bizarre reinforcement for this dichotomy could there be but the current model in physics of visible matter, which is attracted to other visible matter, while the invisible matter (a.k.a. dark matter) flees from other dark matter?
Other than white, "all other earthly hues ... are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without." This certainly squares with current atomic (or quantum) theory.
Ishmael's statement that "the palsied universe lies before us a leper" seems mis-informed; "palsied" means to be beset by uncontrollable tremors, not to be pale or white in color.
CHAPTER 43: Hark!
Cabaco is currently Brazilian slang for someone who always messes things up, but I doubt that dates back to Melville's time. That Archy calls Cabaco a cholo would seem to indicate a Spanish-, rather than Brazilian-speaking country. "Cholo" is a derogatory term for someone three-quarters Indian and one-quarter Spanish, or in general someone with less than half Spanish blood. Melville seems to have introduced it into English, where it expanded to include mestizos. Raymond Chandler uses it as a racial slur in The Long Goodbye.
Middle-watch is midnight to 4 AM.
These days, a water butt is usually a rain barrel, but a fresh-water butt on a whaling ship would be a cask of fresh water. A scuttle-butt would be a butt (or cask) that had been scuttled, or had a hole punched in it so s to get at the water. Its modern equivalent is the water cooler, both in primary function and as a focus of gossip, hence the other meaning of scuttlebutt.
"Caramba!" is a general-purpose exclamation of annoyance or anger, equivalent to "Gevalt!" It is assumed to be a euphemism of "carajo" ("penis"). I assume it is acceptable for use in general company, because my father would use it much more freely than the only stronger word he ever used (and that only when he hit his thumb with a hammer or some such). Even my non-Spanish-speaking mother picked up "Caramba!"
The after-hold is the section of the bottom level of a ship between the main and mizzen masts.
"[Our] old Mogul" would be Ahab.
CHAPTER 44: The Chart
It is indeed a "monomaniac thought of his soul" if Ahab is poring over the maps and log-books every night.
Hunters believed "the migrations of the sperm whale would be found to correspond in invariability to those of the herring-shoals or the flights of swallows." The swallows referred to are probably those of Capistrano, which arrive on March 19 and depart on October 23. The herring-shoals seem like they might refer to the sardine run along South Africa's east coast, but there is no record of those before 1853. Ishmael probably means the North Sea herring-shoals, which are predictable in the short term but over time do change their routes.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "Since the above was written, the statement is happily borne out by an official circular, issued by Lieutenant Maury, of the National Observatory, Washington, April 16th, 1851. By that circular, it appears that precisely such a chart is in course of completion; and portions of it are presented in the circular. 'This chart divides the ocean into districts of five degrees of latitude by five degrees of longitude; perpendicularly through each of which districts are twelve columns for the twelve months; and horizontally through each of which districts are three lines; one to show the number of days that have been spent in each month in every district, and the two others to show the number of days in which whales, sperm or right, have been seen.'"
Lieutenant (Matthew Fontaine) Maury was an oceanographer, astronomer, etc., called "Pathfinder of the Seas", "Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology", and "Scientist of the Seas". He did indeed publish a book charting the migration of whales.
I can find no definition of the term "veins" to deal with whales' paths through the sea; it appears to be a metaphor invented by Melville.
"[No] ship ever sailed her course, by any chart, with one tithe of such marvellous precision." One tithe would be one tenth.
The Seychelle ground in the Indian ocean would be near the Seychelle archipelago northeast of Madagascar. Volcano Bay is at 42°20'N, 140°40'E, at the southwestern section of Hokkaido. It is now known for scallop production.
That Ahab thinks "every possibility the next thing to a certainty" seems quite believable, as we see that all the time in people's beliefs (often about such things as the lottery).
The Season-on-the-Line runs from approximately December 22 (Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere), when the sun is overhead on the Tropic of Capricorn (23°30'S) to June 21 (Summer Solstice), when the sun is overhead on the Tropic of Cancer (23°30'N).
Though Ishmael states that Ahab chose the December departure, it is more likely the owners did. In any case, he could clearly not arrive in the prime whaling areas in time for that season. So rather than round Cape Horn, he went around the Cape of Good Hope and then via the Persian Gulf, Bengal Bay, and the China Seas, whaling along the way and collecting information about Moby Dick.
Ishmael lists "Monsoons, Pampas, Nor'-Westers, Harmattans, Trades" as winds, but "Pampas" are plains, not winds. (There is the pampero, but that is entirely on land so far as I can tell.) Nor'-Westers occur off New Zealand and also in parts of Bangladesh. The Harmattan is a dusty wind from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between November and March. The "Trades" are the trade winds, the prevailing easterly winds in the tropics. In the Northern Hemisphere they blow from the northeast; in the Southern Hemisphere, from the southeast.
The Levanter is an easterly wind that blows in the western Mediterranean Sea. The Simoom is a dry, dust-laden wind in the lands east of the Mediterranean Sea. Since Moby Dick is unlikely to be found in the Mediterranean Sea, these winds are unlikely to blow him into the Pequod's path.
A Mufti is a Sunni Islamic scholar who interprets Sharia law. Keeping a beard is required in Sunni Islam, so Muftis (who are probably older men) would naturally be white-bearded.
"His broad fins are bored, and scalloped out like a lost sheep's ear!" I assume this refers to the idea that a lost sheep will get its ears caught and ripped on thorns and shrubs, since if a sheep were actually attacked by a predator, the scalloped ear would be the least of its problems.
"Phrensies" is apparently an alternate spelling of "frenzies".
"Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a formless somnambulistic being, ..." One thinks of somnambulism as being slow and comparable to sleep, not rushing from a room.
"[It] makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates." Actually, the standard legend is that an eagle feeds on Prometheus's liver.
CHAPTER 45: The Affidavit
When Ishmael says he has "personally known three instances where a whale, after receiving a harpoon, has effected a complete escape; and, after an interval (in one instance of three years), has been again struck by the same hand, and slain," is that Ishmael speaking and hence fictional, or is that Melville speaking of actual instances?
It is said that someone "[went] in a trading ship on a voyage to Africa, went ashore there, joined a discovery party, and penetrated far into the interior, where he travelled for a period of nearly two years, often endangered by serpents, savages, tigers, ..." There are no tigers in Africa.
"[There] hung a terrible prestige of perilousness about such a whale as there did about Rinaldo Rinaldini ..." Rinaldini was a bandit in a penny dreadful of 1797 by Christian August Vulpius.
Cambyses is actually Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus the Great, and king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire from 530 B.C.E. to 523 B.C.E. Caesar is Julius Caesar, who I assume needs no annotation. Timor Tom and New Zealand Jack were presumably famous whales of the time. Ombay is an island in Australasia north of Timor.
The Tattoo Land is undoubtedly New Zealand, where tattooing is a major part of the culture. Morquan and Don Miquel are two more whales. Marius is Gaius Marius, who lived from 157 B.C.E. to 86 B.C.E., defeated the invading Germanic tribes, and held the consulship of Rome seven times. Sylla is actually Lucius Cornelius Sulla, dictator of Rome in 82 B.C.E. and 81 B.C.E. Sylla is the French version of his name.
Narragansett Woods would probably be the woods around Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
"Captain Butler of old had it in his mind to capture that notorious murderous savage Annawon, the headmost warrior of the Indian King Philip." "Captain Butler" did not capture Annawon. Captain Walter Butler and the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant were responsible for the Cherry Valley Massacre in 1778; each blamed the other. Annawon was a Wompanoag and the son of the sachem Metacom (who was called "King Philip" by the English), who was betrayed by Captain Benjamin Church in 1676.
Another example of Melville's humor: "No: because the mails are very irregular between here and New Guinea. In fact, did you ever hear what might be called regular news direct or indirect from New Guinea?"
But he can also be serious; in speaking of whalers killed by whales, he concludes, "For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it."
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition):
"The following are extracts from Chace's narrative: 'Every fact seemed to warrant me in concluding that it was anything but chance which directed his operations; he made two several attacks upon the ship, at a short interval between them, both of which, according to their direction, were calculated to do us the most injury, by being made ahead, and thereby combining the speed of the two objects for the shock; to effect which, the exact manoeuvres which he made were necessary. His aspect was most horrible, and such as indicated resentment and fury. He came directly from the shoal which we had just before entered, and in which we had struck three of his companions, as if fired with revenge for their sufferings." Again: "At all events, the whole circumstances taken together, all happening before my own eyes, and producing, at the time, impressions in my mind of decided, calculating mischief, on the part of the whale (many of which impressions I cannot now recall), induce me to be satisfied that I am correct in my opinion.'
Here are his reflections some time after quitting the ship, during a black night an open boat, when almost despairing of reaching any hospitable shore. 'The dark ocean and swelling waters were nothing; the fears of being swallowed up by some dreadful tempest, or dashed upon hidden rocks, with all the other ordinary subjects of fearful contemplation, seemed scarcely entitled to a moment's thought; the dismal looking wreck, and THE HORRID ASPECT AND REVENGE OF THE WHALE, wholly engrossed my reflections, until day again made its appearance.'
In another place—p. 45,—he speaks of "THE MYSTERIOUS AND MORTAL ATTACK OF THE ANIMAL."
Melville relates the true story of the Essex, its Captain Pollard, and its Chief Mate Owen Chace. For a much more complete telling, see Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. One datum from the Essex story that Melville may have used was the fact that the survivors decided not to head for the nearest land (the Marquesas), because they were afraid of cannibals. The result was that most of them died and (ironically) the survivors had to resort to cannibalism to survive. So Melville's use of Queequeg as a cannibal, but not one to be afraid of, is an interesting perspective on the whaler/cannibal interaction.
"The ship Union, also of Nantucket, was in the year 1807 totally lost off the Azores by a similar onset, but the authentic particulars of this catastrophe I have never chanced to encounter, though from the whale hunters I have now and then heard casual allusions to it." The logbook of the Union, with details of the wreck, can now be found in the research library of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Melville also relates another captain who was skeptical about whether a whale "could so smite his stout sloop-of-war as to cause her to leak so much as a thimbleful." He then continues, "Very good; but there is more coming. Some weeks after, the Commodore set sail in this impregnable craft for Valparaiso. But he was stopped on the way by a portly sperm whale, that begged a few moments' confidential business with him. That business consisted in fetching the Commodore's craft such a thwack, that with all his pumps going he made straight for the nearest port to heave down and repair. I am not superstitious, but I consider the Commodore's interview with that whale as providential. Was not Saul of Tarsus converted from unbelief by a similar fright? I tell you, the sperm whale will stand no nonsense." Here we have more understated humor from Melville, along with a Biblical reference, the conversion of Paul as related in Acts 9:1–18. (Paul was originally called Saul; his renaming is alluded to in Acts 13:9.) Saul was struck blind by a brilliant light on the road to Damascus, and only recovered his sight when God sent Ananias to heal him. (This also brings to mind the "unsinkable" Titanic, which was struck by an iceberg and sunk on her first voyage.)
"Langsdorff's Voyages" would be Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World, during the Years 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, and 1807 by Grigory Langsdorff, a member of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences. This was a record of Russian Admiral Krusenstern's (a.k.a. Ivan Fyodorovich Kruzenshtern's), whose "Discovery Expedition" was the first Russian circumnavigation of the globe.
"The Ochotsh" is the Sea of Okhotsk, between the Kamchatka Peninsula and the mainland of Russia. Captain D'Wolf is Captain John DeWolf, known as "Northwest John", who wrote of his adventures between 1804 and 1808 in "A voyage to the North Pacific and a journey through Siberia more than half a century ago" in 1861.
John DeWolf married Mary Melville. Mary's brother Allan was Herman Melville's father, so the "I" here who claims to be DeWolf's nephew is Melville, not Ishmael.
"Lionel Wafer, one of ancient Dampier's old chums ... was on his way to "John Ferdinando," as he calls the modern Juan Fernandes. "In our way thither," he says, "... when we were about one hundred and fifty leagues from the Main of America, ..." Wafer was a surgeon who became a buccaneer in 1679 and a year later, along with William Dampier, joined Bartholomew Sharp's privateer fleet. The (then-modern) Juan Fernandes is the Juan Fernández Islands, an archipelago about 350 miles off Chile. They are where Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, was shipwrecked for four years, and one island is named Robinson Crusoe.
The Main of America would be the "mainland of America" (as opposed to islands, etc.). Today, this use of the word "Main" is almost exclusively limited to the Spanish Main.
The Pusie Hall is another real ship sunk by a whale (in 1835).
"In the sixth Christian century lived Procopius, a Christian magistrate of Constantinople, in the days when Justinian was Emperor and Belisarius general. As many know, he wrote the history of his own times, a work every way of uncommon value. By the best authorities, he has always been considered a most trustworthy and unexaggerating historian, except in some one or two particulars, not at all affecting the matter presently to be mentioned." Procopius wrote The Wars of Justinian, The Buildings of Justinian, and Secret History. The first is probably the most important, but the last is certainly the best known and is a real muck-raking exposé of Justinian and Theodora. It is considered to be most definitely untrustworthy and exaggerated, and in far more than "some one or two particulars." Procopius lived in the first half of the sixth century, Justinian I ruled from 527 to 565, and Belisarius was general from 530 to 565. Belisarius re-conquered much of the Western Empire which had been lost to various "barbarians."
And what does Procopius say? "Now, in this history of his, Procopius mentions that, during the term of his prefecture at Constantinople, a great sea-monster was captured in the neighboring Propontis, or Sea of Marmora, after having destroyed vessels at intervals in those waters for a period of more than fifty years. A fact thus set down in substantial history cannot easily be gainsaid." This is probably from the Secret History (although it is also mentioned in The Wars of Justinian), so you can see why Melville wants to convince you that the Secret History is reliable. The Propontis, or Sea of Marmora, is now the Sea of Marmara which connects the Black Sea (via the Bosphorus strait) to the Aegean Sea (via the Dardanelles strait). The Bosphorus divides the European and Asian parts of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.
The Barbary Coast is the coast (and sometimes inland areas) of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, inhabited by the Berbers. (There is also a Barbary Coast in San Francisco, but this is not what Melville is referring to.) I cannot manage to identify "Commodore Davis of the British navy." This incident seems very similar to that told of Joppa in Chapter 24.
Brit are plankton—tiny sea creatures that float on the surface. Baleen whales take in mouthfuls of ocean and then strain the brit with their baleen. "Aliment" is food (as in "alimentary canal").
CHAPTER 46: Surmises
"It would be refining too much, perhaps, ... to hint that the more monsters he slew by so much the more he multiplied the chances that each subsequently encountered whale would prove to be the hated one he hunted." Mathematically, this is ridiculous—if there are a million whales, killing one only multiplies the chances by 0.0001%.
"For even the high lifted and chivalric Crusaders of old times were not content to traverse two thousand miles of land to fight for their holy sepulchre, without committing burglaries, picking pockets, and gaining other pious perquisites by the way." Melville is clearly disparaging the Crusaders—and their brand of Christianity as well, which fits in well with Ishmael's earlier musings on religion—but he really understates the activities of the Crusaders en route. For example, he omits any mention of the wholesale slaughter of Jews that the Crusaders committed on their holy quest, or the sack of Constantinople (a Christian city) by the Fourth Crusade in 1204.
CHAPTER 47: The Mat-Maker
A sword-mat is a closely-woven mat, so named because one of the instruments used to manufacture it is called a sword (see next paragraph). It is wrapped around lines or spars to prevent chafing.
"As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn ..." A marline is a light rope of two loosely twisted strands, often tarred. The warp runs lengthwise in cloth, the woof (or weft) crosswise. The shuttle is used to carry the woof through the threads of the warp. The sword is the wooden rod used to push the latest strand of the woof against the previous strands.
What follows is a magnificent analogy of the loom as the "Loom of Time": "This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads." That is, the warp is determinism (or destiny, or fate) and the woof is free will. And the sword, which hits against the woof sometimes straight, sometimes crooked, sometimes firmly, sometimes softly, is chance.
"There go flukes!" The flukes are the lobes of the whale's tail, and they are seen after a whale breaches and is diving back down. So it is not surprising that the whales disappear after Tashtego called out, since that was just when they were diving.
Line tubs are the tubs in which the lines in a whale-boat are coiled. The cranes are what was used to swing the whale boats out. The mainyard is the crosspiece from which the mainsail is hung. To back the mainyard is to brace (or rotate) it so that the wind blows against the front of the mainsail, which will slow the ship. Samphire baskets are baskets used to collect samphires, or edible glassworts or similar edible coastal plants. The bulwarks are the sides of the ship above the upper decks. The gunwale is the top edge of the bulwarks.
CHAPTER 48: The First Lowering
"Swart" is black. A "tiger-yellow complexion" sounds a bit overstated for natives of the Manillas, or Philippines. It is not clear why they particularly are "a race notorious for a certain diabolism of subtilty, and by some honest white mariners supposed to be the paid spies and secret confidential agents on the water of the devil, their lord, whose counting-room they suppose to be elsewhere."
"Fedallah" means "in the hands of God".
A ragamuffin is a ragged, disreputable person, often a child (though not in this case). A rapscallion is a rascal or a scamp. So "ragamuffin rapscallions" would be a phrase doubling or emphasizing the same idea.
A gudgeon is a small freshwater bait fish; ginger-cakes are, not surprisingly, cakes made with ginger. Swearing by them ("Why in the name of gudgeons and ginger-cakes") is just an (semi-)alliterative way of avoiding any blasphemy. Normally it would be "in the name of God" or "in God's name", but that was not really permitted in books in 1851. "Gudgeons" and "ginger-cakes" visually start with the same letter; "gudgeon" starts with the same sound. However, while "ginger-cakes" has a soft "g" rather than a hard one, it has picked up this sound from the second syllable of "gudgeon", so the flow of the expletive phrase is maintained.
An exordium is the introductory port of an oration.
"Larboard" is the old term for "port". The British navy adopted the term "port" in 1844, so it is not unlikely that whalers in 1850 would still be using it.
It is not clear how these additional crew could have managed to remain hidden all this time. It is also not clear how long this time is, but it seems obvious that it has been at least a few weeks. Not only have they apparently stayed somewhere down in the hold all this time, but Ahab has managed to smuggle food in and waste products out without anyone noticing.
Melville tends to fling nautical terms around with wild abandon, but suddenly he decides that "loggerhead" is so obscure that he needs to define it ("a stout sort of post rooted in the keel, and rising some two feet above the level of the stern platform. It is used for catching turns with the whale line.").
When Flask is perched on Daggoo's shoulders, Ishmael observes, "The bearer looked nobler than the rider." It could be that he is thinking of the organ-grinder referred to when the young Duke of York says to his uncle, King Richard:
You mean, to bear me, not to bear with me:
Uncle, my brother mocks both you and me;
Because that I am little, like an ape,
He thinks that you should bear me on your shoulders.
[Richard III, Act III, Scene I]
CHAPTER 49: The Hyena
"[A man] bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints." Ostriches do swallow sand, pebbles, and stones to grind up the food in their stomachs (actually, their gizzards) because they have no teeth. They may also have swallowed bullets and gun flints when available, assuming they were stones, but that Melville lists these instruments of violence rather than the more benign natural forms hints at the vicissitudes of life.
Ishmael writes a new will (his fourth). He suggests the reader might think it strange that sailors would spend time fiddling with their wills, but after his description of the dangers of whaling in the previous chapter, it seems fairly unsurprising. (In the United States military during World War II, before they shipped recruits to the front, the officers would make them sit own and write their wills. I do not know if this is still true.) On the other hand, maybe he means that sailors rarely own very much, and if the entire ship goes down, any will on board would also be lost.
CHAPTER 50: Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah
In the discussion of how much of his leg Ahab still has, Flask claims that Ahab has one entire knee and "good part of the other" left, to which Stubb replies, ""I don't know that, my little man; I never yet saw him kneel." Note that Flask does not say "most of the other," but "good part of the other," implying that what Ahab has lost is the worse part, an unnecessary part. Stubb's reply has several layers of meaning. The literal meaning is that he has seen no physical evidence that Ahab retains much of his other knee. A corollary of that is that he seems to say that the "good part" of the knee is that which is used in kneeling. And of course the symbolic meaning is that he has never seen Ahab yield or show deference to anyone—or anything.
(Surgically speaking, it is unclear how or why an amputation would be performed leaving part of the knee. Under the conditions on a whaling ship, one would expect the surgeon to perform the faster and simplest amputation possible, which would be through either just the femur, or just the tibia and fibula, rather than try to amputate through the knee itself.)
Tamerlane (also known as Timur) was Khan from 1370 to 1405. He attempted to restore the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, and was a brilliant military tactician. It is possible that his soldiers wished him to stay where it was safer, but it seems to be counter to the general philosophy of leadership in those areas.
Thole-pins are small wooden pegs which in pairs are inserted in the gunwales of a row to hold and guide the oars.
Regarding the extent of Ahab's injury, Ishmael refers to "the anxiety he evinced in exactly shaping the thigh board, or clumsy cleat, as it is sometimes called, the horizontal piece in the boat's bow for bracing the knee against in darting or stabbing at the whale; when it was observed how often he stood up in that boat with his solitary knee fixed in the semi-circular depression in the cleat, and with the carpenter's chisel gouged out a little here and straightened it a little there," so he obviously believes that Ahab has only one knee and has lost the other, meaning the leg was bitten off above the knee.
A junk is an ancient Chinese sailing ship design. Japanese ships had a different style, and "Japanese junks" is probably inaccurate.
Beelzebub ("Lord of the Flies") is another name for Satan.
" ... according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours." This would be "And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." [Genesis 6:1–4] "Rabbins" is a plural form of "rabbi" which was common into the 19th century. apparently as part of a belief that the plural Hebrew form was "rabbin". Given the bizarre Hebrew etymology with which Melville begins Moby-Dick, it is not surprising that he got this wrong as well.
CHAPTER 51: The Spirit-Spout
The Azores are nine islands 930 miles west of Lisbon (37°44'N 25°40'W). If the first lowering was before reaching this, then Fedallah and his crew were in hiding at least several days before emerging. The Cape de Verdes would be Cape Verde, ten islands 350 miles off the bulge of the west coast of Africa (15°07'N 23°37'W). The Plate, Rio de la Plata, is a river which forms a large basin where it exits South America as the border between Uruguay and Argentina (35°0'S 58°24'W). And the Carrol Ground, or at least St. Helena, is in the mid-Atlantic at (15°56'S 5°43'W). (St. Helena was where Napoleon was exiled from 1815 until his death in 1821.)
This seems an odd route: the Plate is very far south of St. Helena and very far west as well. The first three areas would make sense on their own if Ahab were going to enter the Pacific through the Straits of Magellan around Cape Horn, so maybe that was his initial plan which he then revised for some reason and headed back to Africa to round the Cape of Good Hope instead. (The prevailing winds make sailing from North America to the coasts of Europe and Africa, then doubling back to South America the easiest and fastest path, as well as providing the opportunity to pick up additional crew and supplies in the Azores and Cape Verde.)
And it cannot be attributed to the "Spirit-Spout", because that does not appear until the Pequod is in the Carrol Ground off St. Helena.
Stunsails (also called stunning sails) are additional sails on the side of the square sails and which were attached to booms rigged to lengthen the yards. They were supposedly not commonly used until the 20th century, but were obviously invented before then.
"Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens." Sea-ravens are bottom-dwelling fish, a variety of sculpin. They are "flying" in the water, an image suggested by their name, and are not (as most readers might guess) birds following them in the air.
The Cape of Good Hope (34°22'S 18°28'E) is not, as is commonly thought, the southern tip of Africa, but is the point at which ships traveling around Africa are heading more to the east than to the south, and is about ninety miles west of the tip. "Cape Tormentoto" (actually "Cabo das Tormentas", or "Cape of Storms") was the name given it by Bartholomew Dias in 1488, referring to the tempestuous nature of the seas there. It was renamed "Cape of Good Hope" by John II of Portugal.
Occasional squalls of sleet or snow would seem to imply that roughly six months had passed since the Pequod left Nantucket on Christmas Day. In addition, they must be a fair ways south of the continent to be getting sleet or snow.
A bowline is a knot that forms a non-slipping loop at the end of a rope.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "The cabin-compass is called the tell-tale, because without going to the compass at the helm, the Captain, while below, can inform himself of the course of the ship."
CHAPTER 52: The Albatross
The Crozetts (a.k.a. the Crozet Islands) are in the south Indian Ocean, 45°S, 50°E. The fact that the Pequod is considerably south of the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope supports the idea that it was actually quite far south of the Cape when it passed it.
The Goney is the first of eight ships that the Pequod meets. These are the Goney, the Town-Ho, the Jeroboam, the Jungfrau (Virgin), the Bouton-de-Rose (Rosebud), the Samuel Enderby, the Bachelor, and the Rachel.
Goney (also goney, gooney, and gooney bird) is another name for the albatross. Its first occurrence in literature was in Scoresby, in 1850.
"As if the waves had been fullers, this craft was bleached like the skeleton of a stranded walrus. All down her sides, this spectral appearance was traced with long channels of reddened rust, while all her spars and her rigging were like the thick branches of trees furred over with hoar-frost." Fullers cleansed woolen cloth of impurities. At the time, they were using fuller's earth, a clay-like substance that would give material a bleached or whitened appearance. The rust would be from nails and other hardware. The "hoar-frost" would be fungus, and in general Ishmael describes the ship as one that the crew has not taken good care of—nor of themselves, with their long beards and their clothes in tatters after four years of cruising.
"The wind now rising amain," that is, with full force.
The Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea. The Islands of King Solomon were mentioned by Sir John Mandeville in his 14th century travelogue. In this case, Melville is probably referring to what are called the Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea, which the Pequod would get to by sailing east. However, the Cyclades are not in that direction at all.
CHAPTER 53: The Gam
A gam being a social event peculiar to whalers, and one which will recur throughout the novel, Melville spends an entire chapter describing this event.
While the New Jersey Pine Barrens may be better known, there are Pine Barrens in New York State, in Suffolk County on Long Island. Salisbury Plain in England is the site of Stonehenge. Fanning's Island (a.k.a. Fanning Island, a.k.a. Tabuaeran) is in the central Pacific (3°51'N 159°22'W) and is now part of Kiribati. (The maximum elevation is ten feet above high tide, so in a hundred years it may not be above water any more.) It is one of the closest islands to Hawai'i (known to Melville as the Sandwich Islands), but is still 900 miles away. It is not clear where King's Mills was, since if Melville had a specific location in mind, the name King's Mills must have been changed since then.
Melville compares the social habits of various ships. Whaling ships will stop and have a gam (although the meeting of the Pequod and the Goney seems very perfunctory). Merchant ships will pass each other without any sign. Men-of-War have very formal procedures for meeting (assuming they do not start shooting at each other). Slave-ships run away from each other. And pirates brag how well they have done and then immediately separate.
We see more of Melville's sly wit: "Because, in the case of pirates, say, I should like to know whether that profession of theirs has any peculiar glory about it. It sometimes ends in uncommon elevation, indeed; but only at the gallows."
Ishmael's description of the transport of the captain of one ship to the other shows something of which we now say, "It's a man thing." The captain cannot show any weakness, or indeed anything other than superhuman seamanship. So he has to stand balancing in a pitching boat in which there is not even room for him, and without holding on to anything. Apparently "to seize hold of the nearest oarsman's hair" in an emergency does not count. One can forsee that this might be a bit of a problem for Ahab.
CHAPTER 54: The Town-Ho's Story
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head, still used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin."
Melville claims that "Town-Ho" is an ancient whaling cry. One site says it is probably a Nantucket cry, "Townor!", meaning "I have seen the whale twice." Melville also says it was used in hunting the "Gallipagos terrapin." That would be the Galápagos tortoise, which was hunted so often and so well by whalers (and other seamen, but primarily whalers) that it almost went extinct. (To be fair, the introduction of rats, goats, and pigs were also a major factor, since these animals ate most of the tortoise eggs.) From 250,000 in the 16th century, the population had plummeted to about 3000 in the 1970s. A breeding program has swelled the ranks to about 19,000, but one of the eleven subspecies went extinct in 2012 when the last specimen of the Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, died. But Galápagos tortoises are not terrapins: tortoises are land-dwellers, while a terrapin lives both on land and in water, and always near water, especially in swampy areas.
