Annotations and Commentary on Moby Dick

by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2018

Last Updated 27 Feb 2018

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CHAPTER 37: Sunset

"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 consist 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 at 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

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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." 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 rulein 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 plan 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?" Priohitee 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.)

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 write 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 last 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 thta 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 them, 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 poluuting 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 and though to the noble Iroquois, "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 the Book of 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 Book of 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."

There was indeed a legend of the White Steed of the Prairies. To say he was elected Xerxes compared 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 pacyderms, 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.

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, Mogul originally being the head of a Mongolian dynasty.

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.

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 he rather than round Cape Horn, he went 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 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 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 recoved his sight when God sent Ananias to heal him

"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 Lamchatka Peninsula and the mainland of Russia. Captain D'Wolf is Captain John DeWolf, known as "Northwest John", 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 newphew 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 must be from the Secret History, since it has nothing to do with either buildings or wars, 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.

The charge of usurpation against Ahab is that he was commissioned to hunt whales for oil and spermaceti, not to spend time, supplies, and men in a private vendetta.

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 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.

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 main=yard is the crosspiece from which the mainsail is hung. To back the main-yard 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 Duke of York says to his uncle, King Richard, in Richard III:

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.      [Act III, Scene I]

Weltering is rising, falling, and tumbling about in waves (of water).

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 military, 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.

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.

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Evelyn C. Leeper
(eleeper@optonline.net)