Annotations and Commentary on Moby Dick

by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2018

Last Updated 24 Feb 2018

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CHAPTER 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

Arion was an ancient Greek poet, supposedly kidnapped by pirates and rescued by a dolphin.

Sag-Harbor is a village on Long Island that was at one time a major whaling port.

Bishop John Jebb was an Irish bishop who attempted to explain the seeming impossibilities of Jonah being swallowed by any sort of whale. (The fact that one illustration portrayed the whale as a particularly problematic variety does not signify that that was the actual variety.)

The "Russian campaign" was Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, in which 400,000 of Napoleon's 685,000 troops died, some in battle, but most from cold and lack of provisions, because as they retreated the Russians burned everything the French might have been able to use.

The suggestions that Jonah ended up inside a dead whale or a ship named the Whale are unattributed, as is the suggestion that the whale was merely a life-preserver. I do not doubt someone made them, but I have not been able to put names to them.

The explanation of how Jonah and the whale (whatever it was) got from the Mediterranean to near Nineveh on the Tigris in three days is also analyzed--it is clear that it would have to circumnavigate Africa, but that cannot be done in that period of time. Bartholomew Diaz is the first European known to have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, in 1488.

The "Portuguese Catholic priest" who proposed this route is unnamed.

John Harris compiled the Collection of Voyages and Travels in 1705. I cannot seem to find any reference to support Melville's story, "And some three centuries ago, an English traveller in old Harris's Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honour of Jonah, in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil." CHAPTER 84: Pitchpoling

Queequeg's "rubbing in the unctuousness as though diligently seeking to insure a crop of hair from the craft's bald keel" refers to the many patent medicines then (and now) which purport to stimulate hair growth when rubbed into the scalp.

The Battle of Actium, in 31 B.C.E., was between Octavian on one side and Marc Antony and Cleopatra on the other. At some point in the battle Cleopatra signaled her fleet to retreat and it fled in disarray. It is not clear exactly what her reasons were for retreating: general panic, strategic retreat, an attempt to flee with the treasury--all have proposed.

The "life spot" is obviously the blowhole.

Stubb says that the whale is spouting wine because of the red color. He then says he would prefer whiskey, and mentions "old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable old Monongahela." "Old Monongahela" does not refer to the rye whiskey of that name (which was first distilled in 1854 (after Moby-Dick was written), but was a generic term used to refer to rye whiskey from the western counties of Pennsylvania. Presumably "old Orleans" and "old Ohio" were also either popular brands or popular types of whiskey.

Melville uses the comparison specifically of a greyhound because that is considered the fleetest of dogs. The cord attached to the lance is the leash, but here the analogy fails, because racing greyhounds are not kept on a leash.

CHAPTER 85: The Fountain

Six thousand years is roughly the age of the earth as described in the Bible; "no one knows how many millions of ages before" is the age as described by the science of Melville's time. Melville is emphasizing the disagreement, and (to me) seems to be coming down on the side of science.

"Fifteen and a quarter minutes past one o'clock P.M. of this sixteenth day of December, A.D. 1851" is probably not when Melville was writing this, or when Ishmael was writing this, or when Ishmael was thinking about this, but a representative time when the reader is reading it, since the book was published in 1851. As such it is in some sense when Melville/Ishmael is telling it to the reader.

"A herring or a cod might live a century..." Atlantic cod (the longest-lived cod species) can live more than twenty years; herring live about twenty years. Melville could more accurately have said, "Even if a herring or a cod lived a century..."

Melville credits whales with being able to stay under water for an hour; actually some species can stay under water for up to two hours.

In addition to whales, the windpipes of dolphins and porpoises have no connection with their mouths either,

The Cretan labyrinth is the labyrinth connected with the Minotaur of legend.

The vermicelli Melville refers to would probably be the worm, not the pasta (which was named for the worm). The pasta may have existed in 1851, but it seems unlikely Melville would be familiar with it.

"A thousand fathoms in the sea" and "a thousand fathoms below the sunlight" would be 6000 feet below the surface.