[Actually, in 2020 scientists announced that they had found 31 tortoises on Isabella Island that are believed to be partial descendants of the Pinta Island tortoise, so there is some question as to whether one can say that the Pinta Island tortoise is extinct.]
How an ordinary seaman like Ishmael ends up in such fancy company as "fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian" is not clear, but perhaps his adventures on the Pequod has served as his ticket into society.
"Romish injunctions of secrecy" alludes to the seal of the confessional. Though Tashtego accidentally reveals the story talking in his sleep, "it never transpired abaft the Pequod's main-mast," that is to the rear of the main-mast, where Ahab's cabin would be.
Ishmael says he recounted this story in Lima. The Lima was the ship on which Henry Chase was serving in 1841 when it had a gam with the Acushnet, on which Melville was serving. Chase was the son of Owen Chase, one of the few survivors of the whaler Essex after it was destroyed by a whale, and it was during this gam that Henry gave Melville a copy of Owen's account of his experience.
"Don" is a title of courtesy used with a man's first name. (The female equivalent is "Doña".) In traditional Spanish and Latin American society, it would be used only for those in the upper class. "Pedro" is the Spanish equivalent of Peter; Saint Peter was a fisherman. Saint Sebastian was martyred by arrows, looking something like a harpooned whale. That Ishmael says that he narrated the story "one saint's eve" is a clue that the names chosen are not accidental, but refer to the saints.
"[The] Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket, was cruising in your Pacific here, not very many days' sail eastward from the eaves of this good Golden Inn. She was somewhere to the northward of the Line." It is not clear how the Town-Ho could be eastward of Lima, which is on South America's west coast. And Lima is about 500 miles south of the Line (the equator).
(Although both the British Penguin edition and the Project Gutenberg edition have "eastward", the edition read on "The Big Read" has "southwestward", which is much more likely. This still leaves the problem of her being northward of the Line, which might conceivably mean the Tropic of Capricorn.)
Callao is Peru's largest port, founded in 1537; "Manilla" is Manila in the Philippines.
The "two great contrasting nations" shoring the Great Lakes are the United States and Canada. The two shoring the Atlantic are presumably the United States and Great Britain, though that seems an odd way of looking at things. (Yes, the United States and Canada also both "shore" the Atlantic, but Ishmael seems to be talking about nations facing each other.)
"[The] goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw" would be the guns at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Mackinac being pronounced "Mackinaw".
Peltry is (are?) raw, undressed skins. Wigwams are also called wikiups, and differ from tipis (teepees).
Gothic genealogies would apply specifically to the Goths, an eastern Germanic tribe. "Afric" is an obsolete word for African, implying exotic wild beasts. The Tartars (or Tatars) were the western part of Genghis Khan's empire, known as the Golden Horde.
Buffalo is on the eastern end of Lake Erie; Cleveland is on its southern shore. The Winnebago villages would have been in southern Wisconsin, along the shore of Lake Michigan. Most of the Winnebago were relocated to Nebraska, though some still live in Wisconsin.
The Great Lakes, Ishmael says, "are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts." Boreas was the Greek god of the North Wind. When he says that these winds have "drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew" I am reminded that this was not just an 18th and 19th century thing. I remember in 1975 learning from the radio that the Edmund Fitzgerald had sunk in a Lake Superior storm with near-hurricane-force winds and 35-foot waves, with the loss of all 29 crew members.
A Bowie-knife is a sheath knife with a cross-guard and a clip point. It is named after Jim Bowie, who famously used it in a duel known as the Sandbar Fight. By the way, Bowie is pronounced "boo-ee", not "boh-wee".
A subaltern is a subordinate, or in the British military, a junior officer. A viceroy is a royal officer who runs a geographic area in the name of the monarch.
Saying that Steelkilt had "a soul in him ... which had made Steelkilt Charlemagne, had he been born son to Charlemagne's father." Charlemagne was the founder of the Carolingian Empire, and considered a great ruler. Yet one can also interpret Ishmael's statement as observing that any son of Charlemagne's father that he chose to name Charlemagne would in fact be Charlemagne.
Apparently "merry as a cricket" is a well-known simile, but I cannot find out why people think crickets are merry.
It may have been the censorship of the times, but there is certainly more elegance in referring to "some offensive matters consequent upon allowing a pig to run at large" than the way it would be written now.
A cooper is someone who makes casks, barrels, tubs, and other vessels from wooden staves. A club hammer (a.k.a. lump hammer) is a one-handed heavy hammer with a double-faced head used in demolition work.
A poinard is a long thrusting knife with a tapered, pointed blade.
Chicha is beer made from corn (maize), served in Latin America.
The Erie Canal was first used in 1821, was completed in 1825, and is still in use today.
The Mohawk counties are probably the counties in what is today called the Mohawk Valley of New York: Schenectady, Montgomery, Fulton, Herkimer, Oneida, and Schoharie.
Venice was known as being very corrupt, so "Venetianly corrupt" is more than just ordinarily corrupt. The Ashantee (a.k.a. Ashanti) people had a large empire in west Africa. It was not conquered by European invaders until 1900.
"Dame Isabella's Inquisition" was established by Isabella I in 1480. It was abolished in Spain under Isabella II in 1834, but the Inquisition in Lima had been abolished in 1820. Ishmael is presumably telling the story after the events of Moby-Dick, so the Inquisition was not merely waning, but finished.
St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. St. Dominic supposedly was one of the first Inquisitors, though actual historical evidence of this seems to be thin on the ground.
"Sydney men" would be, not surprisingly, men from Sydney (Australia). From 1788 until 1868, large parts of Australia, including Sydney, were a penal colony and it was not until the gold rushes which occurred after the publication of Moby-Dick that there was even a substantial non-convict population there.
Steelkilt and his comrades "hastily [slew] about three or four large casks in a line with the windlass, [and then] these sea-Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade." There were barricades in Parisian streets as early as the rebellion of 1588, but this is almost definitely a reference to the barricades of 1832 (now better known to Americans because of the musical Les Misérables).
A rope-yarn would be a single strand of a rope, so apparently flogging on the Town-Ho was done with rope rather than leather, or at least was going to be done with rope in this instance.
Melville implies that some sailors sign papers saying that they have "shipped for the cruise," which allow them to leave as soon as anchor is dropped, even if that is at an unplanned stop during the voyage. Some have assumed this is Melville's justification of his jumping ship from the Acushnet in the Marquesas.
"Prick the buffalo" is probably a phrase Melville made up; there do not seem to be any other references to it.
Mincing knives were two-handled knives used to cut the blubber into small squares when it was still attached to the skin. A handspike is similar to a crowbar.
The mizzen-rigging would be the rigging on the mizzen-mast, or the mast aft of the main-mast.
The vernacular is the native language or dialect of a population. In the case, however, when Ishmael says that the captain "administered [a reprimand] in the vernacular," he is implying that the language was coarse and vulgar.
A lanyard is a rope or cord attached to an object and worn around the wrist or neck.
Teneriffe is Tenerife, the Spanish island in the Atlantic Ocean, and not Teneriffe, a fairly recent suburb of Brisbane.
The story of Steelkilt is very similar to Melville's own story of jumping ship, then signing on to a series of other ship to eventually return to the United States.
A "copy of the Holy Evangelists" would be the local equivalent of the Bible as something to swear on.
Auto-da-fés technically were the public confessions and penances of condemned heretics and apostates. However, since the punishments were far more memorable than the confessions, the term has come to mean the punishments (usually burnings).
Mention of the archiepiscopacy presages mention of a bishopric later.
CHAPTER 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales
Saladin was Sultan of Egypt and Syria in the 12th century and defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, which represented the turning point in the Muslim re-capture of Palestine. St. George was a Greek of the 3rd century who became a Roman soldier and was a Christian martyr. He is best known for having supposedly slain a dragon, though it is more likely that the dragon was a symbol of either Satan or the pagan Roman Empire.
Elephanta has been mentioned previously. The Brahmins are the highest caste in Hindu society. (In the United States, one used to hear of "the Brahmins of Boston.") Vishnu is the main god of many forms of Hinduism, with Rama and Krishna being the two best-known of his ten avatars. The Matse Avatar (a.k.a. Matsya) is represented as a fish ("matsya" means "fish" in Sanskrit) who saves Manu from a great flood. The illustration I saw from a painting makes it clear that Matsya is a fish and not a whale, but it is possible that the representation in Elephanta is more cetacean.
Guido Reni's "Perseus and Andromeda" was painted in 1635 and portrays a more dragon-like sea monster, complete with scales. The same is true of William Hogarth's "Perseus Descending", which he did as an illustration for Lewis Theobald's "Perseus and Andromeda" in 1730.
Traitors' Gate, on the Thames, was the water gate entrance to the Tower of London.
The "Prodromus whales of old Scotch Sibbald" were from Sir Robert Sibbald's Phalainologia Nova, written around 1700. "Prodromus" refers not to the whales, but to the introductory nature of Sibbald's work. (He was the first to describe the blue whale, which was at one point named after him.)
Jonah's whale has no doubt been portrayed in a wide variety of ways, given the public domain nature of the story.
"The book-binder's whale winding like a vine-stalk round the stock of a descending anchor" is known as the "Festina lente". This is an ancient adage which means "make haste slowly" or "more haste, less speed." It was first used as a printer's mark by Aldus, Erasmus's printer in the early 16th century. Aldus took it from a Roman coin after Erasmus said of him, "Aldus, by making haste slowly, has acquired as much gold as he has reputation, and richly deserves both." Ishmael's claim that the symbol "was introduced by an old Italian publisher somewhere about the 15th century, during the Revival of Learning; and in those days, and even down to a comparatively late period, dolphins were popularly supposed to be a species of the Leviathan," is wrong in presuming the symbol to have originated with the publisher, and probably in assuming it is supposed to somehow represent a whale.
Saratoga (a.k.a. Saratoga Springs) in New York and Baden-Baden in Germany are both known for their mineral springs.
"The Advancement of Learning" is Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human, written by Francis Bacon in 1605.
John Harris's collection of voyages (Navigantium atque itineratium bibliotheca) has six hundred accounts of voyages, and was first published in 1764, going through three editions.
"A Whaling Voyage to Spitzbergen in the ship Jonas in the Whale, Peter Peterson of Friesland, master," was written by Friderich Martens. It was translated into English in 1694
"Captain Colnett, a Post Captain in the English navy, [wrote a book] entitled 'A Voyage round Cape Horn into the South Seas, for the purpose of extending the Spermaceti Whale Fisheries.' In this book is an outline purporting to be a 'Picture of a Physeter or Spermaceti whale, drawn by scale from one killed on the coast of Mexico, August, 1793, and hoisted on deck.'" But apparently this image of a whale "has an eye which applied, according to the accompanying scale, to a full grown sperm whale, would make the eye of that whale a bow-window some five feet long." James Colnett made this voyage between two fur-trading voyages to the Pacific Northwest and one transporting convicts to Botany Bay (Australia). Whale's eyes are much smaller—various web sites describe them as the size of a teacup, an orange, or (perhaps) a soccer ball. Ishmael's statement would be more meaningful if he had actually told us how big a whale's eye was.
"Goldsmith's Animated Nature" was Oliver Goldsmith's A History of the Earth and Animated Nature was published in the 18th century and had twenty editions in the Victorian era. James Hall Pitman has written a thorough study of Goldsmith's sources, Goldsmith's Animated Nature: a study of Goldsmith. A hippogriff is a mythical creature, the offspring of a griffin (a.k.a. gryphon) and a mare. A griffin is another legendary creature with the head, wings, and front legs of an eagle and the body, hind legs, and tail of a lion.
"Bernard Germain, Count de Lacépède" was the author of Histoire naturelle des cétacées" in 1825. Frederick Cuvier's "scientific predecessor," Desmarest, would be Anselme Gaëtan Desmarest, a French zoologist of the early 19th century. Chinese tableware and porcelains became very popular in the late 18th century through the 19th century, hence Ishmael's reference to their "queer cups and saucers."
Later, when Ishmael is describing how whales are portrayed, he says, "As for the sign-painters' whales seen in the streets hanging over the shops of oil-dealers, what shall be said of them? They are generally Richard III whales, with dromedary humps, ...."
A "full-grown Platonian Leviathan" is a reference to Plato's forms, in which there is an abstract but substantial form for a whale that is its most perfect expression.
Ishmael claims that Jeremy Bentham's skeleton hangs "in the library of one of his executors," and says that it "correctly conveys the idea of a burly-browed utilitarian old gentleman, with all Jeremy's other leading personal characteristics." Bentham left his estate to the London Hospital with the condition that his skeleton be allowed to preside over its board meetings. While the intent was to use his own head, attempts to preserve it resulted in a botched job, so a wax head was substituted. So if it correctly conveys Bentham's appearance, that is more a tribute to the "wax-maker" than anyone else. The skeleton was dressed in his clothes and then it was placed in a cabinet called the Auto-Icon. The Auto-Icon was moved to University College London in 1850.
"[The] great Hunter" would be John Hunter, mentioned earlier.
Ishmael comments on the skeletal structure of the whale's side fins, which looks like a hand without a thumb, although externally there is no evidence of this. We now understand that this is because the fin was originally—when the whale's ancestor was a land animal—something much closer to a hand. When the whale's ancestors returned to the sea, it gradually evolved into a fin, while retaining the skeletal structure.
CHAPTER 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes
Ishmael refers to various sources, "especially in Pliny, Purchas, Hackluyt, Harris, Cuvier, etc. But I pass that matter by. I know of only four published outlines of the great Sperm Whale; Colnett's, Huggins's, Frederick Cuvier's, and Beale's. In the previous chapter Colnett and Cuvier have been referred to. Huggins's is far better than theirs; but, by great odds, Beale's is the best. All Beale's drawings of this whale are good, excepting the middle figure in the picture of three whales in various attitudes, capping his second chapter."
Pliny would be Pliny the Elder, author of Naturalis Historia, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius on August 25, 79. (He was observing the eruption when he received a message from a friend asking for rescue; Pliny was trapped on shore by the winds.)
Samuel Purchas was an English cleric who in the 17th century published several volumes of travelers' reports. Richard Hackluyt was an Englishman who wrote several volumes about the exploration and development in the late 16th century. Harris I cannot identify. Cuvier (the first mentioned) probably refers to Georges Cuvier, since in the next sentence Ishmael mentions Frederick Cuvier. Colnett and Frederick Cuvier have already been commented on. William J. Huggins was known for 19th century engravings of whaling ships and whales. Thomas Beale was a Scottish naturalist who wrote The Natural History of the Sperm Whale in 1835. The picture of "three whales in various attitudes" is widely available on-line.
J. Ross Browne was an Irishman transplanted to the United States who sailed on a whaling ship in the 1840s and then published Etchings of a Whaling Cruise in 1846.
Ambroise Louis Garneray (not Garnery), was a French corsair and painter of the mid-19th century.
The Patagonian coasts are mostly cliffs, so Ishmael is referring to a general feature rather than a specific spot.
Antoine Philips van Leuwenhoeck was "the Father of Microbiology" and is known for his work in the development of the microscope in the 17th and early 18th century. (When I was in school we were taught that he invented the microscope, but that was probably either Hans Lippershey or Zacharias Janssen.)
Regarding Scoresby's "ninety-six fac-similes of magnified Arctic snow crystals," Ishmael says, "I mean no disparagement to the excellent voyager (I honour him for a veteran), but in so important a matter it was certainly an oversight not to have procured for every crystal a sworn affidavit taken before a Greenland Justice of the Peace." Yet another example of sly wit. "H. Durand" seems to be unknown.
"... and to windward, a black cloud, rising up with earnest of squalls and rains, seems to quicken the activity of the excited seamen." McWhorter suggests "with earnest" could mean "vigorously", also could mean "with promise".
CHAPTER 57: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars.
Tower-Hill is a hill northwest of the Tower of London, where traitors and criminals were executed, including Sir Thomas More.
The London docks were built in Wapping between 1799 and 1815.
The standard definition of a kedger is a small anchor.
Wapping was a traditionally maritime area east of London. When Melville refers to the "three whales [being] as good whales as were ever published in Wapping" it is merely ironic co-incidence that Wapping is now known for the "fortress Wapping" printing works of Rupert Murdoch.
The "western clearings" would seem to refer to the cutting down of the forests and plowing under of the prairies in the western part of the United States (at least west of the Mississippi). This is reinforced by the pun on tree stump (the origin of the term "stump speech"): "his stump as unquestionable a stump as any you will find in the western clearings. But, though for ever mounted on that stump, never a stump-speech does the poor whaleman make,"
Nantucket, New Bedford, and Sag Harbor are all whaling towns, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York respectively. By adding them to a reference to the Pacific, Melville is stressing the ubiquity of scrimshaw (or skrimshander, as Melville spells it).
A busk was the center "support" of a corset which kept it straight and also provided a way to put the corset on, by lacing the two halves together. The ivory (or wooden) busk was replaced in the middle of the 19th century by a steel busq which fasted with posts and loops, making putting the corset on and taking it off much easier.
The Iroquois were a confederation of five (later six) distinct Indian nations which engaged in many wars against French and English settlers in Canada, New York, and the Great Lakes area, and so were naturally considered savage.
Though the missionary John Gibson Paton was nicknamed "King of the Cannibals", he did not go to the New Hebrides until 1858, seven years after Moby-Dick was published. One can presume, therefore, that Ishmael is referring to some theoretic "King of the Cannibals".
Melville compares the Hawaiian war-club or spear-paddle to a scrimshaw shark's tooth and both to Achilles's shield, which is described at great length in Book 18 of Homer's Iliad.
Albert Durer was a German artist know primarily or his engravings. Their Gothic nature led to Melville's seeing them as barbaric and suggestive.
South Sea war-wood is presumably the wood used for the war clubs mentioned earlier.
"[Y]our precise, previous stand-point would require a laborious re-discovery; like the Soloma Islands, which still remain incognita, though once high-ruffed Mendanna trod them and old Figuera chronicled them." The Spaniard Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira discovered them in 1568; the Spanish upper class wore high-ruffed collars at the time. The "nn" in Melville's spelling is actually the correct original; "ñ" was derived from "nn", which first mutated into one "n" written over the other. Later the upper "n" turned into a mere "~". I have no idea who Figuera was.
By the way, its current official name is "Solomon Islands", not "the Solomon Islands."
"Thus at the North have I chased Leviathan round and round the Pole with the revolutions of the bright points that first defined him to me." Cetus the Whale is a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere in the area of the sky near other water-related constellations, Aires, Pisces, and Aquarius, and as such circles the North Star, presumed to be above the North Pole. Ishmael could not circle the North Pole itself, since there was no water passage between the Arctic and North America at that time. In 1850, Robert McClure did make the passage (known as the Northwest Passage), though he needed to use sledges for part of it. In 2007, the Northwest Passage became open to ships without icebreakers.
"And beneath the effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined the chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of Hydrus and the Flying Fish." The Argo-Navis (or "Argonauts' Ship") was a constellation in the southern sky described by Ptolemy. In 1752, because of its enormous size, it was subdivided by astronomers into three smaller constellations, but as with the demotion of Pluto, it was not necessarily the case that non-scientists (such as mariners) paid much attention. Hydrus is another southern constellation, whose name means "male water snake". And the Flying Fish is yet another southern constellation, also called Volans, short for Piscis Volans. It is often shown with Argo-Navis.
"With a frigate's anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons for spurs," Fasces (singular fasces) are bundles of wooden rods, sometimes with an axe head showing at the side. The harpoons embody both the wooden rods and the sharp edge of the axe.
CHAPTER 58: Brit
The Crozetts are the Crozet Islands around 46°S, 51°W.
Brit is composed of masses of the crustacean Copepod, which feeds on phytoplankton and is in turn fed on by the Right Whale.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "That part of the sea known among whalemen as the "Brazil Banks" does not bear that name as the Banks of Newfoundland do, because of there being shallows and soundings there, but because of this remarkable meadow-like appearance, caused by the vast drifts of brit continually floating in those latitudes, where the Right Whale is often chased."
As Melville says in a footnote, the "Brazil Banks" are not so named because they are actual banks, as are the Banks of Newfoundland, but because of their "meadow-like appearance." I suppose this means that where the brit end looks like the bank of a river against the sea.
Much of what Melville said remains as absolutely true today as it was in 1851: "[However] baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make."
"[T]he first boat we read of, floated on an ocean, that with Portuguese vengeance had whelmed a whole world without leaving such much as a widow." That "first boat" would be Noah's Ark, though one suspects that there had been small fishing boats before that.
As for "Portuguese vengeance," this probably refers to some historical event better known in Melville's time than now.
The phrase "under the feet of Korah and his company the live ground opened and swallowed them up for ever" refers to Numbers 16:32–33: "And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods."
The "Persian host who murdered his own guests" was probably actually the Roman emperor Elagabalus (a.k.a. Heliogabalus; he was born Sextus Varius Avitus Bassuanus, but later renamed himself Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), who is reported to have once smothered his dinner guests with rose petals released from the ceiling. He was considered the worst and most decadent of the Roman emperors, and such decadence was often identified with the Persian Empire, especially as he occasionally wore Persian robes. (He also came from Syria, which bordered the Persian Empire.)
Or it could be a reference to Muhammed Ali Pasha, who ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1849 and is credited with founding modern Egypt. He started his modernization by inviting the opposing Mamelukes to a banquet in the Citadel and then slaughtering them on the way out.
"Like a savage tigress that tossing in the jungle overlays her own cubs, so the sea dashes even the mightiest whales against the rocks, and leaves them there side by side with the split wrecks of ships." This is only one of the similes that Melville uses that immediately call to mind the similes of Homer and Virgil—and this is not a coincidence. Indeed, this chapter is one of the most poetic in the novel.
When Melville writes of "insular Tahiti," he is not saying that Tahiti is inward-looking or parochial, but rather that it is an island.
CHAPTER 59: Squid
Java is not the largest island in Indonesia, but it is the most populous and probably was in Melville's time as well. It is at 7°29'30"S 110°00'16"E.
"Preternatural" refers to something which appears to be outside the natural. It differs from "supernatural" in that it is presumed that something preternatural has a natural explanation we do not know, while something supernatural does not.
The bowsprit is a spar sticking out from the ship's bow to which the forestays are fastened.
Assuming that the "great live Squid" is what we call the giant squid, it could have been up to 43 feet long. But the description of it as "furlongs in length and breadth" is clearly hyperbole: a furlong is 660 feet, so "furlongs" implies a creature at least 1200 feet in each direction, or about a quarter of a mile long and wide. (A furlong was determined by the length of a furrow a team of oxen could plow without resting.)
However, a few paragraphs later, Melville refers to the "detached arms" of the squid being twenty or thirty feet in length—this is actually quite reasonable.
"There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop Pontoppodan may ultimately resolve itself into Squid. The manner in which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking, with some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two correspond. But much abatement is necessary with respect to the incredible bulk he assigns it." Erik Luvigsen Pontoppidan, Bishop of Bergen (Norway), wrote in 1752 of the kraken as being the size of a floating island. But Melville can hardly fault the Bishop regarding the creature's size, since he initially makes it just as large.
Saying the giant squid was "the Anak of the tribe" of cuttle-fish is a reference to Anak, the father of a race of giants and hence a giant himself, in Numbers 13:33: "And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight."
CHAPTER 60: The Line
Hemp comes from the Cannabis plant. In the past it was used not only for ropes, but also for sails, and the word "canvas" derives from the plant name. The rope needed to be tarred to protect it from rot. "Manilla rope" is made from banana and because it is not susceptible to rot it eventually replaced hemp rope.
It is probably good that a replacement was found, because the cultivation of hemp in the United States was made illegal in the middle of the 20th century. Currently ten states have passed laws allowing the cultivation of industrial hemp but are still arguing with the DEA over it. In Colorado in 2013, a few farmers planted and harvested the first hemp crop under these new laws.
"Circassian" refers to the Adyghe people of the Caucasus, who are fair-skinned, blond-haired, and blue-eyed. In the film Lawrence of Arabia, T. E. Lawrence tries to conceal his identity and explain his fair appearance by claiming to be Circassian.
"[The whale-line's] one and fifty yarns will each suspend a weight of one hundred and twenty pounds; so that the whole rope will bear a strain nearly equal to three tons." Actually, if you multiply it out, you get 18,000 pounds, or nine tons.
A fathom is six feet, so two hundred fathoms is 1200 feet, or 365 meters.
Reeving is threading through a ring or other aperture.
After spending a full third of a page describing various twists and turns of the line, Melville in a fine touch of sarcasm concludes the paragraph with "but previous to that connexion, the short-warp goes through sundry mystifications too tedious to detail."
"Connexion" is an alternate British spelling of "connection" and would have been commonly used in Melville's time in the United States as well.
"[The] oarsmen ... seem as Indian jugglers, with the deadliest snakes sportively festooning their limbs." Melville here is referring to Asian sub-continent Indians, not Native American Indians. Indians were known to Melville's American readers only as exotic characters in Gothic novels; even in England they were not as common as they are now. So the juggler/snake-charmer stereotype was probably what first came to mind when readers thought of Indians—and possibly vice versa.
"[The] six burghers of Calais before King Edward" refers to the story of Edward III's siege of Calais in 1347. When the town was taken, Edward was going to order the inhabitants massacred, but agreed to pardon them if six of the town burghers would come to him barefoot and bare-headed with ropes around their necks. When six did, he ordered them executed, but then pardoned them because of the pleas of his queen. The event was most famously commemorated in a sculpture by Auguste Rodin.
"For, when the line is darting out, to be seated then in the boat, is like being seated in the midst of the manifold whizzings of a steam-engine in full play, when every flying beam, and shaft, and wheel, is grazing you." The steam engine was patented by James Watt in 1781, and certainly was in widespread use by the time of Moby-Dick. Yet Melville observes that as wonderful as it was, there were much more "primitive" devices that had the same characteristic of a mechanistic speed and danger.
To be "made a Mazeppa of" is a reference to the eponymous hero of the poem by Byron. Mazeppa (actually Ivan Mazepa) is punished for an adulterous love affair by being tied naked to a horse which was then set free to run across a large swatch of Eastern Europe. This presages the death of Ahab lashed to the whale.
And "where the all-seeing sun himself could never pierce you out" would be the depths of the sea (taken by the whale one has become lashed to).
"All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All men are born with halters around their necks..." This is an echo of the beginning of the novel and Ishmael's need to get away from the mundane world.
CHAPTER 61: Stubb Kills a Whale
The "porpoises, dolphins, flying-fish, and other vivacious denizens of more stirring waters" are all distinct. Although porpoises and dolphins are both cetaceans (as are whales), and people often use the terms "porpoise" and "dolphin" interchangeably, the families are distinct. Dolphins are longer than porpoises, the shape of the teeth are different between the two, and the neck vertebrae in porpoises allow less movement than in dolphins. Porpoises are also less acrobatic and more cautious than dolphins, which contributes to the fact that they do not adapt to captivity.
To confuse things, there is also a fish referred to as a dolphin, the mahi-mahi or dolphinfish.
Flying fish, of course, are completely different from dolphins and porpoises. For starters, they are fish, not mammals. (They are Exocoetidae in the order Beloniformes.) However, they have in common with the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) that they leap out of the water and hence suddenly appear to sailors in a similar fashion.
Rio de la Plata forms the eastern end of the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Both Buenos Aires and Montevideo are on its banks.
The royal shrouds seem to be the highest lines and sails of the Pequod.
Forty fathoms is 240 feet, less than the length of a football field. The "Ethiopian hue" is, of course, black, so the whale is definitely not Moby Dick.
When Melville describes the whale as looking like a portly burgher, this must remind us of the burghers of Calais, mentioned only two pages earlier. Unlike those burghers, though, this one gets no reprieve.
When Ahab calls for them to "Luff!" he is ordering a specific sail maneuver used in tacking, slowing, and so on.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "It will be seen in some other place of what a very light substance the entire interior of the sperm whale's enormous head consists. Though apparently the most massive, it is by far the most buoyant part about him. So that with ease he elevates it in the air, and invariably does so when going at his utmost speed. Besides, such is the breadth of the upper part of the front of his head, and such the tapering cut-water formation of the lower part, that by obliquely elevating his head, he thereby may be said to transform himself from a bluff-bowed sluggish galliot into a sharppointed New York pilot-boat."
