Annotations and Commentary on Moby Dick

by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2018

Last Updated 24 Feb 2016

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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 waiver 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 descendents 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.

"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.)

"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.

CHAPTER 27: Knights and Squires

"Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man." I guess "Cape-Codder" sounded weird. By the way, the correct term for a resident of Massachusetts is "Bay Stater" or a "Massachusian". For Connecticut, "Nutmegger" is more common than the official "Connecticuter".

A "rigadig tune" is one expressing monotony. Though the word is in the 1989 Oxford English Dictionary, it is not considered a valid Scrabble® word.

"[As] in time of the cholera, some people go about with a camphorated handkerchief to their mouths; so, likewise, against all mortal tribulations, Stubb's tobacco smoke might have operated as a sort of disinfecting agent." Camphor was considered a preventative of cholera in the 19th century; even today it has it proponents. Tobacco smoke, however, is probably just wishful thinking, although in Australia they are attempting to genetically engineer tobacco to produce measles vaccine.

"The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha's Vineyard." Tisbury is also known as Vineyard Haven, and has a population of about four thousand.

"As a carpenter's nails are divided into wrought nails and cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Little Flask was one of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long." Wrought nails are cut from a slender wrought bar of iron and then shaped. Cut nails are cut from a sheet of rolled iron and then shaped. Cut nails were originally more brittle and could not be "clinched," or driven through two pieces of wood with the protruding point than hammered back down, providing a much more secure join. Cut nails also could not be straightened if bent.

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 an 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.

"Dough-Boy" was a term for a young baker's apprentice, but Melville clearly chose it for its evocation of a pale-faced below-decks crew member, in contrast with the sunburned crew above deck.

"I guess he's got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it's a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say--worse nor a toothache." This would be a "tic-douloureux"--a stabbing pain on one side of the face causing a twitch or tic. This conversion of French words into English sound-alikes seems to be a long-standing tradition: during World War I, Passchendaele became "Passiondale" and Ypres became "Wipers".

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.

"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." Some day I may annotate all these; this is not that day. However, I will note that when Melville earlier refers to "the great Cuvier," 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. Scoresby and Beale were mentioned earlier. Frederick Debell Bennett wrote A Whaling Voyage round the Globe, from the Year 1833 to 1836. I am not sure who the Rev T. Cheever was, but Henry Cheever wrote The Whale and His Captors

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 than 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." 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 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 provides a lengthy catalog of whales. Again, some day I may annotate all these, but not today.

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.

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 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. 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 Vendô 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 world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
     Act I, Scene II
When 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).

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 $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 appelation 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.

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Evelyn C. Leeper
(eleeper@optonline.net)