"[To transform oneself] from a bluff-bowed sluggish galliot into a sharppointed New York pilot-boat" is at least a double make-over. "Bluff-bowed" means with a broad, flat bow—the opposite of "sharppointed". The galliot that Melville is referring to is a flat-bottomed French river barge. (However, there were at least three other types of ships called galliots, or galiots, or galiotes.) A pilot-boat, on the other hand, is a small boat used to ferry a pilot familiar out to incoming ships to bring them in (and the reverse to take them out), and as such needed to be fast boats.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "Partly to show the indispensableness of this act, it may here be stated, that, in the old Dutch fishery, a mop was used to dash the running line with water; in many other ships, a wooden piggin, or bailer, is set apart for that purpose. Your hat, however, is the most convenient."
A wooden piggin is a small wooden bucket or tub.
Spiracles are openings that are part of the respiratory system in various aquatic animals, including the blowholes of whales.
CHAPTER 62: The Dart
One wonders where the practice of allowing the harpooner to tire himself out rowing started. Presumably it was thus when boats went out with much smaller crews and every rower counted. As whale-boats got larger this necessity changed, but by then there was probably a feeling that all were in it together and so all should row together. This adherence to tradition and "this is the way it's always been done," even when logic dictates otherwise, is not limited to whale-boats.
CHAPTER 63: The Crotch
"Curvetting" (from "curvet") is "leaping gracefully or energetically".
When Melville refers to "scenes hereafter to be painted," he means scenes to be described or related later—word paintings, not "paintings" in the usual sense.
CHAPTER 64: Stubb's Supper
Melville describes the three whale-boats as "eighteen men with our thirty-six arms, and one hundred and eighty thumbs and fingers." That is six men per boat (which does rather indicate that having the harpooner row is a bit of a necessity unless another rower is added). Note that Melville does not say "thirty-six legs," even though none of these eighteen is Ahab.
The "canal of Hang-Ho, or whatever they call it, in China" would be the Grand Canal, also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Canal these days, and probably as the Hangzhou Canal in Melville's time. Started in the fifth century B.C.E., the last parts were finally completed about a thousand years later.
Ironically, in 1855 (five years after Moby-Dick was written), the Yellow River changed course and disrupted the flow of the Canal, splitting it into two disjoint parts, which then fell into disrepair.
In Melville's time, "four or five laborers on the foot-path [would] draw a bulky freighted junk at the rate of a mile an hour"; this was probably true even as recently as thirty years ago, because it was more important to have full employment than to mechanize jobs. A junk is a Chinese sailing ship with fully battened sails. It is more likely that the laborers towed barges than sailing ships, though.
The "grand argosy" they towed was the whale, though since the term "argosy" refers to a small flotilla, here it probably includes the three whale-boats as well. The term "argosy" comes from the mythological Greek ship, the Argo, built by Argus, on which Jason sailed.
A bullock is a bull in North America, a steer in Britain, and an ox (usually castrated) in Australia and New Zealand. Given that one is unlikely to yoke together bulls, Melville was probably using the British meaning, or even the Australian one.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "A little item may as well be related here. The strongest and most reliable hold which the ship has upon the whale when moored alongside, is by the flukes or tail; and as from its greater density that part is relatively heavier than any other (excepting the side-fins), its flexibility even in death, causes it to sink low beneath the surface; so that with the hand you cannot get at it from the boat, in order to put the chain round it. But this difficulty is ingeniously overcome: a small, strong line is prepared with a wooden float at its outer end, and a weight in its middle, while the other end is secured to the ship. By adroit management the wooden float is made to rise on the other side of the mass, so that now having girdled the whale, the chain is readily made to follow suit; and being slipped along the body, is at last locked fast round the smallest part of the tail, at the point of junction with its broad flukes or lobes."
Why is the whale tied to the ship with the tail toward the front? Probably because it generates less resistance against the water when the ship is moving forward.
The "small" Stubb refers to is the cetacean equivalent of the small of one's back, described later as "the tapering extremity of the body."
The term "spermaceti supper" is does not refer to the food itself, but to the light of two lanterns of sperm oil by which Stubb eats, spermaceti being the (inedible) waxy substance in a whale's head used for lighting and cosmetics.
Melville's paragraph on sharks' behavior during sea fights and in accompanying cargo ships and slave ships is another poetic flight: "Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a sea-fight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks, like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though, while the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally carving each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded and tasselled, the sharks, also, with their jewel-hilted mouths, are quarrelsomely carving away under the table at the dead meat; and though, were you to turn the whole affair upside down, it would still be pretty much the same thing, that is to say, a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties;"
In "when sharks do most socially congregate, and most hilariously feast", McWhorter notes this is an older usage pf the word "hilariously" to mean "high-spirited".
Stubb's lips were probably "epicurean" not in a literal sense, but in a colloquial one. Epicureanism says that "pleasure" is the greatest good, but that pleasure is the absence of pain and the way to achieve pleasure was by living modestly. Colloquially, it is used as a synonym for hedonism, which strives for pleasure in the more usual sense of the word.
Describing Fleece has having been "roused from his warm hammock" seems more like an ironic reference to being roused from a warm bed than an accurate description, since hammocks by their nature allow air to circulate, which would cool the sleeper rather than warm him.
It seems racist for Melville to say "like many old blacks, there was something the matter with his knee-pans" (even to make a pun on scouring them like other pans), but it may be the statement that slaves who are kept at tasks such as field work or scrubbing floors would naturally develop knee problems. Knee-pans are kneecaps.
A "shindy" would be a shindig.
Fleece's sermon to the sharks, done in typical 19th century literary slave dialect, seems another example of racism, though when one deciphers the content, it is less clear. To please Stubb, Fleece preaches Christianity to the sharks. They should govern their wicked natures and then they will be angels. They should not touch the whale, because it belongs to someone else. And when they do eat something, those with larger mouths that can take larger bites should not eat more, but should bite off pieces to feed to the smaller ones. But then Fleece points out to Stubb that this sermon is useless, since the sharks are not listening and never will. Is this Melville pointing out the uselessness of many of the missionary efforts of his time? Consider the scene in the church at the beginning of The African Queen. It seems obvious that most of the people in the congregation do not understand English, certainly not enough to understand the sermons preached. (And if the hymns are sung in English, that is a sign that the sermons would also be in English.) So how effective are Reverend Sayer's sermons?
Ninety years old seems a bit old for someone to still be going to sea on a whaler, even as a cook. Melville may have been thinking about claims of extraordinary age given to another black slave, Joice Heth, who was displayed by P. T. Barnum in 1835 as a 161-year-old woman who was the wet nurse for George Washington. Melville would have been sixteen years old at the time.
If Fleece was born in a ferry-boat going over the Roanoke around 1760, he was almost definitely a slave for the first part of his life, and presumably may still be one. Stubb certainly treats him as one, but this seems in conflict with Ishmael's early statement about not going to sea as a cook: "And as for going as cook,—though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board..." On the other hand, Ishmael has been mistaken before in his views about whaling ships, such as what lay he might expect to get. (See notes for Chapter 16.)
CHAPTER 65: The Whale as a Dish
Dunfermline Abbey was founded in 1128 and lasted until 1560, when it was sacked during the Scottish Reformation.
"Esquimaux" is an older spelling for "Eskimos", which in turn is the previous designation for the Inuit, Yupik, and other Native American/First Peoples tribes inhabiting Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. "Eskimo" is now considered derogatory, since it was thought to mean "one who eats raw flesh." (It turns out, apparently, that that is not what it means, but the Inuit prefer it not be used.) However, it still shows up used by anthropologists, ethnologists, etc., as applying to the tribes as a group.
In any case, Ishmael apparently believed that these peoples ate their whale meat raw.
As noted before, "train oil" was another name for whale oil.
Zogranda is probably correct in blubber being nutritious. In any case, it is a major component of the diet of Inuit infants (usually as seal blubber), along with seaweed. (In fact the Inuit diet in general gets the vast majority of its calories from fat.)
"Oly-cooks" are basically doughnuts. Originally spelled "oliekoek" (meaning "oil cake") by the Dutch, they became more commonly known as "oliebollen" ("oil balls") or "oliebols" in the 19th century. They may be more like doughnut holes in shape, since the name sounds more like it describes a sphere than a torus.
Ishmael describes the hump as "a solid pyramid of fat." I cannot confirm this, but since Melville is very familiar with cetacean anatomy at this level, I will believe it is true.
In spite of the description—"the spermaceti itself, how bland and creamy that is; like the transparent, half-jellied, white meat of a cocoanut in the third month of its growth, yet far too rich to supply a substitute for butter"—its uses were not as food, but for candles and cosmetics. It is possible that the sailors did fry biscuits in the oil-pots, especially since the oil was strained as part of its preparation.
These days brains (also called sweetbreads) are served intact, possibly dredged in flour, but it is possible that mixing them with flour was a more popular way in the 19th century.
Young bucks can just mean young men who are lively, but can also mean fops. In either case, they are part of the upper-class, and their food choices would tend to be more expensive than the lower classes.
Again, we see a reference to Epicurus and Epicureanism.
"Et tu Brute!" is what Caesar supposedly said when Brutus gave him the final thrust of his assassination. In this case, the calf's head having such an expression when looking at someone eating it is reasonably apropos, even if the eater was not the actual slaughterer.
"But no doubt the first man that ever murdered an ox was regarded as a murderer; perhaps he was hung; and if he had been put on his trial by oxen, he certainly would have been; and he certainly deserved it if any murderer does. Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring up at the long rows of dead quadrupeds. Does not that sight take a tooth out of the cannibal's jaw? Cannibals? who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras." After this paragraph, it is somewhat surprising that Melville was apparently not a vegetarian.
"Feejee" is an alternate spelling for "Fiji".
Paté-de-fois-gras is produced by force-feeding geese or ducks to enlarge their livers abnormally. They are no longer nailed to the ground or blinded (as was true in Melville's time) but the force-feeding itself is deemed by many as cruelty to animals and there are many countries and areas where the production, importation, and/or consumption of paté-de-fois-gras is now prohibited.
A gourmand is someone who enjoys food and often eats too much. The connotation is one who does not have the discernment (or restraint) or a gourmet or of an epicure. To refer to a "civilized and enlightened gourmand" is therefore to engage in at least some level of sarcasm, which Melville does twice.
Knife handles have very often been made of bone, though these days the description does not usually include the type of bone. Still, the use of ox bones would presumably have been fairly common.
The rich used gold toothpicks, but the poor would naturally just use a feather from the goose they were eating.
"The Society for the Suppression of Cruelty to Ganders" seems to be an organization that Melville invented as being particularly apt for his point. While steel nibs were first mass-produced in 1822, quill pens were obviously still in widespread use in Melville's time, since Richard Esterbrook did not open the first steel nib factory in the United States until 1858.
CHAPTER 66: The Shark Massacre
To "lash the helm a'lee" is to lash the tiller so that the bow is pointed into the wind. With the sails all taken in, this would minimize the ship's motion.
An "anchor-watch" is (not too surprisingly) a watch kept on a ship while it is at anchor.
The image of "the whole round sea [as] one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it" is enough to make one a turophobe. (Now there's a word you do not see very often!)
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "The whaling-spade used for cutting-in is made of the very best steel; is about the bigness of a man's spread hand; and in general shape, corresponds to the garden implement after which it is named; only its sides are perfectly flat, and its upper end considerably narrower than the lower. This weapon is always kept as sharp as possible; and when being used is occasionally honed, just like a razor. In its socket, a stiff pole, from twenty to thirty feet long, is inserted for a handle."
And as proof that more horror writers and filmmakers could learn from the classics, consider this description: "[The sharks] viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound."
"Pantheism" is the belief that divinity suffuses everything in the universe, or that the universe and divinity simultaneously occupy the same space. (I am sure there must be some more specific word for the latter, parallel to "co-eternal" for time.) This would explain the sharks' apparent "vitality after what might be called the individual life had departed."
When Queequeg says, "Queequeg no care what god made him shark, ... wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin," one presumes he is referring to American Indians rather than South Asian Indians, whalers (especially those in Nantucket) being more familiar with the former.
CHAPTER 67: Cutting In
Melville uses the term "Sabbath" to refer to Sunday, as was quite common among Christians in the 19th century, and still is to some extent. However, the influx of Jews to the United States at the end of the 19th century resulted in the term being used more frequently in its original meaning of Saturday, and its corresponding decline as a synonym for Sunday, at least in civic society.
"Ex officio professors of Sabbath-breaking" would be professors by virtue of holding another position or office. In this case, being whalemen makes them automatically Sabbath-breakers; whalemen would not leave a whale lashed to the ship for an entire day of rest. "Professor" here means "one who professes" rather than an instructor in a school of higher education.
When Melville calls the ship "the ivory Pequod" he is reminding us of its first description, with its deck embellishments being decorated and built from whalebone.
A hecatomb was the standard large offering of cattle to the gods, and consisted of a hundred cattle. So an offering of "ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods" would be a hecatomb of hecatombs.
Why were the cutting tackles generally painted green? I suppose it could be that a color other than red would make it easier to see when they had been cleaned of all the blood (except for the colorblind).
During the scarfing operation, the whale must of necessity be unlashed from the ship so that it can spin freely, so it is important that there always be a firm hook in the blubber end, because if it slips or tears through, the whale could be lost (though I suppose it should still float at this point).
CHAPTER 68: The Blanket
"Consistence" is clearly an alternate form of "consistency".
Melville assumes that the whale is covered with "skin" and then attempts to determine what this skin is. He concludes that it must be the blubber, even though it is a foot thick and has the consistency of beef (i.e., muscle). The only other candidate is "an infinitely thin, transparent substance ... almost as flexible and soft as satin; that is, previous to being dried, when it not only contracts and thickens, but becomes rather hard and brittle." However, to present-day zoologists, this "infinitely thin, transparent substance" is in fact the skin, in spite of Melville's claim that "it were simply ridiculous to say, that the proper skin of the tremendous whale is thinner and more tender than the skin of a new-born child." One might as well argue that the whale's eye is not an eye because it is so small in relation to the entire animal.
The isinglass that Melville compares whale skin to is a form of collagen obtained from dried swim bladders of fish.
The integument that Melville later refers to as if synonymous with skin actually consists of the skin (epidermis and dermis) and the blubber and the connective tissue.
The lines on the whale's dermis are (I am guessing) like pores on other mammals' skin. The reference to "other delineations [that] are hieroglyphical" is more to add an air of mystery than to suggest actual hieroglyphs.
The "old Indian characters chiselled on the famous hieroglyphic palisades on the banks of the Upper Mississippi" would be the sort of petroglyphs found on rock faces in many parts of the United States, rather than similar to the elaborate and formal writing systems of the Egyptians and Mayans.
"[Those] New England rocks on the sea-coast, which Agassiz imagines to bear the marks of violent scraping contact with vast floating icebergs" refers the theory of Ice Ages and the glaciation of much of North America first proposed by geologist Louis Agassiz, and apparently still controversial in Melville's time, hence the "imagines".
A surtout is a frock coat.
Hyperborea is a legendary land dating back to classical times, and seems to have been north of whatever the known lands were at the time of its reference. The sun supposedly shines there twenty-four hours a day, the latter explaining why it is often placed in the Arctic. Hence the reference to the "shuddering, icy seas of the North" as "Hyperborean".
Saying "cold-blooded, lungless fish" is a bit redundant, because pretty much all fish are cold-blooded and lungless. However, Melville is specifically contrasting them with "the whale [which] has lungs and warm blood," but that many people thought of as a fish. Consider that everyone says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, but Jonah 1:17 says, "Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights."
And to say that "corporeal warmth is as indispensable [to whales] as it is to man" reinforces that whales are more like men than like fish—which is a necessary aspect of the characterization of Moby Dick.
"[When] seamen fall overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards, perpendicularly frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued in amber." This seems unlikely, since dead bodies are usually floating horizontally, but I suppose it is possible.
"[The] blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo negro in summer." The is not true: humans have a body temperature of 98.6°F, while whales have a body temperature of 96°F.
"[The] rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness." No annotation—I just like the image.
"Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own." It was believed by some (including apparently Goethe) at the time that the temperature in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome never varied. This is not true.
CHAPTER 69: The Funeral
"The vast white headless phantom floats further and further from the ship, and every rod that it so floats, what seem square roods of sharks and cubic roods of fowls, augment the murderous din." A rod equals 5.5 feet; a rood equals 7 or 8 yards, or occasionally a rod. (It is also a unit of area, equaling 0.25 acre, but clearly "square roods" and "cubic roods" implies a unit of length.) One can understand why birds are measured in cubic units, but one would think sharks would be also. One can only suppose that the entire volume of birds is visible to the sailors, but only the layer of sharks at the surface.
The "infinite perspectives" are a reference to the idea of a vanishing point, where parallel lines appear to meet at infinity.
"The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled." Obviously these are European or American vultures, since white is the color of mourning in the Orient.
To ween is to imagine or suppose. Peradventure (as an adverb) means perhaps or possibly. So "I ween, if peradventure he had needed it" means "I suppose, if perhaps he had needed it."
Melville presents the sharks and vultures as offering no help to the whale in life, but attending its funeral, and then compares this to the human habit of attending the funerals of those we have ignored or mistreated in order to seem pious. And although the sharks and vultures are there to feed upon the whale, the human funeral-goers also expect to be fed, though not on the corpse. This, then, is the "horrible vultureism of earth."
Melville describes how the waves against a whale's floating corpse are sometimes misinterpreted as breakers against shoals and rocks, and recorded as such. Then all ships avoid that area—based entirely on a mistaken belief—and "there's ... the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in the air! There's orthodoxy!" Thus Melville sees religion.
"There are other ghosts than the Cock-Lane one, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believe in them." The Cock-Lane ghost supposed haunted an apartment near St. Paul's Cathedral in London in 1762. A commission including lexicographer Samuel Johnson concluded it was a fraud.
CHAPTER 70: The Sphynx
Ishmael refers to the cutting into the whale for the beheading as in a "subterraneous manner" but he does not mean "under the earth." He means "hidden," as is indicated by the further description: "without so much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thus made,"
A Dutch barn in the United States is a very different barn from a Dutch barn in the United Kingdom, which is called a hay barrack in the United States. Surviving Dutch barns are rare nowadays, but suffice it to say that it would be difficult to weigh any sort of barn in jewelers' scales.
Holofernes was a general under Nebuchadnezzar who besieged Bethulia. Judith, a Hebrew widow, entered his camp and seduced him. Afterwards, she beheaded him and returned to Bethulia with the head; the Hebrews then defeated his army. The story appears in the Book of Judith in the Apocrypha. When Melville refers to Judith's "girdle", he means her belt, not an undergarment.
The "universal yellow lotus" referred to is not the American yellow lotus, but the yellow (or golden) Tibetan Buddhist lotus flower, which signifies total enlightenment and the Buddha.
A sphynx (or sphinx) is any mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human, but the Sphynx is the Great Sphynx of Giza near the Pyramids. A Greek sphynx also has the wings of a bird and is usually female, while the Egyptian sphynx is usually male, hence Ahab's "though ungarnished with a beard." In particular, the Great Sphynx has a beard. (Generally now this is spelled "sphinx" rather than "sphynx".)
In Hermetism, the Four Powers of the Sphinx are "to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silent." Hence Ahab's closing phrase, "not one syllable is thine!"
"Three points on the starboard bow" would be 33.75° toward starboard from the bow. There are 32 points to the 360-degree compass.
"Would that St. Paul would come along that way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze!" Though St. Paul was shipwrecked due to contrary and violent winds on his voyage to Rome, there is no indication in Acts 27–28 that he was responsible for them.
CHAPTER 71: The Jeroboam's Story
Jeroboam was the first king of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel after it broke away from the (southern) Kingdom of Judah in the 10th century B.C.E. To solidify his power in the north, he erected two golden calves to be worshipped. His story is related in I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles.
The "signals" seem to be flags, but whether each ship has an individual flag or used a combination of a standard "alphabet" of flags is not clear.
Mayhew is a very conscientious captain, resisting the temptation to rationalize what in the isolation of the ocean would have been a much-desired visit to the Pequod.
Why is the Jeroboam's sailor's yellow hair "redundant"?
"A long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded walnut tinge enveloped him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists." This would be a coat resembling those traditonally worn by wizards, made most famous in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of FANTASIA. The cabala/kaballah/... is a form of mysticism. (There are 24 different ways to spell "cabala". In general the initial 'C' is used by Christians, 'K' by Jews, and 'Q' by occultists.)
"Scaramouch" is "a roguish clown character of the Italian commedia dell'arte."
The "Neskyeuna Shakers" should be the "Niskayuna Shakers". They are also known as the Watervliet Shakers due to renaming of the various towns near Albany, New York, in the late 19th century.
"[In] their cracked, secret meetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of a trap-door, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which he carried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containing gunpowder, was supposed to be charged with laudanum." Again, Melville shows a disdain for organized religions, connecting fake spiritualism to the Shakers. Revelation 15:7 says, "And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever." Not surprisingly, the Bible does not describe the contents as gunpowder, which was invented in China in the 9th century and did not reach Europe until the 13th. Laudanum was first conceived in the 16th century.
A freshet is "the flood of a river from heavy rain or melted snow, or a rush of fresh water into the sea."
The "archangel Gabriel" is not listed as an archangel in the Old Testament, but is in the New Testament, where he has a much more important role. However, his identification as the trumpeter is not Biblical but dates back only to about 1465 in Byzantine culture, and not until John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) in English.
[The] archangel forthwith opened all his seals and vials—devoting the ship and all hands to unconditional perdition...." The New Testament book of Revelation speaks of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials, the latter filled with the wrath of God.
"... the fevers, yellow and bilious..." Yellow fever is well known; "bilious fever" is an obsolete term that was applied to any fever that also involved vomiting and or diarrhea. It was applied to a wide range of diseases which are now identified by their own names.
The main-royal mast-head is the highest section of the tallest mast.
CHAPTER 72: The Monkey-Rope
A monkey-rope, as will become clear, is a safety rope attached to a sailor who is working somewhere over the ship's side.
"Queequeg figured in the Highland costume—a shirt and socks..." A long shirt could easily remind one of a kilt, and the socks worn are much more noticeable with a kilt (or long shirt) than with trousers, so Ishmael's calling this outfit "the Highland costume" is understandable.
"You have seen Italian organ-boys holding a dancing-ape by a long cord." Such sights were common in New York until 1935, when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia banned the barrel organs altogether. Monkeys were not commonly seen elsewhere.
"[And] should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage and honour demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag me down in his wake." If the shipboard one of the pair felt he could not save himself if he let his shipmate die, the reasoning probably went, he would put forth the maximum effort to save him. And indeed, in a footnote Melville says, "The monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the Pequod that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb, in order to afford the imperilled harpooneer the strongest possible guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of his monkey-rope holder."
"So, then, an elongated Siamese ligature united us." Conjoined twins were then called "Siamese twins" (and often still are) because the first truly famous ones were from Siam (Thailand). Chang and Eng Bunker were born in 1811 and toured as a curiosity from 1829 through 1839, including some time with P. T. Barnum.
Ishmael's musings on how during this operation he lost some of his individuality and free will, and further that this was true of all human endeavors and interactions. The "interregnum in Providence" would be a period when normal government (by God) is suspended, which is the only way Ishmael can see that he might be killed by another's misfortune, "for [Providence's] even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice."
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "The monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the Pequod that the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement upon the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb, in order to afford the imperilled harpooneer the strongest possible guarantee for the faithfulness and vigilance of his monkey-rope holder."
A kannakin (or canakin) is a small can or cup. Melville later uses the spelling "canakin", proving that spelling was not entirely regularized, even by the middle of the 19th century.
Ginger has been though for centuries to have therapeutic properties, including reducing the nausea of seasickness. Calomel is mercurous chloride and was used as a purgative and laxative in the United States until the 1860s, in spite of being toxic. Jalap is a cathartic drug.
"Ginger-jub" is a word coined by Melville.
Grog was a mixture of water or weak beer, lemon or lime juice, and rum, commonly drunk by sailors.
CHAPTER 73: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk
The sharks "thirstily drinking at every new gash, as the eager Israelites did at the new bursting fountains that poured from the smitten rock" is a reference to Exodus 17:1–7, where the Israelites in Rephidim had no water; Moses struck a rock and water came out of it, and then renamed the place both Massah and Meribah.
I suspect this superstition of the head of a Sperm Whale on the starboard side and that of a Right Whale on the larboard side protecting a ship from capsizing is something Melville made up.
Gamboge is a "partially transparent deep saffron to mustard yellow pigment." The "gamboge ghost of a Fedallah" is a reference to his skin color.
The origin of the expression "cock and bull" is not known. The attribution to the name of two travelers' inns in England has no basis in fact; the speculation is that it derives from Aesop's talking animals.
Oakum is tarred fiber gotten by unraveling and picking at old rope and used for caulking wooden ships. Picking oakum was a task traditionally found in workhouses and prisons. Stubb thinks Fedallah wants to stuff oakum in the toes of his boots because, as the Devil, he would have round hooves rather than long feet.
Stubb seems to think a soul is no more nor no less valuable than a silver watch. (He doesn't even compare it to a gold watch.)
Skylarking is passing time by playing tricks or practical jokes.
The flag-ship is the ship of the commander in a naval flotilla. Stubb's story about the Devil boarding a flag-ship, asking for "John" and giving him the Asiatic cholera, does not make much sense—one imagines there would be several people on a ship named John. Nor is there a point to the story.
There were two major Asiatic cholera pandemics in the 19th century before Melville wrote Moby-Dick: one from 1817 to 1824, and one from 1839 to 1856 (so still in progress at the time of writing). These killed millions of people, so the disease was quite terrifying.
I have no idea what the reference to "Three Spaniards? Adventures of those three bloody-minded soladoes?" means. This may be a reference to some then-popular novel which has since sunk into obscurity. "Soldadoes" is an attempt to form the plural of a Spanish word ("soldado", which Melville renders as "solado") using English rules. The word should be "soldados".
Oughts are zeroes. The word is rarely used today, but there was a suggestion that the decade 2001–2010 should be called the "Oughties".
The expression of a very large number as a "1" followed by many zeroes is common in mathematics, and in fact a "google" is defined as a "1" followed by a hundred zeroes. This is a smaller number than Fedallah's purported age, since I am sure there were more than a hundred hoops in the hold.
The orlop is the lowest deck of a ship.
Double-darbies are handcuffs. Darbies consist of a double ring of iron, so "double-darbies" is probably redundant. The word "darbies" is more common now in British writing than in American.
A bond is a contract.
Beelzebub, as noted before, is another name for the Devil.
Stubb says that he is going to "make a grab into [Beelzebub's] pocket for his tail, take it to the capstan, and give him such a wrenching and heaving, that his tail will come short off at the stump—do you see; and then, I rather guess when he finds himself docked in that queer fashion, he'll sneak off without the poor satisfaction of feeling his tail between his legs." One suspects that Stubb had a different appendage in mind for this operation, particularly when he says he will "sell it for an ox whip"—that part of a bull was often made into a whip.
"That parmaceti" is the sperm whale, from a mangling of the word "spermaceti".
"So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right." John Locke (1632–1704) was a famous British empiricist ("all knowledge comes from senses"). Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) agreed that "all knowledge begins in experience" but also said that the mind provided "a priori concepts." Melville's self-education must have been quite thorough to allow him to use these two as opposing examples.
Men from Lapland were considered by sailors to be warlocks, so "Laplandish speculations" would be speculations about the Devil.
CHAPTER 74: The Sperm Whale's Head—Contrasted View
Melville makes several observations about the whale's eye which are obvious once he makes them, but have likely never occurred to the reader beforehand, such as the small size relative to the head, and the fact that the whale's vision is restricted to only side views.
"Moreover, while in most other animals that I can now think of, the eyes are so planted as imperceptibly to blend their visual power, so as to produce one picture and not two to the brain; the peculiar position of the whale's eyes, effectually divided as they are ... must wholly separate the impressions which each independent organ imparts." This may be true of most mammals, but not so much of birds or fish. In specific, horses, bats, rabbits, most small birds, most lizards, and most fish do not have binocular vision.
Given the "monocular" vision of the whale, Melville speculates that, while humans can only concentrate on a single object as seen with both eyes, it might be possible for a "whale's brain so much more comprehensive, combining, and subtle than man's, that he can at the same moment of time attentively examine two distinct prospects, one on one side of him, and the other in an exactly opposite direction..." I have no idea if anyone has figured out a way to test this.
Melville says that this would be "as marvellous a thing in him, as if a man were able simultaneously to go through the demonstrations of two distinct problems in Euclid." That may not be possible, but there are people who can write, simultaneously, different sentences with each hand.
"Herschel's great telescope" refers to Sir William Herschel, who starting building large telescopes in 1774 and through them discovered Uranus. His largest (built in 1789) had a 50-inch diameter primary mirror and a 40-foot focal length and the first night he used it he discovered a new moon of Saturn, and another within a month.
"Kentucky Mammoth Cave" is the longest known cave system in the world, and is now the main feature of Mammoth Cave National Park.
A wight in Melville's time was a living or sentient creature. It has recently been used in fantasy literature to represent undead or wraith-like creatures, which will certainly confuse future readers of Melville.
A jib-boom is a spar to extend the length of a bowsprit, which in turn is a spar extending forward from the prow.
Melville describes "some sulky whale, floating there suspended, with his prodigious jaw, some fifteen feet long, hanging straight down at right-angles with his body, for all the world like a ship's jib-boom. This whale is not dead; he is only dispirited; out of sorts, perhaps; hypochondriac; and so supine..." It is not clear what constitutes supine versus prone for a whale. In humans, "supine" is lying on one's back (face up), while "prone" is lying on one's stomach (face down). I would think that a whale could only be prone, not supine.
"There are generally forty-two teeth in all; in old whales, much worn down, but undecayed; nor filled after our artificial fashion." This is yet more Melville humor; would anyone think that a whale's teeth would have fillings?
CHAPTER 75: The Right Whale's Head—Contrasted View
A "galliot-toed shoe" would be one with a toe shaped like a galliot, which is variously defined as a "small, swift galley used in the Mediterranean" or a "long, narrow light-draft Dutch merchant sailing ship." Presumably Melville would have been more familiar with the first.
"... these two F-shaped spoutholes, you would take the whole head for an enormous bass-viol, and these spiracles, the apertures in its sounding-board..." Spiracles are blowholes. The sounding board of a bass-viol would be the front panel, which has two ∫-shaped holes. A bass-viol is either a viola de gamba (halfway between a violin and a cello) or a double bass.
I can find no reference to a "strange, crested, comb-like incrustation on the top of the mass—this green, barnacled thing, which the Greenlanders call the 'crown,' and the Southern fishers the 'bonnet' of the Right Whale" other than in Moby-Dick.
Ishmael suggests that the Right Whale's hare-lip arose because, "Probably the mother during an important interval was sailing down the Peruvian coast, when earthquakes caused the beach to gape." A hare-lip is "a congenitally divided lip." It was believed by many that things seen by the mother during pregnancy can influence the development of the fetus. For example, pregnant women would never risk going to a freak show at a circus, or even to a zoo. (This belief inspired the opening sequence of the film The Elephant Man.)
Mackinaw (also known as Mackinac) is an island in northern Michigan. The Native Americans of that region built huts of arched poles covered with bark, rushes, or hides and called wigwams. The word is from languages spoken in New England because the building style extended that far east.
You cannot tell a whale's age from the baleen, as Ishmael suggests, but apparently the earplug forms one layer a year and so can be used (presumably after the whale is dead, however).
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "This reminds us that the Right Whale really has a sort of whisker, or rather a moustache, consisting of a few scattered white hairs on the upper part of the outer end of the lower jaw. Sometimes these tufts impart a rather brigandish expression to his otherwise solemn countenance."
The "voyager in Purchas" is not someone in a place called Purchas, but someone relating a travelogue in a volume of reports by travelers to foreign countries collected by Samuel Purchas in the early 17th century.
A busk is a stay or stiffening strip for a corset.
Queen Anne's time would have been 1702 to 1714.
A farthingale was a framework or pad worn under a skirt to extend and shape the hip line.
The "great Haarlem organ [with] a thousand pipes" would be the organ in Grote Kerk (Sint-Bavokerk) in Haarlem, known as the Christiaan Müller organ. It was built in the 1730s, and was at the time the largest organ in the world. It actually has more than 5000 pipes.
The Stoics aimed to avoid harmful emotions by bending their wills to that of "Nature", or the world of the senses, while Platonists postulated a realm beyond that of the world of the senses. Spinoza, as a rationalist, believed knowledge came through logic rather than through the senses, hence was more a Platonist than a Stoic.
CHAPTER 76: The Battering-Ram
The "nonce" is in this case the one particular time.
An Indiaman was a large merchant ship engaged in trade with India.
Tow is short broken fibers from hemp, flax, or jute.
They are "lung-celled honeycombs" because the individual cells contain air and, like lungs, inflate and deflate.
The "Isthmus of Darien" is an older name for the isthmus of Panama. It is mentioned in John Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" where he famously errs in putting Cortez (instead of Balboa) on it to be the first Spaniard to see the Pacific.
Salamander giants are mythical, rather than actual giant salamanders.
The Project Gutenberg edition refers to "the goddess's veil at Lais," but that appears to be a typo for "the goddess's veil at Sais." The latter is drawn from Friedrich Schiller's poem, "The Veiled Statue at Sais".
CHAPTER 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun
The Great Heidelburgh Tun is a large wine vat in Heidelberg Castle, the fourth of its name. The current one was built in 1751 (so was the one Melville was referencing) and has a capacity of 219,000 liters. It has rarely been used as a wine barrel. Mark Twain also talked about it in A Tramp Abroad.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "Quoin is not a Euclidean term. It belongs to the pure nautical mathematics. I know not that it has been defined before. A quoin is a solid which differs from a wedge in having its sharp end formed by the steep inclination of one side, instead of the mutual tapering of both sides."
The word "quoin" is used in printing and in artillery in the sense of a wedge, possibly even a "right-angled" one such as Ishmael describes, but it seems to be a highly specialized usage. (The only dictionary I found to cite it was The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.) Its most common use as a term is in architecture, where is a not a wedge.
"Tendinous" means related to tendons, or sinewy.
The case is so-called because it holds the spermaceti in a single compartment. The junk also contains spermaceti, but in compartments separated by cartilage, and so many whalers considered it useless—"junk".
A tierce is 42 gallons.
The Rhenish valleys would be the valleys of the Rhine River.
A pelisse is a long cloak with fur trimming.
CHAPTER 78: Cistern and Buckets
A block is a pulley, so I assume that a "single-sheaved block" is a pulley that takes a single rope through/around it.
Melville describes him as seeming like "some Turkish Muezzin calling the good people to prayers from the top of a tower." One wonders now why he chose "Turkish" rather than "Arabian" or some other ethnic description, but in Melville's time all of that area was part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Constantinople, now Istanbul, in Turkey. (Constantinople was officially renamed Istanbul in 1930.)
A twin reciprocating bucket would be a device where when one [full] bucket is pulled up, the other [empty] one is lowered. The mechanism could, for example, involved interlocking gears on two axles, one for each bucket, with the ropes wound such that lowering one raises the other.
"[T]he enormous mass dropped into the sea, like Niagara's Table-Rock into the whirlpool": Table-Rock was a shelf of rock attached to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. It first appeared in the 18th century, and was used a tourist look-out point. In 1818, a piece of the rock fell off, as well as in 1828 and 1829. In July 1850, just as Melville was writing Moby-Dick, a third of it fell off. After further collapses in 1853, 1876, and 1897, the rest was blasted away in 1935.
A boarding-sword is probably what we envision as a pirate sword—a curved single-edged sword about two feet long.
"Queequeg with his keen sword had made side lunges near its bottom, so as to scuttle a large hole there; then dropping his sword, had thrust his long arm far inwards and upwards, and so hauled out poor Tash by the head. He averred, that upon first thrusting in for him, a leg was presented; but well knowing that that was not as it ought to be, and might occasion great trouble;—he had thrust back the leg, and by a dexterous heave and toss, had wrought a somerset upon the Indian; so that with the next trial, he came forth in the good old way—head foremost. As for the great head itself, that was doing as well as could be expected. And thus, through the courage and great skill in obstetrics of Queequeg, the deliverance, or rather, delivery of Tashtego, was successfully accomplished, in the teeth, too, of the most untoward and apparently hopeless impediments; which is a lesson by no means to be forgotten. Midwifery should be taught in the same course with fencing and boxing, riding and rowing." Except for the cutting, this is a classic description of how a midwife delivers a breech birth.
"Peradventure" is an archaic word meaning "perhaps".
"We thought the tissued, infiltrated head of the Sperm Whale, was the lightest and most corky part about him; and yet thou makest it sink in an element of a far greater specific gravity than itself." Melville's explanation is that the spermaceti is the lightest part, so when that is removed the rest will sink. However, the spermaceti has been replaced by air, so the head is even lighter. (Consider a pot partially filled with water, floating on water. If you remove the water—the lightest part—the pot does not sink; if anything, it rides higher.)
"Sanctum sanctorum" is Latin for "Holy of Holies".
The Ohio honey-hunter is a reference to men who were intentionally embalmed in honey. Mellified men were considered medicinal in ancient Chinese pharmacology; they reportedly would begin the process even before death by adopting a diet consisting of only honey. Others, such as the Emperor Justinian and (possibly) Alexander the Great, were embalmed in honey, combined with myrrh and other ingredients.
According to legend, when Plato was a baby, a swarm of bees built a honeycomb in his mouth, hence his "honey head." Melville also talked about believing in Ralph Waldo Emerson's Idealism as "falling into Plato's honey-head."
CHAPTER 79: The Prairie
A physiognomist was someone who is (supposedly) able to judge character from facial characteristics. A phrenologist was someone who is (supposedly) able to judge character and mental abilities from the shape and size of the cranium. Physiognomy and phrenology were at one time considered valid sciences; they are no longer.
Johann Kaspar Lavater was a famous physiognomist of the 18th century. Franz Joseph Gall was a famous phrenologist of the late 18th and early 19th century. "The Pantheon" could refer to the ancient Pantheon in Rome or the French Republican Panthéon in Paris. The former is better known, but the latter has a much more obvious dome.
Johann Spurzheim was a phrenologist of the early 19th century.
Phidias was a Greek sculptor of the 5th century B.C.E. His statue of Zeus (equivalent to the Roman Jupiter, or Iuppiter, genitive Iovis, or Jove) at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Jolly-boats were the smallest boats on a ship and used to ferry people to and from the larger ship.
To pull someone's nose was apparently not just a metaphorical thing; various texts seem to indicate that a man (always a man) might on occasion walk up to another man and pull his nose as a challenge or insult.
A beadle is a lower-ranking church official; I am not sure what a royal beadle would be or why he would be seated on a throne.
The traditional pictures of Shakespeare do indeed show a very high forehead, made even more pronounced by a pattern of baldness that retains a full hairline, just one that runs across the top of his head. Philip Melanchthon was a 16th century theologian whose portraits show a similarly high forehead, though his hairline is slightly forward of where Shakespeare's is.
"Pyramidical silence," I presume, is another way of expressing "the silence of the tomb."
The Orient World was not what we think of as the Orient, but rather the area of the Eastern Roman Empire, including Egypt.
"Child-magian" is Melville's way of saying that the beliefs of the mages (magi) were child-like, but whether he means innocent, simple, or just plain ignorant is unclear.
I doubt the Nile crocodile was deified because it had no tongue. For starters, the crocodile does have a tongue, though it is attached to the bottom of its mouth. (The alligator's is not, by the way, so the alligator can stick its tongue out, while the crocodile cannot.) In addition, the Egyptians also deified the cat, which most certainly has a tongue.
May Day was one of the four major ancient Gaelic holidays, and hills ("high places") have been important in many early religions. I am not sure what the "egotistical sky" refers to.
Jean-François Champollion decoded Egyptian hieroglyphics in the early 19th century with the help of the Rosetta Stone.
Sir William Jones was the first to convince people of the existence of a common root for Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin and, even further back, Gothic, Celtic, and Persian.
Ishmael was "unlettered" only in physiognomy; he has clearly had a fair amount of education.
"Chaldee" is an incorrect term, introduced by Jerome, for the Chaldean language. The Chaldeans first spoke a dialect of Akkadian, and then later Aramaic. (The biblical books of Daniel and Ezra use the latter language.)
CHAPTER 80: The Nut
Melville does not mean that the sperm whale's facial features physically resemble those of a Sphinx, but that they are enigmatic in the way a Sphinx is supposed to be.
The fact that a circle cannot be squared is because pi is transcendental, and Melville is saying that the whale's brain is so well hidden in the skull that using the shape of the skull to "calculate" intelligence is impossible. However. Melville's description of the "geometry" of the skull is proof of nothing so much as that a picture (or diagram) would be worth a thousand words.
The "amplified fortifications of Quebec" refers to Quebec City, rather than the province as a whole. Quebec City had been fortified since before the Seven Years' War, but additional fortifications, in the form of the Citadelle of Quebec, were added in 1820 (after Americans attacked it during the War of 1812), and hence were still fresh in the minds of Americans.
The Project Gutenberg text says, "The whale, like all things that are mighty, wears a false brow to the common world," but the Penguin renders this, "The whale, like all things that are mighty, wears a false bow to the common world." There is some debate on which Melville meant, but to my mind, the term "false bow" is too specifically nautical to be applied to "all things that are mighty."
"This man had no self-esteem, and no veneration. And by those negations, considered along with the affirmative fact of his prodigious bulk and power, you can best form to yourself the truest, though not the most exhilarating conception of what the most exalted potency is." Is Melville saying that power is more potent than wisdom, or what?
Melville's reference to "a foreign friend" sounds very sophisticated and high-class, until he continues on to explain that his friend was using human bones to decorate his canoe.
"Basso-relievo" is what we now call "bas relief"
That German scientists actually thought the vertebrae were undeveloped skulls seems unlikely, but, hey, German scientists have come up with far stranger and more pernicious anatomical theories.
"I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world" is a line reminiscent of (and worthy of) Walt Whitman. When Melville was writing Moby-Dick, Whitman had not yet published Leaves of Grass, but he had had several poems published in the Brooklyn Eagle. Melville lived in New York from 1846 through 1850 before he wrote Moby-Dick.
It is not entirely clear that "the wonderful comparative smallness of [the whale's] brain proper is more than compensated by the wonderful comparative magnitude of his spinal cord." True, they are both part of the nervous system, but we now realize that the various parts of the brain have different functions, and the spinal cord even more so, so an excess of one will not replace a lack of the other.
CHAPTER 81: The Pequod Meets The Virgin
The ship is actually named the Jungfrau, but by translating it as "The Virgin" Melville is repeating the error of the team of translators of the King James version of the Bible, who translated "young woman" as "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." The Hebrew word is "almah", which means primarily "young woman", but given the cultural mores of the time, it had a secondary meaning as "virgin".
"Yarman" is just Stubb's way of pronouncing "German".
A lamp-feeder is something like a watering can with a long spout that makes it possible to fill hanging oil lamps.
There was "not a single flying-fish yet captured to supply the deficiency," but that is probably hyperbole, since while there is undoubtedly some oil in flying-fish, they are not normally harvested for their oil.
The "Leviathan lamp-feeders" is a poetic term for whales, being giant providers of oil.
A "pod" is the term for a small herd of whales.
Paregoric is camphorated tincture of opium and is considered a cure for diarrhea, which is clearly implied by the "strange subterranean commotions in him, which seemed to have egress at his other buried extremity, causing the waters behind him to upbubble."
To yaw is to twist or oscillate around a vertical axis.
"As an overladen Indiaman bearing down the Hindostan coast with a deck load of frightened horses, careens, buries, rolls, and wallows on her way; so did this old whale heave his aged bulk ..." There is a definite imitation here of the similes of Homer and Virgil and Dante here. "Hindostan" is an alternate spelling of "Hindustan", which in this case must apply to the entire Indian subcontinent, since the various smaller regions it often refers to have no sea coasts.
A hogshead is 63 gallons of wine, or 64 gallons of beer, or more generally (as in this case) a large cask. One suspects Stubb was engaging in hyperbole, especially as he follows it up with exaggerated complaints such as, "Who's that been dropping an anchor overboard—we don't budge an inch—we're becalmed. Halloo, here's grass growing in the boat's bottom—and by the Lord, the mast there's budding."
The "suds" refers to the sea foaming because of the whales' passage.
Slap-jacks are pancakes; quahogs are clams. So "baked clams and muffins" seems only half correct.
It was not clear to me precisely what "pull for your duff" literally meant, though in context it seems evident what the phrase means. However, Bella Gladman wrote suggesting, "It came to mind that a 'plum-duff' is an old British term for Christmas pudding (I believe 'duff' comes from an alternate pronunciation of 'dough'). If this theory has merits, Flask is therefore saying 'Pull for your pudding!' which fits with his dessert-themed encouragement, as he also says 'Oh! My lads, do spring-slap jacks and quohogs for supper, you know, my lads—baked clams and muffins—' just beforehand."
A "sog" (and its variant, "sogger") is a large heavy bulk or lump; it is a term from the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Shropshire dialects.
"Don't ye love sperm?" Whether or not Melville intended this as a double-entendre or not will remain a mystery.
If Derick understood that throwing something out the back of his boat would "accelerat[e] his own [boat] by the momentary impetus of the backward toss," he had an intuitive grasp of Newton's Third Law of Motion (colloquially, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction).
A Dutch dogger was a particular form of fishing boat found in the North Sea. "Line-of-battle" is a naval tactic in which all of one's ships are lined up bow to stern so that they can all fire upon the enemy.
The term "red-haired devils" appears to have been in common use, with many cultures around the world seeing people with red-hair as either devils or connected with the Devil.
The spine has twenty-four articulating vertebrae (and nine fused vertebrae), so Stubb is off by two when he asks, "Are you the man to snap your spine in two-and-twenty pieces ... ?"
The "white-ash breeze" is the breeze created when one rows a boat, though whether it is the air stirred up by the motion of the oars through the air, or the (relative) breeze created as the boat moves forward, is not clear. This is made clear when Melville next writes, "... a crab ...caught the blade of his midship oarsman. While this clumsy lubber was striving to free his white-ash..." "Lubber" may be short for "landlubber" (a person who knows little about the sea or ships), but it also has a dialect meaning on its own of a big, clumsy person.
"Butter-boxes" was a derogatory term applied by the English to Dutch sailors during (and after) the Anglo-Dutch Wars. It may have come about because the Dutch flag of the time had an orange stripe across the top.
"St. Bernard's dogs" were named after Saint Bernard of Menthon, who founded two travelers' hospices in the Alps in the middle of the 11th century. The dogs used to help the monks find lost travelers were Alpine Mastiffs, which began to be called St. Bernards in the middle of the 19th century. About that time, ironically, the breeding population was severely depleted by avalanches, and the remaining dogs were cross-bred with Newfoundlands. The resulting breed was no longer useful as a rescue dog because in the Alps their long fur would freeze and weigh them down. The belief that St. Bernards carried casks of brandy for lost travelers is incorrect; it apparently derives from the 1820 painting "Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler" by Edwin Landseer, later made into an engraving by his son Charles.
"This puts me in mind of fastening to an elephant in a tilbury on a plain—makes the wheel-spokes fly, boys, when you fasten to him that way; and there's danger of being pitched out too, when you strike a hill." A tilbury was a light, open, two-wheeled carriage, fairly dangerous even when attached to something more reasonable than an elephant.
Davy Jones is a fictional, almost mythological, character who "presides over all the evil spirits of the deep." There are at least a half a dozen contradictory explanations for his origins.
"... owing to the perpendicular strain from the lead-lined chocks of the boats, whence the three ropes went straight down into the blue..." Chocks are part of a pulley or block, which in turn makes up part of a tackle.
An "eight-day clock" is one which, when the weights are wound up, will run for eight days.
"Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears? The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw; the arrow cannot make him flee; darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of a spear!" This is Job 41:7 and 41:26–29.
"In that sloping afternoon sunlight, the shadows that the three boats sent down beneath the surface, must have been long enough and broad enough to shade half Xerxes' army. Who can tell how appalling to the wounded whale must have been such huge phantoms flitting over his head!" Xerxes was the Persian king who invaded Greece and fought Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. According to Plutarch, when one of Leonidas's soldiers complained that the arrows of the Persians were blotting out the sun, Leonidas replied, "Won't it be nice, then, if we shall have shade in which to fight them?" This had changed over the years until it is commonly related as Xerxes claiming that his archers' arrows will blot out the sun, etc., etc. While historians disagree on the actual size of the army, a figure of half a million would probably be as good an estimate as any. Why Melville chooses to shade only half this army is unclear.
"Magnetic wires" would be what we call electrical wires, and a relatively recent invention.
White bears are of course polar bears. Was the latter term not yet in popular use?
Ishmael claims that the whale has "an entire non-valvular structure of the blood-vessels"; this is not true. There are indeed valves and constrictions that can slow down or shut off blood flow to certain areas. The copious bleeding that Ishmael sees must therefore be attributed to some other reason (e.g., perhaps the valves react to temperature changes rather than being able to detect loss of blood due to injury).
"But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all." Again, Melville uses irony to emphasize his point.
At the time of the writing of Moby-Dick, no one was really sure of the lifespan of whales, but guessing that a stone lance-head "might have been darted by some Nor' West Indian long before America was discovered" is overstating it by quite a bit. Assuming the events take place around 1850, the whale would have to be at least 375 years old even if it were just shortly before America was discovered. However, there is no reason why some Nor' West Indian or Pacific Islander could not have attacked it in the 19th century.
Melville says, "...you might with some reason assert that this sinking is caused by an uncommon specific gravity in the fish so sinking, consequent upon this absence of buoyant matter in him. But it is not so." Well, actually, it is. It may not be dependent on the age of the whale, as apparently some believe, but the specific gravity of the whale is precisely what makes it sink or float.
CHAPTER 82: The Honour and Glory of Whaling
The story of the skeleton of the whale that Perseus slew to save Andromeda was also referenced in Chapter 25 ("In one of the mighty triumphs given to a Roman general upon his entering the world's capital, the bones of a whale, brought all the way from the Syrian coast, were the most conspicuous object in the cymballed procession.") See my notes there.
"... this Arkite story" means it comes from the town of Arka in Syria.
"'Thou art as a lion of the waters, and as a dragon of the sea,'" saith Ezekiel; hereby, plainly meaning a whale; in truth, some versions of the Bible use that word itself." Ishmael seems to be referring to Ezekiel 32:2, but the King James version of that says, "... Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas..." which does not exactly support his claim. Still, the notion that the dragon was actually a whale is not entirely without merit.
I assume "Coffin" is a reference back to Peter Coffin.
A griffin is a creature of legend with the body, back legs, and tail of a lion and the head, wings, and fore-legs (talons) of an eagle.
I think that Melville's suggestion that St. George might have been riding a large seal or a sea-horse is not to be taken seriously.
The "fish, flesh, and fowl idol of the Philistines, Dragon by name; who being planted before the ark of Israel, his horse's head and both the palms of his hands fell off from him, and only the stump or fishy part of him remained: The Gutenberg edition renders the name as "Dagon", which is the correct spelling. The reference is to I Samuel 5:2–4: "When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him."
Traditionally, Dagon is portrayed as a fish from the waist down, and a man from the waist up. This may be due to the name appearing to be related to the Semitic root "dag", meaning "fish". This accounts for the fish and flesh parts, but the fowl remains a mystery.
"Tutelary guardian" is a tautology; "tutelary" means of or relating to a guardian.
"Frocks" here refers to loose outer garments, not girls' dresses. (Consider the phrases "de-frocked clergyman" or "Frock coat".)
Crockett is Davy Crockett. He and Kit Carson were both famous frontiersmen of the first half of the 19th century. (Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody were from much later than Moby-Dick.)
Greek myth did indeed attribute to Hercules the same fate as Jonah: to be swallowed by a whale, remain there three days, and then be spit up alive. Melville is not sure which came first; one suspects it is next to impossible to precisely date the origin of a Greek myth.
"Shaster" is Shasta, "Vishnoo" is Vishnu, and the whale referred is the "Rainbow Fish", a fish as large as a whale.
CHAPTER 83: Jonah Historically Regarded
Arion was an ancient Greek poet, supposedly kidnapped by pirates and rescued by a dolphin.
Sag-Harbor is a village on Long Island that was at one time a major whaling port.
Bishop John Jebb was an Irish bishop who attempted to explain the seeming impossibilities of Jonah being swallowed by any sort of whale. (The fact that one illustration portrayed the whale as a particularly problematic variety does not signify that that was the actual variety.)
The "Russian campaign" was Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, in which 400,000 of Napoleon's 685,000 troops died, some in battle, but most from cold and lack of provisions, because as they retreated the Russians burned everything the French might have been able to use.
The suggestions that Jonah ended up inside a dead whale or a ship named the Whale are unattributed, as is the suggestion that the whale was merely a life-preserver. I do not doubt someone made them, but I have not been able to put names to them.
The explanation of how Jonah and the whale (whatever it was) got from the Mediterranean to near Nineveh on the Tigris in three days is also analyzed—it is clear that it would have to circumnavigate Africa, but that cannot be done in that period of time. Bartholomew Diaz is the first European known to have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, in 1488. To call him its discoverer, however, ignores the local inhabitants of that area, who had known of it for millennia.
The "Portuguese Catholic priest" who proposed this route is unnamed.
John Harris compiled the Collection of Voyages and Travels in 1705. I cannot seem to find any reference to support Melville's story, "And some three centuries ago, an English traveller in old Harris's Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honour of Jonah, in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil."
CHAPTER 84: Pitchpoling
Queequeg's "rubbing in the unctuousness as though diligently seeking to insure a crop of hair from the craft's bald keel" refers to the many patent medicines then (and now) which purport to stimulate hair growth when rubbed into the scalp.
The Battle of Actium, in 31 B.C.E., was between Octavian on one side and Marc Antony and Cleopatra on the other. At some point in the battle Cleopatra signaled her fleet to retreat and it fled in disarray. It is not clear exactly what her reasons were for retreating: general panic, strategic retreat, an attempt to flee with the treasury—all have proposed.
The "life spot" is obviously the blowhole.
Stubb says that the whale is spouting wine because of the red color. He then says he would prefer whiskey, and mentions "old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable old Monongahela." "Old Monongahela" does not refer to the rye whiskey of that name (which was first distilled in 1854, after Moby-Dick was written), but was a generic term used to refer to rye whiskey from the western counties of Pennsylvania. Presumably "old Orleans" and "old Ohio" were also either popular brands or popular types of whiskey.
Melville uses the comparison specifically of a greyhound because that is considered the fleetest of dogs. The cord attached to the lance is the leash, but here the analogy fails, because racing greyhounds are not kept on a leash.
CHAPTER 85: The Fountain
Six thousand years is roughly the age of the earth as described in the Bible; "no one knows how many millions of ages before" is the age as described by the science of Melville's time. Melville is emphasizing the disagreement, and (to me) seems to be coming down on the side of science.
"Fifteen and a quarter minutes past one o'clock P.M. of this sixteenth day of December, A.D. 1851" is probably not when Melville was writing this, or when Ishmael was writing this, or when Ishmael was thinking about this, but a representative time when the reader is reading it, since the book was published in 1851. As such it is in some sense when Melville/Ishmael is telling it to the reader.
"A herring or a cod might live a century..." Atlantic cod (the longest-lived cod species) can live more than twenty years; herring live about twenty years. Melville is not saying that a herring or a cod could live a century, but rather using "might" in the sense of, "Even if a herring or a cod lived a century..."
Melville credits whales with being able to stay under water for an hour; actually, some species can stay under water for up to two hours.
In addition to whales, the windpipes of dolphins and porpoises have no connection with their mouths either.
The Cretan labyrinth is the labyrinth connected with the Minotaur of legend.
The vermicelli Melville refers to would probably be the worm, not the pasta (which was named for the worm). The pasta may have existed in 1851, but it seems unlikely Melville would be familiar with it.
"A thousand fathoms in the sea" and "a thousand fathoms below the sunlight" would be 6000 feet below the surface.
Melville does not make the mistake of thinking the camel stores water in its hump—that is mostly fat—but he nevertheless makes two mistakes about the camel. First, a camel has three stomachs, not four. But more importantly, it does not store water in any of them. It just uses water very efficiently, and is very well-designed to avoid dehydration.
Melville's claim that each whale always takes the same number of breaths when he rises seems very unlikely, but I cannot find any specific statement on it.
"Cologne-water" was originally a specific perfume created in 1709, but since 1797 came to cover all scented mixtures with a strength between that of toilet water and perfume. Of late the term "cologne" has become strongly identified with scents marketed to men rather than to women.
While toothed whales (including the sperm whale) have no sense of smell, at least some of the baleen whales (e.g., the bowhead whale) do have a sense of smell.
The Erie Canal was built between 1817 and 1825, so was still relatively new and newsworthy when Melville wrote Moby-Dick.
It is now well known that whales produce sounds for communication. Toothed whales produce clicks, whistles, and other sounds through a series of specialized organs. Baleen whales have a larynx, but the exact mechanism used to produce sounds is not yet known. In any case, Melville was clearly wrong when he said that the whale has no voice.
And then he adds, "But then again, what has the whale to say?" Well, in fact whales need sound for communication with each other because all other senses are lessened in water: vision is limited, and smell and taste are diffused too rapidly. It is also clear that Melville did not have the same understanding of cetacean intelligence that we do.
A dromedary has a single hump and is the African/Arabian species of camel. The Bactrian has two humps and is found in Asia. Both are found in Australia (as imported species), though the population there is primarily dromedary. There is also a hybrid camel, a cross between the two.
As for what the whale's spout actually is, it is the condensation of water vapor in the breath it expels, much as humans can "see their breath" on a cold day. There may also be some mucus which could account for the caustic effect Melville cites.
Plato was a Greek philosopher of the 5th Century B.C.E. Pyrrho was a Greek philosopher of the 4th and 3rd Centuries B.C.E., the founder of the school of skepticism. The Devil is presumably the Christian Devil. Jupiter is the head of the Roman pantheon, equivalent to Zeus. Dante is Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, which he wrote from 1308 to 1321.
CHAPTER 86: The Tail
"[The] lovely plumage of the bird that never alights" would seem to refer to the mythical Huma, but since it is usually described as flying invisibly, the plumage would also be invisible. However, there is also a legend that a glimpse of this bird makes one happy for life, so apparently it is possible to see it, and it must be pretty impressive.
Melville's description of Roman walls as having alternating layers of tiles and concrete is reasonably accurate.
"Titanism" is a reference to the Greek Titans, the gods which preceded the better-known Olympians. In this case it references both their size (as in "titanic") and their strength (as in "titanium").
"Devout Eckerman" is Johann Peter Eckermann, friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Eckermann is best known for Conversations with Goethe; Goethe is best know for Faust. The reference to a Roman arch is the second reference to Roman construction in this chapter.
The "carved Hercules" was the Farnese Hercules from Pompeii.
The "Angelo" who painted God in a robust human form is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Is Melville implying that Ishmael is unfamiliar enough with Michelangelo that he thinks his name is Michael Angelo?
Melville's description of the Italian portrayals of Jesus "soft, curled, hermaphroditical", "so destitute ... of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance" says as much about his views of masculinity and femininity as about Italian Renaissance painting. And his comparison of this with Christianity says a lot about his view of that religion as well.
To lobtail is to slap one's flukes against the water.
Melville says that "[being] horizontal in its position, the Leviathan's tail acts in a different manner from the tails of all other sea creatures. It never wriggles." This is not entirely true—other cetaceans have horizontal tails. This is due to evolution: fish evolved from animals that undulated side-to-side, while marine mammals evolved from land mammals whose spine undulated up and down.
A "frock" in the 19th century apparently applied to clothing of either sex.
"Darmonodes' elephant" seems to refer to a story in Plutarch's Moralia about an elephant who gave nosegays from the flower market to young women. It is unknown where the name Darmonodes comes from—it does not match standard Greek name structure (much as we would say that "Darhen" is not an English name).
The young women's "zones" are their waists (or more specifically, the belts or girdles worn around their waists).
A touch-hole is the hole on a musket to which one applies the fire.
For a bird to flirt is for it to open and close its wings with a quick flicking motion; here Melville applies it to a whale's flukes.
Satan is portrayed in many forms; in one he has claws instead of hands. It is presumably tormented because Satan is in Hell, though he is also portrayed as ruling in Hell, not being tormented. The "flame Baltic of Hell" uses "Baltic" to mean simply "sea".
The Dantean mood would be that brought about specifically by Dante Aligheri's "Inferno", since obviously his "Paradiso" is not populated by demons, but by angels. The Book of Isaiah contains writing about archangels.
The "fire worshippers" of Persia referred to were Zoroastrians. However, Zoroasterians do not worship fire; rather, they see fire as a symbol of purity, righteousness, and truth. The detailed knowledge of non-Christian religions was not a priority in the 19th century, and sailors would be unlikely to have encountered many Zoroasterians, since they lived primarily far inland. (Persia is known today as Iran.)
Ptolemy Philopater is more accurately Ptolemy IV Philopater, who reigned towards the end of the third century B.C.E. It is not surprising that he was knowledgeable about elephants, since his army was involved in one of the two great elephant battles of the ancient Middle East, the Battle of Raphia. That African elephants were used contradicts the commonly held belief that African elephants are not trainable.
King Juba would be King Juba II, whose father (King Juba I) was defeated by Julius Caesar. King Juba II was eventually restored to the throne of Numidia and was also noted as an author and a student of natural history. Flavius Philostratus specifically mentions Juba's discourse on elephants.
Why does Melville specify an Indian juggler with his balls? Could it be that circuses or shows of the time employed only Indians, or (more likely) traditionally billed their jugglers as Indians to add a touch of exoticism?
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "Though all comparison in the way of general bulk between the whale and the elephant is preposterous, inasmuch as in that particular the elephant stands in much the same respect to the whale that a dog does to the elephant; nevertheless, there are not wanting some points of curious similitude; among these is the spout. It is well known that the elephant will often draw up water or dust in his trunk, and then elevating it, jet it forth in a stream."
We still see a remnant of "mystic gestures" today in the motions of magicians' hands, but in Melville's time, there was more belief in the efficacy of them in performing actual magic.
"Free-Mason signs and symbols" refers not just to the common belief that Freemasons have secret signs by which they recognize each other (which is probably true), but also to the then-current belief that they also used secret signs for magical rituals.
"But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen." This refers to Exodus 33:20–23: "And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen."
CHAPTER 87: The Grand Armada
"The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca" is now primarily Malaysia; the water between it and the island of Singapore are still the Malacca Straits. "Birmah" is now Burma (Myanmar), and "Bally" is now "Bali".
The "thickly studded oriental archipelagoes" would include the East Indies, the Philippines, and so on.
"Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java." They are now called the Sunda Strait (singular). The straits are only 15 miles across at their narrowest, but also very shallow (65 feet in parts). That is why they were important when ships were smaller, but as ships got wider and deeper, they became less useful, and modern ships use the Strait of Malacca instead.
Java Head was used as the title of a 1934 movie.
"[The] inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory with which the thousand islands of that oriental sea are enriched" reminds us of how this area was a destination for traders of one sort or another for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The area has "the appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping western world" by Java Head. But as the history of the area shows, it was pretty ineffectual, with the Dutch East India Company followed by the French and then the British in controlling the region.
"The shores of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied with those domineering fortresses which guard the entrances to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Propontis." The Mediterranean is guarded by the Rock of Gibralter, the Baltic by Kronberg Castle in Helsingør, and the Propontis (the Sea of Mamara) by the hills of Gallipoli.
"Unlike the Danes, these Orientals do not demand the obsequious homage of lowered top-sails from the endless procession of ships before the wind." Apparently this dates back to the fifteenth century—all ships passing Kronberg Castle were required to lower their sails. And there were very specific rules about when the sails needed to be lowered and when they could be raised, and which sails, and so on.
The "piratical proas of the Malays" would be their outrigger canoes or other multi-hulled sailboats. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca was both profitable for the pirates and useful for the local rulers, and had been common for hundreds of years.
Piracy did eventually get greatly reduced by the Europeans, though as Melville notes, not entirely eliminated, and still exists even to this day.
Calling the Pequod "circumnavigating" is a bit inaccurate. It reached the Pacific by sailing east around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, and "circumnavigating" implies that it planned to sail east around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America as well. But it was extremely rare for ships to sail in that direction—they would return the way they had come. The "Line" is the equator.
"[The] circus-running sun has raced within his fiery ring" compares the sun to something like a circus horse that runs around the ring with a trick rider on its back.
Calling a cargo of trade goods "alien stuff" indicates the whalers' scorn for the merchant seamen, but is also somewhat ironic, since while the whaler's ship starts out with only what the crew itself needs, but eventually fills itself with whale oil and ambergris, two very alien substances that they will then sell when they reach home.
Of course, the fresh water in the hold is not "bottled" but stored in casks or barrels. (And just from the point of view of volume, it would have to be a fairly small lake to have "a whole lake's contents" held inside the ship.)
Pig-lead is crude lead cast in blocks (or "pigs"), which clearly has no use on board ship other than as ballast. Kentledge is pig iron or scrap metal used as ballast. Ships expecting to acquire goods (in exchange for cash, jewels, or lighter-weight items) would take on enough ballast at the beginning of their trip to stabilize the ship, and then discard it as the weight of the actual cargo increased.
It is quite possible that the water from Peruvian or Indian streams was "brackish" when drawn near the mouths of the streams (as a whale ship would do). While spring water or rain water as one would get on Nantucket would be clear and uncontaminated, water flowing down tens or hundreds of miles through tropical forests would pick up all sorts of plant and animal matter on the way, and by the time it got near the sea might be very repulsive indeed.
It is understandable that a ship that did not touch land for three years would consider itself an ark capable of riding out even the Great Flood, which lasted less than a year, although the average whale-ship did not have a menagerie aboard it as well.
The four oceans were (and to some extent still are) the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, and the Arctic.
"Unlike the straight perpendicular twin-jets of the Right Whale, which, dividing at top, fall over in two branches, like the cleft drooping boughs of a willow, the single forward-slanting spout of the Sperm Whale presents a thick curled bush of white mist, continually rising and falling away to leeward." The right whale has a divided spout; the sperm whale does not.
A "high hill of the sea" would be the crest of a wave.
In the days of coal or wood fires, chimneys would all have a stream of smoke rising from them. (That was the cause of the famous London fogs of the time.)
Melville is not suggesting that the white elephant of the Siamese was actually swimming at some point, but that just as it was in the midst of beings not as sacred as itself, Moby-Dick might be found traveling with more ordinary whales. While white elephants owned by monarchs were considered a blessing for him, the presentation of one to a courtier was often ruinous for the courtier, since they were expensive to maintain in a manner befitting their status and could not be put to any labor.
By "in our van" Ishmael means "in our vanguard," or "in front of us."
It is typical of Melville's time that he could write about "these rascally Asiatics" without any trace of irony.
Rowels are spiked revolving disks at the end of a spur, used by a rider to goad a horse.
A defile is a narrow pass or gorge between two mountains or hills.
"Inhuman atheistical devils" may have a trace of irony, though. Or maybe not.
Cockatoo Point is 9°7'50.7"S, 160°17'11.4"E.
"Drawers" is a semi-obsolete term for men's underwear.
King Porus was King Parvateshwar, who was defeated by Alexander in the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 B.C.E.
Melville described the American bison as "lion-maned buffaloes" to distinguish them from the true buffalo of African, Asia, or Europe.
"Gallied" is a nautical term meaning worried or frightened.
Melville's Note (*not* included in the Penguin edition): "To gally, or gallow, is to frighten excessively—to confound with fright. It is an old Saxon word. It occurs once in Shakespeare:—
'The wrathful skiesTo common language, the word is now completely obsolete. When the polite landsman first hears it from the gaunt Nantucketer, he is apt to set it down as one of the whaleman's self-derived savageries. Much the same is it with many other sinewy Saxonisms of this sort, which emigrated to New-England rocks with the noble brawn of the old English emigrants in the time of the Commonwealth. Thus, some of the best and furthest-descended English words—the etymological Howards and Percys—are now democratised, nay, plebeianised—so to speak—in the New World."
Gallow the very wanderers of the dark
And make them keep their caves.'
Lear, Act iii, sc. 11.
The time of the Commonwealth would be from 1649 to 1660. If I understand it correctly, the Percys were an aristocratic family who supported the Roundheads (or Parliamentarians); the Howards were Royalists.
In this instance, a shoal is a school of fish (or a pod of whales) swimming together, rather than a shallow area.
"Ice-isles" seems to be Melville's own coinage, meaning either icebergs or ice floes. The description of "striving to steer through their complicated channels and straits, knowing not at what moment it may be locked in and crushed," though, seems to imply floes in a close pack rather than bergs.
"Sheering" is now more commonly spelled "shearing".
"Wonted" means "customary or usual."
The sperm whale's hump leads to Melville referring to it as a dromedary (camel).
"Drugg" is defined by Melville. One suspects that even among readers who would recognize most nautical terms, this one was uncommon. Similarly, he also defines a "sleek".
Melville"s imagery of circus horses and riders tells us that this particular display dates back at least to his time.
"Embayed" means "to shelter, as in a bay."
"Gulf-weed" is another name for sargassum.
The "maternal reticule" is the womb; a reticule is a woman's small purse.
By "bent like a Tartar's bow" Melville implies a very sharp bend, not merely a slight bend.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "The sperm whale, as with all other species of the Leviathan, but unlike most other fish, breeds indifferently at all seasons; after a gestation which may probably be set down at nine months, producing but one at a time; though in some few known instances giving birth to an Esau and Jacob:--a contingency provided for in suckling by two teats, curiously situated, one on each side of the anus; but the breasts themselves extend upwards from that. When by chance these precious parts in a nursing whale are cut by the hunter's lance, the mother's pouring milk and blood rivallingly discolour the sea for rods. The milk is very sweet and rich; it has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries. When overflowing with mutual esteem, the whales salute more hominum.
It is not surprising that the breeding season of the sperm whale differs from "other" fish, because it is not a fish. But Melville gets the gestation period wrong—it is sixteen months for the sperm whale.
"An Esau and a Jacob" refers to the twin sons of the Biblical Isaac.
"The milk is very sweet and rich" because whale milk has the second highest fat content of any mammal milk, with 34.8 percent fat. (Gray seal milk is the highest, with 53.2 percent.) By comparison, reindeer milk has 22.5 percent, sheep's milk 5.3 percent, goat's milk 3.5 percent, cow's milk 4 to 5.5 percent, and human milk 4.5 percent.
More hominum means "in the manner of man".
One eyewitness at the Battle of Saratoga described General Benedict Arnold as "inspired by the fury of a demon."
When Melville speaks of "the great river Hudson [breaking] up in Spring," he is referring to a full river freeze rather than just some sections and, while common in the 19th century, it became rare in the 20th. (It may be making a come-back in the 21st, though.)
The Dardanelles (also known as the Hellespont) is the strait in Turkey that separates Europe from Asia at that point. It is 1.2 kilometers (0.75 mile) wide at its narrowest point.
"Waifed" is another lesser-known whaling term that Melville defines for his readers. "A pennoned pole" is one with a pennant or banner on it (sort of like the flag on a golf hole).
CHAPTER 88: Schools and Schoolmasters
"Cavalier" now means "showing a lack of proper concern," but Melville is using its older meaning of "pertaining to horsemen, mounted soldiers, or [especially] knights." "Chivalry" comes from the same root. The reference to gallantry in the next sentence emphasizes the chivalric aspect.
An Ottoman was a Turk (as in the "Ottoman Empire"), and the "harem" and "concubines" refer to the practice of polygamy, particularly in the upper classes, where the concept of a secluded harem was more common than in the poorer classes.
Melville's definition of "delicate" as "not to exceed a half dozen yards round the waist" is another example of his humor. "En bon point" is, conversely, plumpness and voluptuousness.
"Bashaw" is an earlier spelling of pasha, which is a high rank in the Ottoman political hierarchy. When Turkish was converted to the Roman alphabet, the spelling used became "pasha".
Lothario was a character in "The Impertinently Curious Man", a story narrated within Don Quixote. In that, Lothario was a serial seducer of women.
More, precisely, Solomon was reported to have "seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines..." [I Kings 11:3]
"Grand Turks" were high-ranking men in the Ottoman Empire.
A bower is a shelter in a garden made of tree limbs or vines, but is also a lady's private chamber in a medieval castle.
Eugène François Vidocq was a famous criminal in late 18th and early 19th century France who repented of his criminal past and joined with law enforcement, founding the Sûreté.
Lord Byron wrote in Don Juan:
Of the great names which in our faces stare,
The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals any where;
For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoyed the lonely vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.
But in fact, Daniel Boone was married for over fifty years and had ten children. So Melville (and Byron) seem to have exaggerated his desire for "no one near him but Nature herself."
"Forty-barrel bulls" would be those who yielded forty barrels of oil.
Gout was considered the result of over-indulgence in food and drink, hence "penal" (or disciplinary) in nature. In spite of Melville's tendency toward off-color puns, this is probably not a reference to any particular body part.
CHAPTER 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish
The States-General was the Dutch Parliament.
Justinian's Pandects (a.k.a. "The Digest") was a fifty-volume compendium of Roman law compiled by Justinian I between 530 and 533.
"The By-laws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People's Business" are an invention of Melville's.
A Queen Anne's farthing was the smallest-valued British coin, representing a quarter ("fourth") of a penny. They were minted in 1814 (Queen Anne's final year), and were the first farthings after the union of England and Scotland in 1707; they never really entered circulation. The coin was small, being only 22 millimeters (0.8 inches) in diameter.
"Coke-upon-Littleton" is the short name for "The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England. Or, a Commentarie upon Littleton, Not the Name of a Lawyer Onely, but of the Law it Selfe," first printed in 1628. It is Coke's commentary on Thomas de Littleton's treatise on land tenure, a subject not unrelated to the question of whale ownership at sea. So the "Coke-upon-Littleton of the fist" would be basically the use of force to decide the issue.
"Trover" is taking possession of personal property that has been lost, or a legal action to recover lost property.
"Doxology" is a song of praise to God. A "doxology to the deed" would be the claiming not only of the whale, but also of the equipment.
Mr. Erskine was Thomas Erskine, noted for defending radicals in the late 18th century. These included Lord George Gordon, William Davies Shipley, John Stockdale, and Thomas Paine, and resulted in changes to laws regarding treason, libel, and insanity defenses.
Lord Ellenborough was an English judge of the same period, and eventually Lord Chief Justice. The case Melville refers to does not seem to have been a notable one in either man's career.
A "crim. con. case" is a criminal conversation case. Criminal conversation is a tort resulting from adultery, and was a suit brought be a husband for compensation for the breach of fidelity of his wife. It was abolished as a tort in England in 1857.
The Temple of the Philistines was the temple Samson brought down in Judges 16:23–30. Samson brought down the Temple of the Philistines by pulling upon just two pillars; Melville says the Temple of the Law also depends on just two props.
"Is it not a saying in every one's mouth, Possession is half of the law...?" Actually, so far as I can tell, no. The saying is in every one's mouth is that possession is nine-tenths of the law. And that is certainly closer to what Melville says next: "But often possession is the whole of the law."
In Melville's time, Russian serfs were effectively owned by their masters; they were not freed until 1861. They were subject to all the laws of chattel slavery, with the exception that masters could not kill them.
"Republican slaves" refers to slaves in the United States, though "Republican" often has the implication of "French Republic."
The story of the "widow's last mite" is told in both Mark 12:41–44 and Luke 21:1–4. Although both versions refer to two mites, the story is invariably titled in the singular. In any case, Melville is referring more to the notion of a widow having only one mite (half a farthing) and the landlord taking it rather than to the story of the widow giving it to the Temple as an offering.
"What is the ruinous discount which Mordecai, the broker, gets from poor Woebegone, the bankrupt, on a loan to keep Woebegone's family from starvation;" The names in this section are abstract and allegorical (such as the ones in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress), so the use of the Jewish name Mordecai would seem to imply that Jews are the "abstraction" of brokers (money-lenders).
Other abstract names are the Archbishop of Savesoul and the Duke of Dunder. John Bull is the personification of England, created in 1712, just as Uncle Sam is the personification of the United States. The "apostolic lancer, Brother Jonathan," is another personification of the United States.
"What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish...?" Well, other than in the possession of all the indigenous population, that is, but we see as Melville goes on about Poland, Greece, India, and Mexico that he is indulging in irony here. Indeed, the whole comparison of a fast fish and a loose fish with various spouses is another example of Melville's humor.
CHAPTER 90: Heads or Tails
In "'De balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam.' BRACTON, L. 3, C. 3.", Bracton is Henry of Bracton, a 13th century English cleric and jurist. The translation Melville gives is reasonable.
The Cinque Ports are a confederation of seaports in Kent and Sussex: Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich.
A beadle is a minor parish officer dealing with petty offenders. Lord Warden is a title specific to the Cinque Ports.
A sinecure is a job with no real work, but granting its holder status or money. Fobbing is trying to pass something off as more valuable than it is. Perquisites ("perks") are special privileges that come as part of a job.
"Blackstone" refers to Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone, written in the 18th century.
The Duke of Wellington to whom Melville refers is the hero of the Napoleonic wars, who did not die until 1852.
Edmund Plowdon was a 16th century English lawyer who wrote commentaries on England's laws.
CHAPTER 91: The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud
"In vain it was to rake for Ambergriese in the paunch of this Leviathan, insufferable fetor denying not inquiry." That is, it was useless to search for ambergris in the stomach (abdomen) of the whale, even though the unbearable stench did not stop the search." Sir Thomas Browne was a seventeenth century polymath who wrote widely in all subjects, and is cited in The Oxford English Dictionary over two thousand times as the first usage of a word or of a particular meaning of a word, and over four thousand as the first evidence of a word. Melville was supposedly heavily influenced by his style, and called him "a cracked archangel." Browne wrote about seeing a beached sperm whale on the Norfolk coast; he went hoping to get some ambergris. He wrote an account of this in Pseudodoxia Epidemica ("Vulgar Errors") in 1646, which Melville seems to misquote. The text I found has it as, "In vain it was to rake for Ambergreece in the panch of this Leviathan, as Greenland discovers, and attests of experience dictate, that they sometimes swallow great lumps thereof in the sea; insufferable fetor denying that enquiry." By changing "that" to "not", Melville has reversed the sense of Browne's statement; Browne is actually saying they could not continue the search. "V.E." stands for "Vulgar Errors", and "Vulgar" is in the older sense of common or popular (i.e., the Vulgate is the Bible in the common language of its time—Latin—rather than Hebrew or Aramaic)..
To keel up is to turn over, the keel being the underside of the ship.
Why "an Assyrian city" in the plague? It brings to mind the Siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians approximately 701 B.C.E., which failed when the Assyrian army was struck by a plague, as described in II Kings 19:35: "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." While an army camp is not a city, it is likely this is what Melville is referring to. This verse, by the way, is often pointed out as paradoxical/oxymoronic.
Attar-of-rose is the oil contained in rose petals and is produced using steam distillation. Note the irony of the name of the ship, which is quite the opposite of attar-of-rose.
Nosegays are another plague reference; they were thought in medieval times to help ward off the Black Plague, which was believed to be caused by bad air.
"Crappoes" may be derived from the French "crapaud", or toad. Could it just be a play on "crap"? The The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is of no help, not even listing the slang meaning. The sense of residue or scrap goes back well before Melville's time, though it is possible.
Obviously the slang meaning of "dipping one's wick" (having sexual intercourse) must have been in use back in 1851.
Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands. In Melville's time, French (Guernésiais) was still the official language of Guernsey. This, as well as historical ties to France, would make it not surprising that Guernseymen would sail on French ships.
Posies are a bunch of flowers rather than a specific type of flower.
A gill is (was) a quarter of a pint, or four liquid ounces.
The "Cologne manufacturer" was a manufacturer of perfumes, not a manufacturer from the German city of Cologne. Ambergris was used in the manufacture of perfumes.
Worsted is fabric made from combed long-staple wool, making a close textured surface with no nap.
"Their olfactories" is just a fancy way of saying "their noses."
An anathema is a formal curse by a pope or a Church council.
"Abaft" means closer to the stern of a ship.
As noted in Chapter 40, St. Jago was the nineteenth century name for the island of Santiago, Cape Verde, "Santiago" being Portuguese for "Saint James". (In Cape Verde Creole, it is "Santiagu".) There are monkeys in Cape Verde but they arrived from Africa; the only indigenous mammal being a bat.
Bordeaux would be any wine produced in the Bordeaux (Gironde) region of France.
"[It] was like turning up old Roman tiles and pottery buried in fat English loam." By the nineteenth century, archaeology was quite the thing, so finding ancient relics of Rome in England would have been profitable for the finder. Loam is a soil of clay, sand, and humus.
Windsor soap was a fine scented soap. "Ripe" implies particularly odorous, though in this case the odor was very pleasant.
A guinea was a quarter an ounce of gold. it was originally (1663) worth a pound sterling, or twenty shillings, but fluctuations caused this to change. From 1717 to 1816 it was fixed at twenty-one shillings; in 1816 it was replaced by the pound as the unit of currency. The term "guinea" continued in use to mean twenty-one shillings, and was considered more aristocratic than the pound. As a result, it remained in use for the prices of luxury goods until the 1970s.
The entire episode is, of course, an example of Melville's humor.
CHAPTER 92: Ambergris
Amber is fossilized tree resin. Ambergris is the secretion of the intestines of the sperm whale. So they do not even come from the same kingdom.
It is not just the Turks who use ambergris in cooking. The Chinese were the first to be recorded as using it in food, Charles II ate it in eggs, Cardinal Richelieu consumed in in pastilles, and it was used in a variety of foods over the years and in many countries.
Frankincense is an aromatic tree resin. So it is perhaps understandable that ambergris was confused with amber, both being aromatic materials.
Turks would go to Mecca to perform the haj, or pilgrimage, at least once in their lifetime.
Dyspepsia is indigestion.
Brandreth's pills were a strong purgative (hence the need to "run out of harm's way" after administering them to the whale!) that was very popular for the middle half of the nineteenth century. The Brandeth Pill Factory is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"Trowsers" is an alternate spelling of "trousers". The term "trousers" is more common in England, where "pants" has traditionally referred to underwear. One presumes that it was also more common in the United States in the nineteenth century.
"Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonour, but raised in glory." This refers to I Corinthians 15:42–44: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
Regarding "what it is that maketh the best musk," Paracelsus said in The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings, "Hence it happens that occasionally some of the excrement is mingled with musk, because this penetrates more readily than any lily with all its operations."
Whether in its early manufacturing stages, Cologne-water really was the most malodorous is not clear, but one suspects these days, there are far worse.
"Slatternly" means "dirty and untidy", and like its root, "slattern", is almost always applied to a woman. The male equivalent of a slattern is a sloven, though the noun form is rarely used these days.
"Odious stigma" is not quite a pun ("odious" being derived from Latin "odium", or hatred, rather than from the Latin "odor", or smell), but there is clearly an implied pun here.
A bung hole is a hole in the side of a cask or barrel through which it can be filled or emptied; it is stoppered with a bung. "Bung hole" has acquired a vulgar meaning that makes its modern usage in the original sense problematic.
A lying-in hospital was a maternity hospital. The reference to a grave-yard is not because that is where they generally built lying-in hospitals, but as a contrast: just as the death in grave-yards contrasts with the life in lying-in hospitals, so does the stench of the "untried" whale contrast with the sweet-smelling products produced from it.
Smeerenberg (or Schmerenburgh) was a settlement on Amsterdam Island in Svalbard in the first half of the seventeenth century. It has acquired a mythic status, with hundreds of ships and thousands of inhabitants and visitors. In fact, the maximum would have been a dozen or so ships and maybe four hundred men.
Fogo Von Slack is not a real person, nor is his book on smells a real book (alas!).
"... nor can whalemen be recognised, as the people of the middle ages affected to detect a Jew in the company, by the nose." Melville here refers to a supposed smell that Jews give off, not to the shape of their noses. (Note that he also denies this, describing it as something people affected to do.)
Myrrh, like frankincense, is an aromatic tree resin.
Regarding "that famous elephant, with jewelled tusks, and redolent with myrrh, which was led out of an Indian town to do honour to Alexander the Great" a Greek named Apollonia reported that in Taxila (in present-day Pakistan) four hundred years after the Battle of the Hydapses, people were honoring an elephant that they claimed had fought for Alexander in that battle. Since elephants do not live hundreds of years, the accepted explanation now is that the elephant was a descendent of the famous Ajax.
CHAPTER 93: The Castaway
Melville uses "comprising" correctly here, meaning "making up", rather than "composed of", which is gradually replacing the original meaning.
A reminder: a wight is a living or sentient creature.
If Pippin is his nick-name, and Pip its abbreviation, what is his actual name?
Another reminder: Dough-Boy is the steward, called that because his face looks like a pale loaf of bread.
Calling Pip's ethnic group a "tribe" is somewhat derogatory. (The use of the term "tribe" to refer to Jews is similarly derogatory.)
The idea that for blacks, every day is a festive holiday, indicates that either Melville is being ironic or incredibly dense and insensitive, for how could slaves consider a day of forced labor a festive holiday?
Tolland County in Connecticut is in the northeastern part of the state. It is the smallest county in Connecticut, and in the mid-nineteenth century has about 20,000 people on 410 square miles of land. By comparison, the island of Nantucket had about 9000 people on 45 square miles of land.
Referring to it as Pip's native county could be accurate, since the importation of slaves from Africa was banned in 1809.
Even-tide is evening.
"Ha-ha!" here is laughter, not the landscape design of the same name.
A tambourine is a round drum-like instrument with "zils" (small cymbal-like disks) set in its frame. The horizon replaces these with stars.
"A blue-veined neck" would be that of someone we would cal a "blueblood". This came to refer to the upper class because they did not work outside, hence their skin was paler, hence the blue blood in the veins was more visible than in heavily tanned farm workers.
Moby-Dick was written too early for "unnatural gases" to be fluorescent lights. Rather, they are just gas lights, unnatural when compared to the candles and oil lamps that had been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
An effulgence is a brilliant radiance.
A poltroon is a craven coward.
Pip's "blue, choked face" would appear to be an error, especially since Melville described Pip's blackness as having a brilliance that implies a face very black.
Execrations are curses.
"... a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama." The average price for a slave in 1850 was $400 ($11,300 in 2009 dollars), so that implies a whale was worth $12,000 (or $339,000 in 2009 dollars). Records show that a whale produced an average of 20 barrels of oil, with between 30 and 35 gallons per barrel, or about 650 gallons of oil at $1.77 a gallon for low-quality oil, and about twice that for high-quality. That's between $1150 and $2300 per whale, considerably less than $12,000. Even assuming Pip sold for $200, it closer to a factor of six than thirty. (I suppose the value of the ambergris would bring that up somewhat, but not to five times that amount.)
Gold-beater's skin is the outer membrane of a calf's intestine and has many uses, including the manufacture of gold leaf (hence the name).
A spring-carriage was a carriage mounted on springs, and while we would not call a ride in it "easy," it was certainly easy compared to the carriages that preceded it.
A merman is the male equivalent of a mermaid.
CHAPTER 94: A Squeeze of the Hand
What Melville calls "sperm" is, of course, spermaceti, not sperm. However, referring to "spermaceti" would not make this chapter nearly as salacious as it is.
"Constantine's bath" probably refers to the public Baths of Constantine in ancient Rome.
A mollifier is now something that soothes, but used also mean a softener (hence "emollient").
It is not clear whether Paracelsus's superstition that "sperm" calms anger applies to sperm or spermaceti. It could very well be sperm, since he had various theories about sperm and homunculi, which would mean that his superstition does not apply to Ishmael's situation.
White-horse is the substance between the upper jaw and junk of a sperm whale.
Citron is a citrus fruit, related to lemons, limes, and oranges, but in spite of the appearance of the word in various other languages meaning one of these fruits, in English the citron is not any of them. Unlike the rest, the pulp of the citron is dry, and what is used is the rind. It is used in the Jewish festival of Sukkoth; the Hebrew word for it is "etrog".
Louis le Gros was Louis VI of France (1081–1137); I am unable to find out just how much he did weigh. Presumably on "the first day after the venison season, and that particular venison season contemporary with an unusually fine vintage of the vineyards of Champagne" the King's thigh would have been particularly fat from over-eating venison and drinking a lot of champagne.
Slobgollion is a term defined by Melville, and some claim coined by him. It is related to "slumgullion", supposedly first used by Mark Twain in Roughing It (1872). "Slumgullion" is described as derived from "slum", meaning "slime", and "gullion", meaning " "mud or cesspool". If this is true, then it must have been in use before 1851 and Melville just spelled it differently. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary ignores both Melville's and Twain's use and cites a 1894 Bret Harte quote as first usage.
Gurry is generally defined as "fish offal"; Melville seems to consider it as a specific "dark, gelatinous substance scraped off the back of the Greenland ... whales."
Melville describes nippers as being part of the whale's anatomy. As with many of the words in this chapter, it is impossible to find any other such usage.
A squilgee is a squeegee (e.g., "Giuliani got rid of the squeegee men in New York City").
A tyros is a novice or a beginner.
Pike-and-gaffmen use pikes and gaffs. A gaff is a stick with a hook, or a barbed spear, used for spearing fish. A pike is a very long spear; it is meant to be thrust, not thrown.
Spademen use spades, tools with rectangular, sharp-edged blades on a long handle.
"Recondite" means little-known or abstruse (although one suspects that defining "recondite" as "abstruse" is not the most useful definition).
"Toes are scarce among veteran blubber-room men." We were told that the same is true of piranha fisherman in South America, since even after the piranha appear to be dead in the bottom of the boat, they have been known to suddenly revive and make use of their sharp teeth to avenge themselves on the fisherman.
CHAPTER 95: The Cassock
A "post-mortem" is an examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death, an autopsy.
Scuppers are holes in the sides of a ship that allow water to drain from the deck. The lee scuppers would be those on the leeward, or downwind, side.
Rather than name a specific length, Melville describes the "cassock" as "longer than a Kentuckian is tall." Kentuckians are stereotypically tall and lanky.
"And an idol, indeed, it is; or, rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which, King Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th chapter of the First Book of Kings." These idols were often phallic in shape.
There is a fish dubbed the "Fundulus grandissimus", but it is only twenty centimeters long. Melville's euphemism appears to be the generally accepted meaning.
A grenadier was a soldier armed with grenades or a grenade launcher. Now the term applies to soldiers in special regiments or units, regardless of weaponry.
A pelt refers to the skin of an animal with the hair or fur still attached. "The pelt of a boa" is an oxymoron—reptiles have no hair or fur.
Pantaloons were close-fitting pants (trousers) for men, even though now the term refer to women's baggy pants gathered at the ankle.
"Canonicals" refers to the official clothing of the clergy.
An investiture is a ceremony which confers an honor or rank on someone.
The "wooden horse" is like a saw-horse.
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "Bible leaves! Bible leaves! This is the invariable cry from the mates to the mincer. It enjoins him to be careful, and cut his work into as thin slices as possible, inasmuch as by so doing the business of boiling out the oil is much accelerated, and its quantity considerably increased, besides perhaps improving it in quality.
Why "Bible leaves"? The average Bible has over 1200 pages. With normal paper this would make a very thick (and heavy) book. So Bibles (along with dictionaries, encyclopedias, Norton anthologies, and other books with a lot of pages use "Bible paper" (lightweight offset paper, between 22gsm and 40gsm). In spite of its thinness, Bible paper must be durable since a Bible is read and re-read. On the other hand, because you do not read a Bible cover-to-cover the way you do a novel, handling the "flimsy" pages is not the chore it would be in, say, Les Miserables.
An archbishopric is the office of an archbishop or the area over which he has authority. Clearly here it is a pun.
CHAPTER 96: The Try-Works
An anomaly is something out of place or unexpected.
Masonry is stonework, but is also applied to brick or concrete. Oak is wood, and hemp is from a plant (though not a tree). Though the hemp plant is closely related to marijuana, they are not the same.
A brick-kiln is a kiln in which bricks are made, not a kiln made of brick. Mortar is the paste used to bind masonry together. It includes pitch, asphalt, clay, and cement.
"Knees" were brackets built into the structure of a wooden ship used for attaching or tying things down.
"To batten" is to fasten something with a long flat strip of wood or metal. Now it is used more generally to mean to secure something (e.g., "we are battened down for the hurricane").
Soapstone is a stone made primarily from talc, which has a "soapy" feel, but has no particular cleansing properties. It has many uses, but polishing pots does not seem to be one. Still, it does not seem like something Melville would make up.
A punch-bowl is variable in size, but usually between one and five gallons. The larger size would be much smaller than a try-pot, but is still one of the largest containers in common use shaped like a try-pot.
"It is a place also for profound mathematical meditation. It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in precisely the same time." A cycloid is the curve traced by a point on the circumference of a circle being rolled along a straight line; it looks like a series of arches. The cycloid Melville is describing is a tautochrone; Christiaan Huygens in 1659 proved that tautochrones were cycloids (with upward-pointing cusps). (The quick explanation of why an object released at any point on the curve will be at the bottom at the same time is that the higher up you release it, the more that gravity's force is exerted vertically, making it move faster. This sounds wrong; if you put something at the cycloid at the very bottom, it will obviously take zero time to arrive there, yet that is clearly not true of any other point. The trick is that each ball is at the bottom after the same time, not that it first reaches the bottom after the same time. Melville's phrasing is neither of those, but a somewhat ambiguous third version.)
A fire-board was a board covering a fireplace in warm weather. Before dampers were invented, an unused fireplace could provide entrance for insects, birds, and possibly even small mammals unless it was blocked off with a fire-board (a.k.a. chimney-board).
"Plethoric" generally means overfull or inflated; I suspect Melville used the phrase "plethoric burning martyr" to mean a heavy (overweight) martyr, who would feed the flames with his own fat. A "self-consuming misanthrope" would presumably be one who feeds his distaste for other people by looking at what a miserable person he himself was.
"Hindoo" is the old spelling of "Hindu". Hindus burn their dead on funeral (funereal) pyres, which would put forth an unpleasant odor. (When we saw the funeral pyres at the "burning ghats" in Benares [Varanasi], our boat was far enough out on the Ganges, and the wind blowing in the other direction, that we could not smell them.)
"It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit." This is a reference to Matthew 25:31–41: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:"
Greek fire was a highly flammable liquid used to set fire to enemy ships (since it would continue to burn while floating on water). It was invented in the Eastern Roman Empire in the seventh century and is variously thought to have been based on pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur, or niter.
João Paulo Kramer Sens suggests that in using "unforgettable Greek fire" to describe the blazing flames that fork, Melville seems to refer to the forked blaze where the Greek Odysseus is in Dante's Divine Comedy (Canto XXVI, lines 52–53).
A Hydriote is someone from the island of Hydra. "Canaris" is Constantine Kanaris, a Greek who used fire ships against the Turks in the Greek war for independence in 1822. He was not born on Hydra, though, but on Psara.
Tartarus is the deep dungeon where the Titans are kept imprisoned in pain and torment, as far below Hades as Hades is below Earth. Tartarus is also one of the primordial Greek deities. "Tartarean" would therefore mean "infernal"; "Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooneers" would seem doubly infernal to Christian readers.
A sea-sofa is apparently a sofa used at sea.
"Tawny" is orange-brown or yellowish-brown. The harpooners' "tawny features" would be caused by the combination of the darkness of their skins and the orange flames.
A monomania is a "single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind." Ahab has the pre-occupation, though one might question whether he has an otherwise sound mind. However, he does not display other signs of insanity—he doesn't dress strangely, or eat only purple food, or have any other peculiarities.
A binnacle is a stand mounted on the deck of a ship, and holding navigational instruments.
Dismal Swamp, now called Great Dismal Swamp, and the location of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, is in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Before the Civil War it served as a refuge for runaway slaves.
"Rome's accursed Campagna" was a low-lying area surrounding Rome. It was in use for farming and residences for much of Rome's history, but abandoned during the Middle Ages when the population of Rome decreased such that these malarial areas were no longer needed. Most of the Campagna, except a section along the Appian Way, has been reclaimed as urban land.
"Wide Sahara", or the Sahara Desert, is 3000 miles wide east-to-west. (Wikipedia calls the north-to-south measurement the width and the east-to-west as the length, but it seems likely that Melville meant "wide" to apply to the east-west measurement.)
The Man of Sorrows is a reference to the Messiah-to-come in Isaiah 53: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." [Isaiah 53:3]
Proverbs is explicitly ascribed to Solomon, since it begins, "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;"; Ecclesiastes is traditionally considered to have been written by Solomon, since it begins, "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem." So either Proverbs or Ecclesiastes was likely what Melville was calling "the truest of all books", since it seems unlikely that he would be referring to the Song of Solomon. Given that he separately references Ecclesiastes in the next sentence, I would presume this refers to Proverbs.
Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity. ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon's wisdom yet." This is from Ecclesiastes 1:2. Solomon was of course unchristian, since he lived before Jesus, but Melville is giving it a double meaning, pointing out that in his time "un-Christian" was a term encompassing all the negative aspects of human beings, but that "unchristians" could indeed be embued with "Christian" virtues.
William Cowper was an eighteenth century English poet who wrote about everyday scenes. In later years he became an evangelical Christian and wrote hymns. Edward Young was another eighteenth century English poet. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer. Jean Jacques Rousseau was an eighteenth century Genevan philosopher. François Rabelais was a sixteenth century French writer of fantastic, grotesque, and bawdy works.
"But even Solomon, he says, 'the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain' (I.E., even while living) 'in the congregation of the dead.'" This is from Proverbs 21:16.
It has been pointed out that Catskill eagles actually fish in the reservoirs, and it is turkey vultures that soar in the gorges. In any case, Rocky Mountain eagles probably outdo both of them in terms of being the bird with the highest low point of their flight.
CHAPTER 97: The Lamp
"Canonized kings and chancellors" would be those who have been named as saints (e.g., St. Louis or St. Thomas Becket).
A score of lamps would be twenty lamps.
Queens, at least queens in Europe, generally did not nurse their own babies, but hired wet nurses. As a result their milk dried up quickly, hence the scarcity of "the milk of queens."
A pallet is a straw mattress, or more generally, a makeshift bed
The story of Aladdin's lamp is a Middle Eastern folk tale found in The Book of a Thousand and One Nights. It was not included in that work until Antoine Galland added it to his French translation. Galland claimed to have heard it from a Syrian storyteller; no definite "original" source has been found. The story starts out saying it is set in China, but most later references indicate a more Muslim and less Buddhist/Confucian setting, leading some to place it in Central Asia.
"Unvitiated" means "unspoiled".
The feed that cows eat is reflected in the flavor of their butter, so "sweet as early grass butter" tells us that early grass (i.e., the early shoots in the spring) produced the sweetest butter.
"... solar, lunar, or astral contrivances" would have been the original light sources.
CHAPTER 98: Stowing Down and Clearing Up
A surtout is a man's coat similar to a frock coat, and presumably refers to the cassock described earlier.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were advisors to King Nebuchadnezzar who refused to bow down to his idols. According to Daniel 3:20–3:26: "And [Nebuchadnezzar] commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire."
In beer, a six-barrel cask is also called a tun and has a capacity of 216 imperial gallons. A (beer) barrel has a capacity of 36 gallons. An imperial gallon is approximately 1.2 US gallons, so a cask would be 259 US gallons, and a barrel would be 43 gallons. All this is assuming that the measures for whale oil are the same as for beer.
"Ex officio is Latin for "by virtue of one's office or position".
A cooper is a barrel-maker.
A freshet is a rush of fresh water into the sea, or the flooding of a river from heavy rain or snowmelt.
On a ship, bulwarks are the extensions of the sides above the level of the deck.
"The daintiest Holland" are fine Dutch bed sheets.
A cambric is a lightweight, closely woven cloth of cotton or linen.
A piazza is a town square.
Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the soul at death into a new body.
Pythagoras was a 6th century B.C.E. philosopher, though known now primarily as a mathematician. While he did die in "Magna Graecia", Metapontum is actually in present-day Italy. It is not clear whether he was "so good, so wise, so mild," since there is little definite about his life. However, one story has him interceding for a dog that was being beaten (although the reason he gave was that he believed he could hear in its voice that the soul of a deceased friend had transmigrated into it).
CHAPTER 99: The Doubloon
A morass is an area of muddy or boggy ground.
The Milky Way is our galaxy, but here it is specifically the starry band across the night sky we see when we look through the thickest part of our galaxy. However, it is rarely seen these days because of light pollution. (I can remember seeing it only twice—once from the Arizona desert about fifty miles north of Phoenix, and once from the Australian outback.) In various mythologies, it is considered a celestial road, so filling potholes or boggy spots with earth is a reasonable simile.
Pactolus is a river in Turkey. In ancient times it contained electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, and was supposedly the river that cured King Midas, hence its connection to the many references to gold in this sentence.
Verdigris is copper acetate, the green coating that forms on copper, brass, and bronze.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador.
A talisman is a magical object that brings good luck.
Regarding gold South American coins, Melville is speaking of coins primarily from Peru and Ecuador. Palms would be representative of the coast, alpacas and volcanoes of the higher regions. The alpaca is a domesticated camelid, something like a small llama; they live in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and northern Chile.
The ecliptic is the path the sun appears to trace through the stars over a year; how it can be depicted on a coin is unclear.
The "horn-of-plenty" is a cornucopia: a goat's horn filled to overflowing with fruits, vegetables, and so on. As a symbol of a country, it would represents the fertility and abundance of the land.
"REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO" is "Republic of [the] Equator: Quito". "Ecuador" is Spanish for "equator".
While countries on the equator may have seasons, these would be wet and dry seasons, with nothing resembling our autumn.
The coin described is the same one mentioned earlier in Chapter 36 ("The Quarter Deck") and is an 8 escudos doubloon, minted between 1838 and 1843. It may be "Spanishly poetic", but it was minted long after Ecuador's independence from Spain, so "Spanishly" is inaccurate, or at least misleading.
Cabalistics would be magical symbols.
The "keystone" is the top stone of an arch, so the sun is at the top and center of the zodiac segment, in Libra. The sun enters "the equinoctial point at Libra" September 22, that is, at the (fall in the Northern hemisphere, spring in the Southern) equinox.
Lucifer is another name for Satan, a.k.a. the Devil.
The peak with the flame is a volcano, possibly Cotopaxi, the best-known of Ecuador's many volcanoes.
A magician's glass is a glass (or mirror) into which a magician looks to see the future.
"Methinks" means "it seems to me".
Libra is "the sign of storms, the equinox" because that is about when the tropical storm season begins. Aries is the zodiacal sign six months from Libra, during the other equinox.
Belshazzar was co-regent of Babylon in the 6th century b.C.E. He was the ruler who gave the feast at which the writing "mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" appeared on the wall, which Daniel interpreted as foretelling Babylon's fall [Daniel: 5:25–28].
The Trinity is "the Christian Godhead as one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
The Moguls (a.k.a. Mughals) were descended from Tamerlane and the Turco-Mongol-Persianate conquerors who ruled India from 1526 to 1857 (and hence were still in power when Moby-Dick was written). Ahab in this case is "the old Mogul"; "mogul" (lower-case) is used nowadays to mean an important person, especially in the motion picture industry. See also Chapters 40, 43, and 108.
To twig something is to understand it, or more to realize it. It appears to be of Irish origin, and is used in James Joyce's Dubliners, but Melville clearly precedes this.
Nine fathoms would be fifty-four feet, but in this case seems to be just a synonym for a long face.
In Melville's time, Negro Hill was a district in Boston.
As noted in the annotations for Chapter 1, Corlaer's Hook (a.k.a. Corlears Hook) was part of Manhattan's Lower East Side near what is now FDR Drive and Cherry Street, but is now under a landfill. Negro Hill in Boston and Corlaer's Hook in New York were areas known for their bars, gambling dens, brothels, and so on.
A pistole was a two-escudo gold coin. The eight-escudo gold coin was a quadruple pistole, and was also called a "double doubloon"; eventually English colonists just called it a Spanish doubloon, and valued it at about four pounds sterling. A moidore was a 4000-réis Portuguese or Brazilian, worth about 27 shillings. A joe is a 36-shilling brass coin weight; a quarter joe is a 9-shilling weight.
"Chili" is Chile, "Popayan" (actually Popayán) is a city in Columbia that minted coins from 1760 on.
Golconda was a city in India famous for its wealth.
Nathaniel Bowditch first published The American Practical Navigator: An Epitome of Navigation and Nautical Astronomy in 1802.
An almanac is an annual calendar containing information such as astronomical data and tide tables.
Nathan Daboll wrote an arithmetic textbook in 1799 that remained in common use throughout the 19th century. He also had a navigation schol and published many almanacs, "Raising devils" is obviously a pun on "Daboll"; however, the phrase "devil's arithmetic" itself apparently did not exist until Jane Yolen used it as the title of her book.
"Curvicues" appears to be a word invented by Starbuck.
"Signs and wonders" is a phrase from the Bible: "And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes:" [Deuteronomy 6:22]
Stubb's recounting of the zodiac is fairly comprehensive, though he claims they are "all alive", but Libra (the Scales) are inanimate.
"Jimimi" (a.k.a. "Jiminy") is an expression of surprise, and in this case a pun on "Gemini". It is the shortened form of "Jimini Cricket", which dates back to 1848, shortly before Melville wrote Moby-Dick. "Jimini Cricket" was considered a way to say the equivalent of "Jesus Christ!" without blaspheming.
The "little King-Post" is Flask.
"It is worth sixteen dollars, that's true; and at two cents the cigar, that's nine hundred and sixty cigars." Actually, it's eight hundred cigars.
"Halloa" is a variant of "hallo" (or "hello"), and here means something like "wait a minute".
The lion is the horse-shoe sign because the iconic/symbolic representation of Leo is a horseshoe.
"Surgeon's Astronomy" is a malapropism for James Ferguson's Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton's Principles. (1756). Ferguson also published Astronomical Tables in 1763.
"Trowsers" is an older spelling of "trousers".
If Fedallah is a "ghost-devil" he would have to conceal his tail and cloven hoofs, hence "[his] tail coiled out of sight as usual, oakum in the toes of his pumps as usual." Oakum is a fiber made from untwisting old rope and used for caulking wooden ships, or in this case filling the parts of Fedallah's shoes ("pumps") where a human's tarsals and metatarsals would go.
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look." Pip's conjunction here includes the archaic "ye" for the second person plural. This is not to be confused with "Ye" as in "Ye Olde Shoppe", where the 'Y' stands in for the now-abandoned "thorn" (a letter representing the 'th' sound).
Lindley Murray was a Pennsylvanian Quaker who published his English Grammar in 1795. He also wrote several other books on grammar, reading, and so on.
A flag would be nailed to the mast of a ship as a sign it would never be lowered; this was done only in dire circumstances.
Tolland County is in the northeastern part of Connecticut.
The "green miser" is the sea, which never gives back what it takes.
Hoe-cake is cornmeal flatbread. The term "hoe-cake" was from the southern United States; in the North it was "johnny cake".
CHAPTER 100: Leg and Arm. The Pequod of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of London
Samuel Enderby was the founder in 1773 of Samuel Enderby & Sons, a well-known shipping, whaling, and sealing company in London, which went bankrupt three years after Moby-Dick was published.
A roundabout is coat cut in a circle, i.e., having no tails.
Pilot-cloth is a heavy twilled cloth with a thick nap, used for sailors' coats.
A huzzar (a.k.a.hussar) was a light cavalryman in the 18th and 19th centuries. They traditionally wore a short fur-lined or fur-trimmed jacket (surcoat) loose over their left shoulder, hence the reference to the empty arm of a jacket.
The captain of the Samuel Enderby also uses whalebone to replace a limb severed by a whale, though a mallet seems less traditional (or useful) than a hook.
The kelson (as noted in Chapter 9) is a piece of timber at the lowest point of the ship, while the bulwarks are the highest sides of the ship.
Cleets (a.k.a. cleats) are T-shaped pieces of wood or metal to which a rope can be attached, but which could also serve as footholds on the side of a ship.
Bannisters (a.k.a. banisters) are handrails, usually on a staircase. (Balusters are the vertical supports for banisters.) In Melville's case, "bannisters" seems to include the cleats and the ropes which would form the handrails.
The whale ran in circles, just as a circus horse does.
To "trim dish" is to balance the boat.
"Sitting all their sterns" is a polite way to refer to the body parts placed on the gunwale.
"Crows' feet" are the line that form from age around the eyes.
The fast-line is the line holding the whale fast (tight) to the boat.
Fluking is turning one's flukes up prior to diving.
"Down comes the tail like a Lima tower" is probably a reference to the Lima earthquake of 1746. It was magnitude 8.6–8.8 and completely destroyed Lima and Callao.
A marlingspike (a.k.a. marlinspike) is a tapered metal cone used in marine ropework.
Hot rum toddies were a popular remedy/preventative and were made with rum, sugar, and water. Rum would have been the most common alcoholic beverage on ships in the 19th century.
"Half seas over" is "drunk".
"En passant" is French for "in passing". Its most common use is in chess, where when a pawn makes its initial move two squares forward through a square attacked by an opponent's piece, the opponent can capture it as if it had stopped on that square.
Hydrophobia is rabies. It causes difficulty in swallowing, hence a fear reaction in sufferers when presented with liquids (of any sort) to drink. "Aquaphobia" is the medical term for a specific fear of water unrelated to rabies.
Ceylon is now called Sri Lanka.
An emetic is a concoction to make one vomit.
A lancet is a small surgical knife, which Bunger intends to use to bleed Ahab as a curative.
The Manilla men (as noted in Chapter 48) were the crew of Fedallah's boat, from Manilla (the Philippines).
CHAPTER 101: The Decanter
The Tudors were the rulers of England from 1485 to 1603. The Bourbons were the rulers of France and other states in Europe from the 16th century until the 19th century. (The Bourbons were still in power when Melville wrote Moby-Dick.) The two families never united in fact; Melville means "united" in the sense of "combined"; that is, even including all the history of those two great houses, the story of Enderby & Sons by itself would be almost as interesting.
Enderby & Sons started whaling in 1775, but as noted above, began as a shipping firm two years earlier.
The Coffin family began whaling from Nantucket in the 1690s (not 1726). The Maceys are evidently another whaling family. It is not believed that towns on Long Island were whaling as early as 1650.
The Vineyard is Martha's Vineyard.
Melville is careful to specify that Nantucketers were the first to harpoon whales with "civilized steel", since obviously humans were harpooning whales before them. Evidence indicates that harpoons were being used as early as 6000 B.C.E. In historical times, there is reference to Basque whaling as early as 1059 C.E.
Enderby & Sons did send the 270-ton Amelia to the South Pacific in 1788, after getting permission to enter the area, for which the East India Company had held a monopoly. Archelus Hammond killed the first sperm whale there in 1789, and the Amelia returned to England in 1790 with 139 tons of sperm oil.
The Rattler made its voyage of discovery in 1793 and 1794, mapping (among other places) the Galapagos Islands. The Syren sailed in 1819 to the seas near Japan and returned in 1822 with 346 tons of sperm oil.
The Enderby house did indeed exist to the day Melville wrote this, but not too much longer.
The Patagonian coast would be the coast along both sides of the southern end of South America, in Argentina on the east and Chile on the west.
A flip is a drink that according to the Oxford English Dictionary originally referred to a mixture of beer, rum, and sugar, heated with a hot iron. At some point before 1862, eggs became a standard ingredient as well.
"And that fine gam I had—long, very long after old Ahab touched her planks with his ivory heel" clearly indicates that Ishmael will survive whatever happens, though the trick of having a book narrated by a dead person is more of a 20th century conceit in any case.
Saxon hospitality was believed to have been generous by obligation, although more recent research has called this into question.
"Furled our jackets into the sails"—that is, when they rolled up the sails, they caught their jackets in them and ended up entangled in the sail.
"Tars" are sailors.
The forecastle scuttle would be a hole in the side of the forecastle that would let water in (or out).
Bull-beef (or bully beef) is a type of corned beef.
"Dromedary beef" is a joke; there is no such thing. Ishmael is playing off the idea that "bull beef" is meat that comes from bulls, and so there would also be "dromedary beef", or meat that comes from camels.
An antiscorbutic is something that would prevent or combat scurvy. There was a (mistaken) belief that bread was an antiscorbutic. When Ishmael says, "the bread contained the only fresh fare they had," he is referring to bugs.
Hollanders, Zealanders, and Danes would be from Holland (one part of the current Netherlands), Zealand (another part—not New Zealand), and Denmark.
In the online urban dictionary, "swackhammer" is indicated as having an obscene meaning, but I do not know whether this was true in the mid-nineteenth century.
Low Dutch was the dialect spoken in the low countries (the Netherlands). High German is what is spoken in certain regions of southern Germany.
There might be a college of St. Nicholas, since he is a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Orthodox branches of Christianity. But there would not be a college of Santa Claus, and there is no Saint Pott.
Friesland is a province in the northwest of the Netherlands.
Texel cheese is made from sheep on Texel Island, an island off the coast of the Netherlands,
Leyden cheese is a caraway and cumin flavored semi-hard cheese made in the Leiden area of the Netherlands.
A firkin is a small cask, and also a liquid measure that is half a kilderkin, or 72 pints.
An anker is about 41 quarts. "Ankers of Geneva" would casks of gin.
A pipe is 105 gallons. A barrel is one-eighth of a pipe. Six gills make a quart.
A transcendental application would pertain to a spiritual or non-physical realm. A Platonic application would be an ideal (or theoretical) application. Hence, rather than two different types of applications, Melville lists two somewhat similar ones. On the other hand, transcendental conveys the idea of something beyond definition, while "Platonic" means the perfect embodiment of a definition.
During the whaling era, Greenland was a Danish colony. Spitzbergen is in Norway, and Norway was part of a union (and the weaker part) with Denmark until 1814.
CHAPTER 102: A Bower in the Arsacides
The Arsacides is Cape Arsacides, in the northeastern part of Malaita, an island in the Solomon Islands.
"Untagging the points of one's hose" means to unfasten one's trousers; points were cords with metal tips used to fasten trousers in Melville's time.
Before elastic came into use, garters were fastened with buckles, hence "unbuckling his garters."
Hooks and eyes were a common fastener for clothing before machine sewing made buttonholes easy to make. When there were buttons, they tended to be paired with loops rather than holes.
Ishmael makes a small joke by referring to "the subterranean parts of the whale."
It seems peculiar that someone knowledgeable about whales would refer to a "small cub Sperm Whale," rather than a "small calf Sperm Whale."
The poke or bag is the stomach of the whale.
Tranque is a fictional tribe/area on Malaita. Pupella and "Bamboo-Town" are equally fictional.
"Dey" was the title of the rulers of Algiers under the Ottoman from 1671 until France conquered Algeria in 1830.
"Vertù" is excellence in an object of art, but Ishmael limits Tranquo's interest to just those items of barbaric "vertù".
"Fathom-deep enfoldings" would be six feet deep if Ishmael were speaking literally.
"The hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles" was popularized by Cicero in "Tusculan Disputations" (45 B.C.E.). Damocles was not the ruler in the parable, but someone who was impressed (or claimed to be) by the greatness of the tyrant Dionysius II of Syracuse (late fifth century B.C.E.). Dionysius sat Damocles at his banquet table and wined and dined him until at some point Damocles noticed a sword suspended over his head by a single horsehair. This emphasized the point (!) that if you have great wealth and power, you are also a great target.
The Icy Glen is another name for the Ice Glen in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Ice Glen is known for its rocks covered with mosses, and Melville would have been very familiar with the area.
The warp are the long yards held in place by the loom, the woof (or weft, is the yarn which is drawn through in an over-and-under fashion, by the shuttle (a wooden object holding a bobbin of yarn and pointed at both ends).
Verdure is lush green vegetation.
A freshet is a flood of water from a heavy rainfall or snow rushing through a river.
A trellis is a wickerwork framework that supports wines.
Admeasurements are apportionments.
If the Leviathanic Museum in Hull actually existed, its function (and exhibits?) have probably been incorporated into the current Maritime Museum.
I can find no record of a whaling museum in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Sir Clifford Constable of Burton Constable, Yorkshire, did indeed display the skeleton of a sixty-foot-long sperm whale in his park. It is still there, but has been moved into the Great Barn.
Sir Clifford was lord of the seignory (territory) where the skeleton was discovered and hence had the right to claim ownership of it.
Here we have yet another example of Melville's humor: "The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing—at least, what untattooed parts might remain—I did not trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale."
CHAPTER 103: Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton
If a 60-foot whale weighs 70 tons, a 90-foot whale of congruent shape would weigh 3.375 times as much, or 300 tons. If, on the other hand, it is the same size in cross-section, but just longer, it would weigh 105 tons. Melville's estimate of 85 to 90 tons seems to assume not only a mere elongation, but also more lengthening of the less dense sections and less of the denser ones.
"Reckoning thirteen men to a ton" means an average of 150 pounds or so per man, which seems low. However, he then cites a village of 1110 people as being comparable, and that would include not just men, but also women and children, so 150-pound average might be accurate. The current figure used by the U.S. Coast Guard for "Assumed Average Weight Per Person" is 185 pounds, but this probably assumes a higher proportion of adults on a ship than in the population at large, and also a tendency to add a safety margin.
Ishmael's injunction to "carry [the skull] under your arm" sounds like a reference to the idea that the ghosts of those who have been beheaded carry their heads under their arms, as in the song "With her head took'd underneath her arm, she wa-a-alks the Bloody Tower" written by R. P. Weston and Bert Lee in 1934, and originally performed by Stanley Holloway. Presumably the song was based on actual legends.
Briefly, Ishmael says that the skeleton is four-fifths (80%) the length of the whale, and the skull and jaw two-sevenths (roughly 30%) of the skeleton, with the remaining 70% being backbone, and a third of that the support for the ribs. So, a 90-foot whale has a 72-foot skeleton, a 20-foot skull, and a 50-foot backbone, of which 17 feet supports the ten pairs of ribs. What this means (among other things) is that the giant whale has fewer ribs than a man does.
The Pompey's Pillar referred to is clearly the Roman triumphal column in Alexandria, Egypt, and not the rock formation east of Billings, Montana, reached by Lewis and Clark in 1806.
Ishmael claims that in a sperm whale, "There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton are not locked together." Whales actually seem to have "sixty and odd" vertebrae (it varies across species)—I cannot find a figure for sperm whales specifically—but in sperm whales only the first cervical ("neck") vertebra is free, while the remaining six are fused.
The "great knobbed blocks on a Gothic spire" were a distinctive architectural feature of the period between the 12th and 16th centuries in Europe.
More of Melville's attitude toward organized religion can be seen in his reference to "some little cannibal urchins, the priest's children," although it is not clear whether he is referring to a Catholic missionary's children, or merely those of a heathen priest, who might not be bound by the rule of chastity.
CHAPTER 104: The Fossil Whale
To expatiate is to write extensively.
An imperial folio is a large book, approximately fifteen inches by twenty-two inches.
"Not to tell over again his furlongs from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measures about the waist; only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines, where they lie in him like great cables and hawsers coiled away in the subterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship." Hawsers (a.k.a. hausers) are heavy ropes used to moor or tow ships. The orlop-deck is the deck where cables (and hawsers) are stored. This is an example of over-flowery writing, if not expatiation specifically. The rest of this paragraph continues this style.
"To approve [oneself] omnisciently exhaustive" would be to cover absolutely every detail about a subject. "Approve" is synonymous with "prove" here.
"Seminal germs" would be sperm cells. They would not be found in a whale's blood.
"Having already described him in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in an archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view." Habitatory refers to behavior, the last three refers to information about ancient whales, antdiluvian referring to the time before Noah's flood. (Whether Noah's flood would have had any effect on whales is not touched upon.)
"Fain am I to stagger to this emprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me." This is a very self-referential passage. A quarto, while smaller than an imperial folio, is still large, being twelve inches by nineteen inches. Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, containing almost 43,000 words and over 100,000 literary citations. It was not surpassed as the pre-eminent English dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1884. Johnson himself was both tall and portly, hence the reference to his "personal bulk."
Chirography is penmanship. "Placard capitals" would be large capital letters, suitable for public signs designed to be read quickly from a distance. (The formal term for capital letters is "majuscule"; one is surprised Melville did not use that word instead.) A condor is a very large bird, hence with a very large quill; people still wrote with quill pens in Melville's time. Vesuvius is a volcano near Naples.
Ishmael compares whales to mastodons, which in Melville's time were the largest known land animals ever to have lived. Some dinosaur bones had been discovered earlier, but none of the truly large dinosaurs were discovered until after Moby-Dick was published. In any case, it is worth noting that the largest animal ever to exist was, and still is, the blue whale, which is twice the size of titanosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis.
Melville says of his writing, "We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it." The expansion of writing that he refers to is not that of mere size, but of theme and philosophical ideas. However, he seems to be claiming that the subject of a great book must have a certain physical size, and humans are much smaller than whales, so he would seem to be claiming that one could not write a great book about humans as easily as about whales. (Proportionally, a human is closer to the size to a whale than to a flea. At one pound, a guinea pig would be about the halfway point.)
"I desire to remind the reader, that while in the earlier geological strata there are found the fossils of monsters now almost completely extinct; the subsequent relics discovered in what are called the Tertiary formations seem the connecting, or at any rate intercepted links, between the antichronical creatures, and those whose remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark..." Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection was not published until 1859, but clearly the ideas of extinction, and to some extent evolution, were around before then, though Melville does talk about monsters "now almost completely extinct." However, his acknowledgement that Cetacean fossils are not identical to known existing species but are "akin to them" at least implies something other than the creation of each species ab nihilo.
The Tertiary Period is the period from 66 million years ago to about 2 million years ago, and is the beginning of the "Age of Mammals". Again, clearly there was knowledge of geologic time, and of the animals of at least some of the periods.
"Pre-adamite whales" would be those existing before Adam. Since whales were created on the fifth day [Genesis 1:21–22], and Adam on the sixth [Genesis 1:26–31], this would still be acceptable terminology from a theological standpoint. By the middle of the 18th century, scientists were knowledgeable about geological time, and reconciled it with the Bible by saying that the "days" of the first chapter of Genesis were not 24-hour days, but days of indeterminate length of at least in the millions of years.
"Antichronical" refers to something out of the normal progress of time, a term which could be applied to many of the fossils found around that time.
In Melville's time, Lombardy was a kingdom in the northwest part of Italy ruled by Austria, though it was briefly a republic after the 1848 revolution. Milan was the capital of Lombardy.
There was indeed a whale skull found in 1779 in the Rue Dauphine in Paris, discovered in a wine cellar. The palace of the Tuileries was the royal (and imperial) residence of Paris from the 16th century until it was burned by the Paris Commune in 1871.
Construction of Antwerp's docks were begun by Napoleon in 1811.
As noted, the whale discovered in 1842 on the Clarke County, Alabama, plantation of Judge John Creagh was a Basilosaurus; the Basilosaurus cetoides is now the Alabama state fossil.
"I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man." Melville's use of the flood simile brings to mind Noah's flood, which was (and still is) frequently used as an explanation for extinct species (drowned in the waters), and for the existence of marine fossils on mountain tops or elsewise well above sea level (carried there by the waters at their maximum height). The notion that time began with man would seem to contradict Genesis, however, since man was not created until the sixth day and pretty much everything else was created before him (as noted above). It also seems to refer to the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras's statement, "Man is the measure of all things."
"Saturn's grey chaos" refers to the god of Roman mythology, or rather to the Greek god Cronus (a.k.a.a Kronos) with which he was identified. Cronus was the Greek god of chaos; the Roman version Saturn was much better regarded, being the god of the seasons, the calendar, and the harvest.
If "not an inhabitable hand's breadth of land was visible" from the poles to the tropics, then all the land animals would have died off. This is therefore a bit of poetic license on Melville's part. He seems a bit vague on whether the earth was covered with ice, or water, but apparently it was a combination of the two.
"The Himmalehs" are the Himalayas. However, whales never swam over the Andes or the Himalayas; the sea level was never that high. Although one might claim that at some point the areas that are now the Andes and the Himalayas were not that elevated, this would have been well before whales populated the oceans. The Himalayas as a mountain range formed about 40 to 50 million years ago, about the same time as whales evolved, but by then the land that became the Himalayas was above sea level.
The Pharaoh referenced would be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Rameses II, around 1300 B.C.E. or so. Methuselah reportedly lived to be 969 years old, and died (according to Biblical scholars) 3074 B.C.E. Shem was one of Noah's sons; the Flood was supposedly seven days after Methuselah died. "Antemosaic" would be "before Moses", hence before 1300 B.C.E., just as "antediluvian" is "before the Flood." However the whales have not "been before all time," since as noted above they were created on the fifth day [Genesis 1:21–22], after the first four days. However, they were created before humans, so Melville's poetic claim (for symmetry, one presumes) that they "must needs exist after all humane ages are over" has at least some rationale.
Limestone is a sedimentary rock that often contains fossils, as is marl. (The first hadrosaur skeletons were found in Haddonfield, NJ, only a few miles from Marlton, so named because of its marl pits.)
Melville speaks of "Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim for them an almost fossiliferous character," but the oldest tablets would be no earlier than 3000 B.C.E., and the youngest fossils are 10,000 years old (by definition).
Denderah (a.k.a. Dendera) was built in Egypt in the 1st century B.C.E. and has a zodiac painted on its ceiling. The ceiling would be a planisphere, a spherical image projected onto a plane.
The "grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns" would be the constellations.
"Centuries before Solomon was cradled" would be centuries before 1000 B.C.E., which is about when Solomon was born.
"Osseous" means consisting of, or turned to, bone.
Just as antedilvuian means "before the Flood," so "post-diluvian" means after the Flood.
John Leo, the old Barbary traveller, is Johannes Leo Africanus (born al-Hasan Ibn Muhammed al-Wazzan al-Fasi), now known as Leo Africanus. He was best known for his 1550 book, Description of Africa.
"Afric" is an obsolete (or poetic) form of "African".
CHAPTER 105: Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?--Will He Perish?
Have whales actually been constantly getting larger? In the case of blue whales, yes.
Melville leaves the Biblical timescale and switches to the geologic one. The Tertiary "system" (or period, as we would probably say) is the oldest of the Cenozoic Era, dating back to 60 million years ago.
Aldrovandus (a.k.a. Ulisse Aldrovandi) was a 17th century Italian naturalist.
"Rope Walks" were long, straight paths used to lay out the strands of a rope before they were twisted together. The rope walk at Chatham Dockyard (built in 1790) is 1135 feet long, or almost a quarter of a mile.
"Thames Tunnels" refers to the underwater Thames Tunnel connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping. It is 1300 feet long (a quarter of a mile). As with all "underwater" tunnels, it actually runs through the ground below the riverbed.
"Banks and Solander, Cooke's naturalists" were Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who sailed with Captain James Cook on his first voyage (1768–1771).
"Iceland whales (reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled Bellies)": "Reydan" is Icelandic for "whale". "Fiskur" is Icelandic for "fish". It is not surprising that Melville would have replaced an 'f' with an 's' since even though the 'long s' had disappeared from printing by the time of Moby-Dick, it was still seen in handwriting. [Interesting side-note: Although the 'long s' in English resembles the terminal lower-case sigma in Greek, the English 'long s' was never used at the end of a word.]
Lacépède was Bernard Germain de Lacépède, a French naturalist of the late 18th and early nineteenth century. His history of whales was Histoire naturelle des cétacées, published in 1804.
Smithfield is a cattle region of Australia.
Just because people and cattle are getting bigger does not mean that all animals are. Consider insular dwarfism and Foster's rule.
"Behring's straits" was an alternate spelling of the Bering Strait.
Speculating on the possible extinction of whales, Melville says: "Though so short a period ago—not a good lifetime—the census of the buffalo in Illinois exceeded the census of men now in London, and though at the present day not one horn or hoof of them remains in all that region; and though the cause of this wondrous extermination was the spear of man; yet the far different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily forbids so inglorious an end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one ship hunting the Sperm Whales for forty-eight months think they have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when the far west (in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness and a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of months, mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that, if need were, could be statistically stated." Melville seems to believe that whaling would never get any more efficient than it was in 1851, or that more ships would go out each year.
Melville then argues, "[At] one hunting the King of Siam took 4,000 elephants; that in those regions elephants are numerous as droves of cattle in the temperate climes. And there seems no reason to doubt that if these elephants, which have now been hunted for thousands of years, by Semiramis, by Porus, by Hannibal, and by all the successive monarchs of the East—if they still survive there in great numbers... Again, Melville underestimates the increasing efficiency of hunting, and the vastly decreased numbers of elephants in Thailand today are evidence of that. (There are currently only about 3,500 wild elephants and 4,000 captive elephants in Siam (Thailand).)
Of course, since "Harto, historian of Goa" appears to be someone Melville invented, in is possible that the figure of 4,000 elephants killed in a single hunt is made up as well. Goa is a state along the western India coast that was a Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961.
Semiramis was a mythical Assyrian queen.
Porus was king of the Pauravas from 340 to 315 B.C.E. and fought against Alexander the Great in the Battle of the Hydaspes.
Hannibal was Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian general who lived from 247 B.C.E. to 181 B.C.E., and who brought war elephants over the Pyrenees and the Alps from Iberia to Italy in 218 B.C.E. during the Second Punic War. (Actually only one of the forty elephants he started with survived the entire journey, and half of his army died as well.)
As noted above (Chapter 104), the Tuileries was the royal (and imperial) residence in Paris from 1564 to 1871. It was still undergoing construction when Melville wrote Moby-Dick.
Windsor Castle is the British royal residence and has been since the early 12th century, making it the oldest royal residence in Europe.
The Kremlin is a fortified complex in Moscow begun in the 14th century but not "completed" until 1851 (though parts were later dismantled or destroyed in 1918). It has served intermittently as the residence of the Tsars and the heads of state of the U.S.S.R. and the Russian Republic.
"[If] ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats" is apparently a reference to William of Orange flooding part of the country in 1672 during the War of Spanish Succession in order to drown the armies of Louis XIV and block the French armies from conquering the United Provinces. "Rats" here is metaphorical.
CHAPTER 106: Ahab's Leg
Ishmael refers to Ahab's ivory leg as "dead bone," but ivory is not bone. Ivory is dead matter from the teeth and tusks of mammals. Bone is part of the skeletal system of mammals and other animals. Bone will have minute pores on the surface and is softer, lighter, and rougher than ivory.
"[It] had stake-wise smitten" means it had been driven into Ahab's body (specifically, his groin), end first.
"Grand Lama-like exclusiveness": The Grand Lama is also known as the Dalai Lama. Ishmael's term "exclusiveness" here refers to isolation or seclusion, however, which is not a feature of the Grand Lama's existence. Melville seems to be projecting the lives of monks in monastic orders onto the life of the Grand Lama.
The "unseen, ambiguous synod in the air" would be angels; the "vindictive princes and potentates of fire" would be the demons of Hell.
CHAPTER 107: The Carpenter
To insert a bull's eye in the deck would be to install an oval or circular wooden block with a groove around it and a hole in the center through which one threads a rope. (A bull's eye in a deck could also be a thick disk of glass to admit light below, but this is unlikely on a whaler such as the Pequod.)
"Athwartship" means "across the ship, from side to side."
A belaying pin is a pin or rod used to secure a rope fastened around it.
A top-block is a block hung under the cap of a lower mast and used in lowering the topmast.
"An unfractioned integral" may sound good, but is mathematical nonsense. Melville is confusing "integrals" with "integers".
"Multum in parvo" is literally "much in little", or more colloquially, "much in a small space."
The "Sheffield contrivances" are clearly what we would call today "Swiss Army knives." The "Offiziersmesser" was invented in 1891. The term "Swiss Army knife" was coined by American soldiers after World War II. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Swiss Army knives cites the "Sheffield contrivances" of Moby Dick as clearly being a forerunner of the Swiss Army knife.) The largest Swiss Army knife is "The Giant", released in 2006 with 87 tools and 141 functions. Undoubtedly, "not only blades of various sizes, but also screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers, [and] countersinkers" were included.
Quicksilver is another name for mercury.
Hartshorn was an aqueous ammonia solution used as smelling salts, prepared from deer's horns.
CHAPTER 108: Ahab and the Carpenter
The carpenter also refers to what he is working on as bone. But it must be ivory, because he says, "That is hard which should be soft [the ivory], and that is soft which should be hard [the file]." For that matter whalebone is also not bone at all, but a keratinous material similar to horn.
A "ferule" is a flat ruler with a wider end, used for punishment. Melville probably meant "ferrule", a metal ring or cap that strengthens the end of a stick and keeps it from splitting.
A buckle-screw is the screw that fastens the leather loop that holds the buckle on a belt.
A hop-pole is a vertical support for a hop vine.
A "Mogul" is a member of the Muslim dynasty of Mongol origin founded by Tamerlane, and which ruled India from the 16th to 19th century. See also Chapters 40, 43, and 99.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus was one of the Titans, and supposedly created man from clay.
"Imprimis" means "in the first place" and is used to introduce a list.
The Thames Tunnel, finished in 1843, was 35 feet wide and 20 feet high.
Ahab describes the "phantom limb" syndrome fairly accurately.
A poser is a difficult question or puzzle.
A pudding-head is a person who is not very intelligent or clever.
When the carpenter says, "I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with the wealthiest Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was the world's)," he is referring to the auctioning of the title of emperor that took place after the assassination of Pertinax by the Praetorian Guard. The auction was won by Didius Julianius, who ruled for 66 days before he was killed. However, it was not the Praetorians who were bidding—they were selling, not buying.
It should go without saying, but by "queer", the carpenter means "peculiar" rather than "homosexual".
The carpenter says, "What was that now about one leg standing in three places, and all three places standing in one hell--how was that?" This is quite mystifying, unless the carpenter is making an obscure reference to the three-in-one of the Trinity.
Herons are long-legged wading birds.
The "resurrection fellow [who] comes a-calling with his horn for all legs, true or false" would be Gabriel whose horn, among other uses, also announces (brings about?) the Resurrection. However, I think the general dogma is that bodies would be resurrected intact, with all their original limbs and parts, rather than with artificial replacements.
CHAPTER 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "In Sperm-whalemen with any considerable quantity of oil on board, it is a regular semiweekly duty to conduct a hose into the hold, and drench the casks with sea-water; which afterwards, at varying intervals, is removed by the ship's pumps. Hereby the casks are sought to be kept damply tight; while by the changed character of the withdrawn water, the mariners readily detect any serious leakage in the precious cargo."
Formosa was an earlier name for Taiwan, and was derived from the Portuguese word for "beautiful". The "Bashee Isles" were presumably in the Bashi Channel (note spelling change), part of the Luzon Strait. They are probably what are called the Batan Islands today. They were first mapped by William Dampier during his 1699–1701 voyage.
"Niphon" became "Nippon", which then became the name for the entire nation, with the island being Honshu. Matsmai is Hokkaido, and Sikoke is Shikoku.
A burton is a heavy tackle made of several blocks and used for lifting heavy objects. "We must up Burtons" means they must haul up the barrels to find and repair the leaks.
"T'gallant-sails" is a contraction of "topgallant-sails".
Top-sails are sails above other sails.
CHAPTER 110: Queequeg in His Coffin
A puncheon is a short post used to support the roof of a coal mine.
A tierce is a cask with a volume of a third of a pipe, or thirty-five imperial gallons.
A shook is a set of staves and headings for one cask. The staves are the vertical wooden slats; the headings are the top and bottom disks.
A demijohn is a bulbous, narrow-necked bottle. "Air-freighted" does not mean sent by airplane (obviously), but rather filled with air (as opposed to liquid).
Queequeg's "woollen drawers" were his woolen underpants. Why woolen underwear in the South Pacific? One imagines that most sailors had a limited wardrobe, and woolen underwear would be necessary in the colder climates or at night.
Zoroaster was a prophet somewhere in western or central Asia between 2500 to 3500 years ago. Just as there is no agreement on when or where he was born, there is none on when, where, or how he died, though there is general consensus that he was 77 years old. There are undoubtedly some stories of "strange things in his face," though they are by no means common.
A Chaldee was a native of Chaldea in the southeastern corner of Mesopotamia between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C.E.
The Lackaday islands are the Laccadive Islands, or Lakshadweep.
The carpenter is a Long Island sailor, so he possibly is the same crew member described as "Long Island sailor" in Chapter 40.
The Antilles include Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands, and several other islands.
CHAPTER 111: The Pacific
The "South Sea" is what we call the "South Seas", encompassing the Pacific Ocean south of the latitude of Panama.
When Ishmael speaks of "that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues of blue," this is not an exact measurement. At its widest point it is 12,300 miles or a little more than 3500 nautical leagues.
The "fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John" refers to the legend that St. John is not dead, but just sleeping, and his breath would cause the dust around the altar of the basilica where he was buried to stir. This made it holy, and pilgrims would bring flasks to collect the dust.
Potters' Fields are burial grounds for the poor. The name comes from Matthew: "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day." [Matthew 27:3–8]
"Magian" refers to the magi of ancient Persia, with particular reference for Christian readers of the "Three Magi", especially in terms of their being rovers.
It is somewhat obvious that the Indian Ocean could be considered an arm of the Pacific Ocean, but the Atlantic is less obvious. One thinks of the Strait of Magellan as connecting the two (which it does), but that is not the primary connection. That is the Drake Passage, which is about 600 miles wide. (The Strait of Magellan is shorter and more sheltered, but also very narrow. As ships got larger, the Drake Passage became the preferred route.)
"Moles" are stone structures used as piers or breakwaters. (The most famous "mole" was probably the one at Dunkirk used in the World War II evacuation.)
There were still "unknown Archipelagoes" in Melville's time, and "impenetrable Japans" refers to the isolation of Japan when Moby-Dick was published. Japan enacted sakoku ("closed country") between starting in 1633 and remained closed to almost all foreigners until Admiral Matthew Perry's visit in 1853 (two years after the publication of Moby-Dick).
Pan is the Greek god of nature.
CHAPTER 112: The Blacksmith
A ringbolt is a bolt with a ring fitted through an eye in the bolthead.
The foremast is the mast of the ship nearest the bow.
Boat-spades were spades carried in the whaleboats and used to cut the tendons of the a whale's fin or tail to disable it.
The "Bottle Conjuror" here is alcohol. There was an anonymous hoax in 1749 regarding "The Bottle Conjuror" who would supposedly put himself inside a wine bottle; he failed to appear at the scheduled performance.
Crape is a hard, scratchy silk with a crimped appearance produced by heat, and associated with mourning clothes. "Crepe paper" is named for it.
CHAPTER 113: The Forge
Iron-wood is the common name for many varieties of wood known for their hardness.
"Mother Carey's chicken" is the folkloric name for a storm petrel.
Nail-stubs are nails used in shoeing horses.
Matches used to be called "lucifers". Ahab could also be using it to mean "devils".
A fusee is a large-headed match that will stay lit in a strong wind.
The powder-pan on a musket holds the powder which is then lit by a spark from the flintlock.
"Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" ("I do not baptize you in the name of the Father, but in the name of the Devil!") is Ahab's transformation of the standard blessing, "Ego baptizo te in nomine patris, ..."
Seizings are a class of stopping knots used to semi-permanently bind together two ropes or other objects.
The Three Fates were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho spun the thread of life, Lachesis measured it, and Atropos cut it. In some stories the three are represented as one goddess.
A mummery is a ridiculous or absurd ceremonial, particularly of a religious nature.
CHAPTER 114: The Gilder
A birch canoe, also known as a birchbark canoe, was the lightest of canoes made by the Indians..
"[When] beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang." While a heart beats beneath a skin, paws do not conceal fangs, but rather claws.
CHAPTER 115: The Pequod Meets The Bachelor
"Vernal" means "referring to the spring," as in "vernal equinox." It occurs in March in the Northern Hemisphere, and in September in the Southern.
Ether does not refer to the anesthetic, but to the material that was thought to fill the universe above the earth's atmosphere and provide a medium to carry light waves. It is also spelled "aether".
Starbuck calls them "teeth-tiered sharks" because sharks' teeth grow in rows back to front (perpendicular to the jaw), with the back teeth moving forward when the front tooth falls out.
The Bachelor's sailing around the other ships in a sort of victory dance is not unlike a football player's dance in the end zone after a touchdown.
Bunting is a decoration of fabric or material imitating fabric.
Signals, ensigns, and jacks are flags. Jacks are flown on the jackstaff at the bow, while ensigns are flown on the stern. Jacks are named after James I (who signed himself "Jacques") during whose reign the Union Jack was designed.
A brazen lamp is a brass lamp.
"... harpooneers were dancing with the olive-hued girls who had eloped with them from the Polynesian Isles ..." One has to wonder what will become of these girls when the Bachelor returns home to Nantucket. It seems unlikely that the harpooners will actually marry them.
The "cursed Bastile" (usually spelled "Bastille" and formally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine) was a fortress in Paris. It was begun in 1357 and finished in the 1380s. Used as a prison since 1417, it served as a symbol for the oppressiveness of the French monarchy and was stormed by revolutionaries on July 14, 1789, its seven prisoners freed, and its store of gunpowder seized. It was destroyed by November 1789.
The taffrail is the rail and decoration around a ship's stern.
CHAPTER 116: The Dying Whale
An orison is a prayer. To inwreathe (or enthreathe) is to surround or encircle, so "inwreathing orisons" would be prayers that surrounded and engulfed one.
Vesper hymns would be hymns sung at vespers, or evening prayers.
In 1851, Manilla (or Manila) and the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire and so were one of the few places in the South Pacific where Christianity was the dominant religion, hence the "Spanish land-breeze" and "convent valleys".
The Niger River is the third longest river in Africa, after the Nile and the Congo. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands. One reason for the difficulty in determining the source is that it is only 150 miles inland, although the river itself takes over 2500 miles to finally reach the Gulf of Guinea. Though Mungo Park mapped much of the river in 1804, Richard and John Lander finally established its source in 1830. So speaking of "the Niger's unknown source" is a bit anachronistic in 1851. (The source of the Nile was not discovered until 1858; that would have been a better choice.)
CHAPTER 117: The Whale Watch
A waif-pole is the pole to which the masthead waif is made fast. A waif, or waft, is a flag used to signal wind direction.
Lake Asphaltites was another name for the Dead Sea, and Josephus claims it was formed by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hemp was commonly used for hangmen's ropes.
CHAPTER 118: The Quadrant
A brace is a rope or line used to rotate a yard (the spar on a mast from which the sails are set) around a mast.
Effulgence is extreme brightness.
"Cabalistic" means relating to mystical or esoteric doctrine. Though some use Cabala, Kabbalah, and Qabalah (and other spellings) interchangeably, they are frequently distinguished as follows: "Kabbalah" refers to Jewish mysticism, "Cabala" refers to Christian mysticism, and "Qabalah" refers to Hermetic mysticism. These distinctions were probably not made in Melville's time.
Using "the level ship's compass, and the level deadreckoning, by log and by line" would mean calculating one's position by applying information regarding direction and speed of travel to one's last known position. "By log and by line" describes the traditional method of determining speed: a wooden log attached to a long line is thrown over the stern. The line is knotted at regular intervals, and the sailor counts how many knots play out in a given period of time (hence knots as a nautical unit of speed). For example, if the knots are 88 feet apart and 10 knots play out in one minute, then the ship is going 10 knots. (880 feet/min is 52800 feet/hr, or 10 miles per hour. I do not know how far apart the knots were, but this seems the simplest way to do it.) Note: Knots are a unit of speed, not of distance.
"Up helm!" means "move the tiller to the upward (windward) side of the ship." "Square in!" derives from "square" as being at right angles to the mast and parallel to the horizon.
The "yards swung round" would be the result of moving the tiller.
"[The] ship half-wheeled upon her heel" means the ship spun halfway around on her stern.
"[It] seemed as the three Horatii pirouetting on one sufficient steed." The Horatii were Roman triplets who agreed to fight three brothers from the Curiatii to decide the outcome of a war between Rome and Alba Longa. Two of the Horatii were killed, but the third ran across the battlefield, which drew the injured Curiatii apart as their injuries affected them to different degrees. When they were separated, the last Horatii was able to fight and kill them one at a time.
Knight-heads are upright members flanking and securing the bowsprit on a ship.
Sea-coal was mineral coal (as contrasted with charcoal). Sea-coal was brought by ship, hence the name.
CHAPTER 119: The Candles
Bengal is an area in Asia encompassing West Bengal (the state on the eastern edge of India) and Bangladesh.
If "gorgeous Cuba knows tornadoes that never swept tame northern land" it is because they did not sweep Cuba either. Cuba does not get tornadoes (though it can get waterspouts). Tornadoes form and travel over land, and there just is not that much land in Cuba for them to travel over. Melville may have been thinking of hurricanes.
A typhoon is a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean.
A doxology is a hymn praising God.
The weather bow is the windward side of the bow.
The stern-sheets is the space in the stern not occupied by the thwarts.
Flambeaux are flaming torches.
"`Look aloft!' cried Starbuck. 'The St. Elmo's Lights (corpus sancti) corpusants! the corpusants!'" St. Elmo's Lights, or St. Elmo's Fire) is a glow that appears at the end of pointed objects during thunderstorms due to the strong electric field. It is named for St. Erasmus ("Elmo" in Italian) of Formia, the patron saint of sailors due to its frequent appearance on ships. It was considered a good omen. A corposant (note the spelling change) is an appearance of St. Elmo's Fire on a mast or rigging.
"Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin" are the words that appeared on the wall during Belshazzar's feast. Daniel interpreted this as follows: "And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." (Daniel 5:25–28)
"Preternatural" means "beyond the natural, supernatural."
A tableau is a group of motionless figures representing a scene from history.
"Chock a' block" means "crammed full." The term has nautical origins, at least the "block" part.
"In various enchanted attitudes, like the standing, or stepping, or running skeletons in Herculaneum, others remained rooted to the deck; but all their eyes upcast." Herculaneum, along with Pompeii, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius August 24–25, 79 C.E. Though originally it was thought that death was caused by ash and poisonous gases, it is now believed that a pyroclastic (heat) surge of 482° Fahrenheit killed the inhabitants instantly, and that they were then buried in the ash. The result was that skeletons are found frozen in mid-stride, etc.
"Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship ..." Parsis are followers of Zoroaster and consider fire holy, though it is not clear that they worship it per se. They do build "fire temples" and always pray in the presence of fire. Believing that burning corpses pollutes the fire, Parsis have traditionally relied on birds of prey to dispose of corpses. (Similar practices in Tibetan Buddhism are called "sky burials".)
CHAPTER 120: The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch
"The lee lift is half-stranded." That would be the lift on the side away from the wind.
A coasting smack was a fishing boat used along the Atlantic coasts of Britain and America in the 19th century and in decreasing numbers during the first half of the 20th century.
A hooroosh is a wild confusion.
CHAPTER 121: Midnight—The Forecastle Bulwarks
Aquarius, the Water-Bearer, is one of the signs of the zodiac, representing Ganymede, who was the cup-bearer to the gods.
A hydrant is a fixture in a street attached to a water main; one would not find them on a ship.
A tarpaulin now refers to a heavy water-proofed cloth, usually of tarred canvas, but in Melville's time it was a sailor's tarred or oilskin hat.
A swallow-tail is a formal coat with two long tails.
A beaver was a beaverskin formal hat.
CHAPTER 122: Midnight Aloft—Thunder and Lightning
CHAPTER 123: The Musket
Preventer tackles are those that prevent normal motion of rigging.
A storm-trysail is a sail having its luff hooped or otherwise bent to a mast, used to keep a ship headed into the wind.
"Yes, it would make him the wilful murderer of thirty men and more, if this ship come to any deadly harm; and come to deadly harm ..." So the size of the ship's crew is thirty men. Except...
At least forty-one crew members are listed, although Wikipedia says that Melville mentions forty-four, and also notes that at the end he writes that there are thirty. The crew members I noted (and where they were introduced or described) were:
The "error-abounding log" was described earlier. Obviously, it is prone to cumulative errors.
A hawser is a thick rope or cable.
As noted, Starbuck refers to "locked Japan" because of its closure to foreigners.
CHAPTER 124: The Needle
A binnacle is a stand on the deck of a ship that holds the compass and other navigational instruments near the helmsman.
"... last night's thunder turned our compasses." This is, indeed, possible.
"Loadstone" is another spelling of "lodestone".
The "transpointed compasses" are those that have been reversed.
A top-maul is a heavy hammer with a steel or wooden head.
One can indeed magnetize a needle by aligning it north-south and hammering it. Magnetizing it by holding it and a metal lance vertically does not seem to be a standard method.
CHAPTER 125: The Log and Line
"There now's a patched professor in Queen Nature's granite-founded College; but methinks he's too subservient." I have no idea to what this is referring.
The Isle of Man is an island off the coast of England which has in a complicated connection to Britain described in a note in Chapter 40.
CHAPTER 126: The Life-Buoy
The "ghosts of all Herod's murdered Innocents" would be the ghosts of the children that Herod ordered killed in order to be sure he killed the prophesied "King of the Jews". According to Matthew 2:16–18. Herod had all male children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed; this is known as the Slaughter of the Innocents, or the Massacre of the Innocents. There are no other accounts of this, either in the other gospels, or in historical sources. Although many Eastern Orthodox theologies cite ten, or even hundreds, of thousands killed, the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that, based on the population of Bethlehem at the time, the number would be between five and thirty.
When Melville refers to how "for the space of some moments stood, or sat, or leaned all transfixedly listening, like the carved Roman slave," he may be referring to a specific statue, or perhaps he is thinking that a slave would have to "listen transfixedly," and a carved statue doubly so.
A mermaid is a creature that has a human female head and torso, but whose lower half is that of a fish.
In regard to seals (and sheep), "dams" are mothers. Melville uses "cubs" for seal offspring, but the more common term is "pups".
A bandbox is a small cylinder container for hats and such.
"It's like turning an old coat; going to bring the flesh on the other side now." This would be an apt description of what happens with a fur coat, fur coats being much more common in Melville's time. Think in terms of the mittens in "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Made them with the fur side inside.
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the inside skin side outside.
He, to get the cold side outside,
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That's why he put the fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.
[It is worth pointing out, though, that Longfellow published "The Song of Hiawatha" in 1855, four years after Moby Dick was published.]
"The Vineyard" would be Martha's Vineyard.
Aroostock hemlock is hemlock from Aroostock County, the northernmost county of Maine. Part of one of the state's two natural hemlock forests is in Aroostock County. (Currently, hemlocks in Maine are threatened by the hemlock woolly adelgid.)
A crupper is astrap under a horse's tail that keeps a saddle from slipping. "Cruppered with a coffin?" however, seems to give it a meaning of simply burdened or attached.
"I'll have me thirty separate, Turk's-headed life-lines, each three feet long hanging all round to the coffin. Then, if the hull go down, there'll be thirty lively fellows all fighting for one coffin ..." A Turk's-Head is an ornamental (woven) knot, using to form a knob at the end of a rope and resembling a turban in shape. The number thirty indicates (again) a crew of thirty on the Pequod.
CHAPTER 127: The Deck
A line-tub is the tub on a whaleboat that carries the coiled rope, or line.
Oakum is a tarred fiber used to seal gaps. ("Picking oakum," or unraveling and unwinding it, was a traditional punishment both on board ship and in English prisons in the 19th century. Oscar Wilde was assigned to pick oakum during his time in prison.)
The Titans were the offspring of Gaia and Uranus and the parents of the Olympians. The battles between the Titans and the Olympians were believed to cause volcanic eruptions.
The "gravedigger in the play" refers to the gravedigger in Hamlet, who sings as he is digging.
A bier is a frame to hold a coffin as it is carried.
"I've heard that the Isle of Albemarle, one of the Gallipagos, is cut by the Equator right in the middle." Albemarle was named for the Duke of Albemarle in 1684, but its name was later changed to Isabela. It is crossed by the Equator, but not right in the middle. In fact, it is shaped something like a lower-case 'd' and the Equator crosses it about one-tenth of the way down from the northern tip.
Musical glasses, also known as a glass harp, is a musical instrument consisting of wine glasses filled to various levels (to achieve different pitches) and played by running a moistened or chalked finger around the edges.
The grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus) lives is a wide range that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean through Europe and Asia all the way to the Pacific.
CHAPTER 128: The Pequod Meets The Rachel
Rachel is mentioned in Jeremiah 31:15: "Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." This is interpreted by Christian theologians as predicting the Massacre of the Innocents mentioned in Chapter 126.
A stunsail is an extra sail on a square-rigged ship.
To yaw is to twist or oscillate around a vertical axis.
Starboard is to the right; larboard is to the right. "Larboard" is now considered archaic; "port" is used instead.
"But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not." This is yet another reference to Jeremiah 31:15 (as noted above).
CHAPTER 129: The Cabin
A transom in nautical terms is a horizontal beam reinforcing the stern.
A "seventy-four" was a two-decked sailing ship of the line that carries 74 guns. (A "ship of the line" was a ship designed to take part in the tactic known as "line of battle.")
Epaulets are ornamental shoulder pieces worn with a dress uniform by officers.
"But here I'll stay, though this stern strikes rocks; and they bulge through; and oysters come to join me." Pip seems to be confusing oysters with barnacles; the latter attach themselves to rocks, while the former do not.
CHAPTER 130: The Hat
"As the unsetting polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months' night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze": The North Star (Polaris) is on an almost direct line along the Earth's axis above the North Pole, so appears fixed in the northern sky. Normally it is invisible during the day, but in the Arctic, there is six months when either the entire sky is dark, or the northern sky is dark enough to make Polaris visible continuously.
A cabin-scuttle would be an opening (with a cover) in the ship's deck to the cabin.
Dinner was the midday meal, supper the evening meal.
A "downward-reeved rope" would be one passed downward through a hole or pulley.
The "red-billed seahawk" seems to be a bird Melville invented. The only bird close would be a red-billed gull, but it is white, and Melville later describes the seahawk as black.
"Then it darted a thousand feet straight up into the air; then spiralized downwards, and went eddying again round his head." This is within the range of what sea birds do.
"An eagle flew thrice round Tarquin's head, removing his cap to replace it, and thereupon Tanaquil, his wife, declared that Tarquin would be king of Rome. But only by the replacing of the cap was that omen accounted good." Tarquin was Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of ancient Rome, reigning from 616 B.C.E. to 579 B.C.E. Livy relates the legend of the eagle in his History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita), Book I, Chapter 34, sentences 8–10, written in the first century B.C.E.
CHAPTER 131: The Pequod Meets The Delight
Shears are defined in the text, and are beams that hold unused or unusable whale boats.
This completes the descriptions of the ships the Pequod met:
CHAPTER 132: The Symphony
The "robust and man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson's chest in his sleep." It was while Samson was asleep that Delilah had his hair cut: "And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him." [Judges 16:19]
The "small, unspeckled birds" with "snow-white wings" are not immediately identifiable.
"But so have I seen little Miriam and Martha, laughing-eyed elves, heedlessly gambol around their old sire; sporting with the circle of singed locks which grew on the marge of that burnt-out crater of his brain." Miriam (Mary) and Martha are visited by Jesus: "Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word." [Luke 10:38–39] However, it is more likely that Miriam and Martha are children, dancing around their father. (They would not be Ahab's children, because Ishmael would have had no chance to see them gamboling around Ahab.) "Marge" means "margin."
"On such a day ... I struck my first whale—a boy-harpooneer of eighteen! Forty—forty—forty years ago!—ago!" So Ahab is fifty-eight years old, give or take (because "forty" may represent a round number used rather than, say, thirty-nine or forty-one).
"... out of those forty years I have not spent three ashore." As a total aside, my father was in the Air Force, and I estimate he spent a third of the time between my birth and high school graduation away from home.
Ahab spent "whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow—wife? wife?—rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her." In Melville's time, the average Pacific whaling voyage was three to three-and-a-half years, so if he married past fifty and is now fifty-eight, he was home probably twice in the interim. So he could have had two children, especially if they were a set of twins.
"I see my wife and my child in thine eye." This implies that Ahab had but one child, although it is possible that he had a second born after he left on this voyage. However, if he was injured on the voyage immediately preceding this one (a reasonable conclusion), then it is likely his all-consuming thirst for revenge meant he was probably not having relations with his wife.
"Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's ..." So Starbuck is also married.
"About this time—yes, it is his noon nap now—the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again." This is Ahab, referring to his child. He appears to have only one, and a son, not a daughter.
"'Tis my Mary, my Mary herself! She promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father's sail! Yes, yes! no more! it is done! we head for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy's face from the window! the boy's hand on the hill!" This is Starbuck (addressing Ahab as "Captain"); he also has one son.
A handspike is a wooden rod with an iron tip used as a lever.
"Albicore" is an alternate spelled of "albacore", a longfin tuna.
CHAPTER 133: The Chase--First Day
A dog-vane is a small vane of light material at the top of the masthead that indicates the direction of the wind.
To shorten a sail is to tie the short lines attached to it partway up from the bottom to points below the sail, thereby reducing the area of the sail in heavy weather.
A tide-rip is a stretch of turbulent water caused by one current flowing into or across another.
"Shiver her!" Heavy seas would raise and lower a ship hard enough to "shiver" the timbers, or wooden support frame, of the ship. Driving a ship hard through normal seas would do the same.
The nautilus is a cephalopod. It is the only cephalopod with an external shell, to which it keeps adding larger chambers as it grows. Underwater, it would be noiseless.
The "Turkish-rugged waters" are waters appearing like a Turkish rug, not waters that are rugged (/'rəgəed/) in some Turkish fashion.
A pennon is a flag that is larger at the hoist (side nearest the pole) than at the fly (side farthest from the pole).
"Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam." In Roman and Greek mythology Jupiter (a.k.a. Jove, a.k.a. Zeus) conceived a passion for Europa, the mother of King Minos of Crete. Jupiter changed himself into a white bull and joined Europa's father's herd. Europa saw him, stroked him, and eventually climbed on his back, at which point Jupiter jumped into the sea and swam to Crete. The story is a Cretan myth adopted by the Romans.
"Virginia's Natural Bridge" is a geological formation in Rockbridge County, Virginia, near Lexington. It is a natural arch 215 feet high with a 90-foot span. It is alleged to have been visited by George Washington in 1750, it was at one point owned by Thomas Jefferson, and it was a major tourist attraction for European visitors. It went through several owners before becoming a Virginia State Park in 2013.
To walk "Indian file" means to walk single file, presumably because Indians (Native Americans) walked that way on narrow forest trails. Herons do fly single-file.
A weasel is a member of the Mustelidae. In the United Kingdom, it is applied to just the smallest species, while elsewhere it can refer to other species as well. The Bonaparte weasel turns white in the winter and is also called an ermine.
Ishmael describes "the whale obliquely lying on his back, in the manner of a biting shark." However, many sharks go into "tonic immobility" when upside down, so this simile seems to be misguided.
"So, in a gale, the but half baffled Channel billows only recoil from the base of the Eddystone, triumphantly to overleap its summit with their scud."
Melville's Note (included in the Penguin edition): "This motion is peculiar to the sperm whale. It receives its designation (pitchpoling) from its being likened to that preliminary up-and-down poise of the whale-lance, in the exercise called pitchpoling, previously described. By this motion the whale must best and most comprehensively view whatever objects may be encircling him."
Eddystone, or the Eddystone Rocks, is a group of rocks in Cornwall at the approach to the English Channel. Eddystone Rock (singular) is in the Falkland Islands north of Falkland Sound. Scud is clouds or rain driven by wind. In this case it may be the spray from the sea crashing against the rocks.
"The sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him, as the blood of grapes and mulberries cast before Antiochus's elephants in the book of Maccabees." In the Apocrypha, it is written, "So that the number of [Antiochus's] army was an hundred thousand footmen, and twenty thousand horsemen, and two and thirty elephants exercised in battle. These went through Idumea, and pitched against Bethsura, which they assaulted many days, making engines of war; but they of Bethsura came out, and burned them with fire, and fought valiantly. Upon this Judas removed from the tower, and pitched in Bathzacharias, over against the king's camp. Then the king rising very early marched fiercely with his host toward Bathzacharias, where his armies made them ready to battle, and sounded the trumpets. And to the end they might provoke the elephants to fight, they shewed them the blood of grapes and mulberries." [I Maccabees 6:30–34] Another translation has the last verse as, "They made the elephants drunk on the juice of grapes and mulberries to get them ready to fight." (Note that Melville refers to "the book of Maccabees"; there are actually two books.)
To bank is to tilt sideways in making a turn; to "treble-bank his every fin" would be to use extreme measures to increase speed or decrease turning radius.
Albatrosses are often described as "double-jointed." One source says this is because they have a relatively long upper arm bone (humerus) with a bend at the elbow (between the humerus and the ulna) as well as at the wrist (between the ulna and the carpal joint). Someone else disputes this, but in English so badly spelled and grammatically incoherent that I have no idea what he is saying or whether it is correct.
"`.. beneath his slouched hat... " Didn't the seahawk take it in Chapter 130?
"[Then], whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man's; and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye!" This is a complicated game-theoretic problem. For any one man, he is better off if he is the first to raise the whale, but for the crew as a whole, they are better off letting Ahab raise the whale. If Ahab raises the whale, each man gets 10/29 of a doubloon, so if the men could agree to let Ahab raise the whale, and could trust everyone to stick by the agreement, each man's expectation increases tenfold from 1/29 doubloon. (This is the classic "Prisoner's Dilemma".)
CHAPTER 134: The Chase--Second Day
"The ship tore on; leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a cannon-ball, missent, becomes a plough-share and turns up the level field." This is an allusion to Isaiah 2:4: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
"They were one man, not thirty." Again, this establishes the crew of the Pequod as thirty in number.
The ship "was put together of all contrasting things—oak, and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp ..." Oak and maple are hard woods (maple being the harder) from deciduous trees. Pine is a soft wood from an evergreen. Iron is solid. Pitch is semi-liquid when hot, but hard and waterproof when cold. Hemp is a fiber used for rope, etc., which are not waterproof.
"The triumphant halloo of thirty buckskin lungs was heard ..." Buckskin is tanned deerskin. The implication is of sturdy leathery lungs.
Moby Dick "tossed himself salmon-like ..." This refers to salmon leaping over rapids as they swim upstream to spawn.
A backstay is apiece of standing rigging that runs from a past to either its transom or its rear quarter. A halyard is a rope used for raising a sail, spar, or other device.
"Ahab ... told them he would take the whale head-and-head,—that is, pull straight up to his forehead,—a not uncommon thing; for when within a certain limit, such a course excludes the coming onset from the whale's sidelong vision. But ere that close limit was gained ... yet all three boats were plain as the ship's three masts to his eye ..." It is true that there is a blind spot, but Melville notes it is "close limit." In addition, studies since Melville's time have indicated that toothed whales (which include sperm whales such as Moby Dick) use echolocation and so do not have a true blind spot there.
"... like the grated nutmeg in a swiftly stirred bowl of punch." Rum punch usually is topped with grated nutmeg.
The belfry is the part of a building (usually a church) where the bells are kept.
"... while still as on the night before, slouched Ahab stood fixed within his scuttle; his hid, heliotrope glance anticipatingly gone backward on its dial; sat due eastward for the earliest sun." To quote Langford Wilson's Fifth of July, I defy anyone to diagram that sentence. However, heliotrope is a plant which was so named because it was believed that it turned its flowers towards the sun, an idea buried in that sentence.
CHAPTER 135: The Chase--Third Day
"... and once more the solitary night-man at the fore-mast-head was relieved by crowds of the daylight look-outs, who dotted every mast and almost every spar." Clearly, the crew has decided to sub-optimize their expectations and it is every man for himself for Ahab's doubloon.
"... this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turned to ice, and shiver it." Ice is less dense than water, so when water freezes, it expands. In general a glass holding water will not break because there is room at the (open) top for it to expand, but if one is talking about an enclosed glass container it could certainly break if the contents froze. Water is one of the few liquids that expands when it freezes. However, Melville is clearly referring to water-based contents—most other liquids have freezing points too low for Melville to be familiar with them. For example, pure ethanol freezes at -173.5° Fahrenheit. The reason that vodka and other beverages expand when frozen is that they are primarily water.
Ahab's hair is "like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava." Greenland lies entirely above the 60th parallel; Mount Vesuvius is almost on the 40th parallel. "Common grass" covers a wide range of species, and the species that grow in Greenland are not the same as those of Italy. In any case, the ones that grow in Vesuvius lava do not grow in molten Vesuvius lava, but rather in soil created by the break-down of Vesuvius lava.
The Trade Winds are winds blowing steadily towards the equator from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere.
"But let me have one more good round look aloft here at the sea; there's time for that. An old, old sight, and yet somehow so young; aye, and not changed a wink since I first saw it, a boy, from the sand-hills of Nantucket! The same!—the same!—the same to Noah as to me." True perhaps in Melville's time, but now we have the Great Pacific garbage patch, discovered in the late 1980s. It lies between 135° and 155° W and 35° and 42° N. Ahab might not have detected it, however, since it is made up of tiny particles almost invisible to the human eye. There is also a Great Atlantic garbage patch and an Indian Ocean garbage patch.
Ebb tide is is the time when the water is flowing away from shore, between high tide and low tide.
"It is a thing not uncommonly happening to the whale-boats in those swarming seas; the sharks at times apparently following them in the same prescient way that vultures hover over the banners of marching regiments in the east." The question here is what is meant by "east"? 1848 saw a lot of wars and conflicts in the eastern part of Europe; for that matter, all of Europe, Africa, and west Asia might be considered east by a Nantucketer.
"Ahab was fairly within the smoky mountain mist, which, thrown off from the whale's spout, curled round his great, Monadnock hump ..." Mount Monadnock is a mountain in New Hampshire with a barren top. This is due to fires set by settlers in 1800 and again in the 1810s, the second of which burned for weeks, hence the idea of "smoky" mountain mist surrounding a barren mound.
"... the red flag, half-wrapping him as with a plaid ..." In this context, a plaid is a piece of clothing worn over the shoulder as a part of Scottish Highland dress.
"I hope my poor mother's drawn my part-pay ere this; if not, few coppers will now come to her, for the voyage is up." Apparently the families of whalers could draw part of their expected pay in advance of their return, given that the whalers might be away for three years, and the families needed money to live on. What is not clear is what happened if the ship failed to return, or returned with less cargo than expected.
"... the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone." One might imagine that ordinary Turks could be as silent, but apparently "mutes" (deaf-mutes, actually) were employed by the Ottoman court as servants as well as assassins because, being deaf they could not hear any conversations they might be bribed to reveal. (And as assassins, they would not have to listen to pleas from their victims.)
"Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea." A Fata Morgana is a "superior mirage" seen in a narrow band just above the horizon and caused by differing temperature layers. It includes seeing the images of ships that are so far away they are well below the horizon. They are named for Morgan le Fay, since it was believed that the Fata Morgana of castles seen in the Strait of Messina were fairy castles in the air created by her.
"... and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it." If this is a reference to some legend about Satan, I was unable to find it.
"'AND I ONLY AM ESCAPED ALONE TO TELL THEE' Job." In particular, this is the refrain of the four servants who come bearing evil tidings in Job:
"And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them: And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee." [Job 1:13–19]
"The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?—Because one did survive the wreck." This is why it is necessary to read the Epilogue.
"Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve." Ixion was king of the Lapiths; when he offended the gods he was bound to a perpetually spinning winged fiery wheel.
"On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan." And here we have the final reference to Rachel "weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." [Jeremiah 31:15]
Note: Several contemporary reviewers of Moby-Dick seemed not to have read the "Epilogue". For example, the Literary Gazette wrote, "How the imaginary writer, who appears to have been drowned with the rest, communicated his notes for publication to Mr. Bentley is not explained." However, it turns out that the first British edition omitted the Epilogue! Clearly, though, this reviewer (and others who made the same mistake) did not remember the chapters "Affidavit" or "The Town-Ho's Story", since both chapters indicate that Ishmael survives this voyage. In the former he mentions he has "personally known three instances where a whale, after receiving a harpoon, has effected a complete escape; and, after an interval (in one instance of three years), has been again struck by the same hand, and slain," these must be on subsequent voyages, especially given the three-year gap. In the latter, he is recounting something in a bar in Lima, apparently well after the current voyage on the Pequod. One might wonder, though, why Ishmael would even consider going on a whaling voyage again after the Pequod!
Evelyn C. Leeper (email@example.com)