Melville does not make the mistake of thinking the camel stores water in its hump--that is mostly fat--but he nevertheless makes two mistakes about the camel. First, a camel has three stomachs, not four. But more importantly, it does not store water in any of them. It just uses water very efficiently, and is very well-designed to avoid dehydration.

Melville's claim that each whale always takes the same number of breaths when he rises seems very unlikely, but I cannot find any specific statement on it.

"Cologne-water" was originally a specific perfume created in 1709, but since 1797 came to cover all scented mixtures with a strength between that of toilet water and perfume. Of late the term "cologne" has become strongly identified with scents marketed to men rather than to women.

While toothed whales (including the sperm whale) have no sense of smell, at least some baleen whales (e.g., the bowhead whale) do have a sense of smell.

The Erie Canal was built between 1817 and 1825, so was still relatively new and newsworthy when Melville wrote Moby-Dick.

It is now well known that whales produce sounds for communication. Toothed whales produce clicks, whistles, and other sounds through a series of specialized organs. Baleen whales have a larynx, but the exact mechanism used to produce sounds is not yet known. However, Melville was clearly wrong when he said that the whale has no voice.

And then he adds, "But then again, what has the whale to say?" Well, in fact whales need sound for communication with each other because all other senses are lessened in water: vision is limited, and smell and taste are diffused too rapidly. It is also clear that Melville did not have the same understanding of cetacean intelligence that we do.

A dromedary has a single hump and is the African/Arabian species of camel. The Bactrian has two humps and is found in Asia. Both are found in Australia, though the population there is primarily dromedary. There is also a hybrid camel, a cross between the two.

As for what the whale's spout actually is, it is the condensation of water vapor in the breath it expels, much as humans can "see their breath" on a cold day. There may also be some mucus which could account for the caustic effect Melville cites.

Plato was a Greek philosopher of the 5th Century B.C.E. Pyrrho was a Greek philosopher of the 4th and 3rd Centuries B.C.E. founder of the school of skepticism. The Devil is presumably the Christian Devil. Jupiter is the head of the Roman pantheon, equivalent to Zeus. Dante is Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, which he wrote from 1308 to 1321.

CHAPTER 86: The Tail

"[The] lovely plumage of the bird that never alights" would seem to refer to the mythical Huma, but since it is usually described as flying invisibly, the plumage would also be invisible. However, there is also a legend that a glimpse of this bird makes one happy for life, so apparently it is possible to see it, and it must be pretty impressive.

Melville's description of Roman walls as having alternating layers of tiles and concrete is reasonably accurate.

"Titanism" is a reference to the Greek Titans, the gods which preceded the better-known Olympians. In this case it references both their size (as in "titanic") and their strength (as in "titanium").

"Devout Eckerman" is Johann Peter Eckermann, friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Eckermann is best known for Conversations with Goether; Goethe is best know for Faust. The reference to a Roman arch is the second reference to Roman construction in this chapter.

The "carved Hercules" was the Farnese Hercules from Pompeii.

The "Angelo" who painted God in a robust human form is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Is Melville implying that Ishmael is unfamiliar enough with Michelangelo that he thinks his name is Michael Angelo.

Melville's description of the Italian portrayals of Jesus "soft, curled, hermaphroditical", "so destitute ... of all brawniness," hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance" says as much about his views of masculinity and femininity as about Italian Renaissance painting. And his comparison of this with Christianity says a lot about his view of that religion as well.

To lobtail is to slap one's flukes against the water.

Melville says that "[being] horizontal in its position, the Leviathan's tail acts in a different manner from the tails of all other sea creatures. It never wriggles." This is not entirely true--other cetaceans have horizontal tails. This is due to evolution: fish evolved from animals that undulated side-to-side, while marine mammals evolved from land mammals whose spine undulated up and down.

A "frock" in the 19th century apparently applied to clothing of either sex.

"Darmonodes' elephant" seems to refer to a story in Plutarch's Moralia About an elephant who gave nosegays from the flower market to young women. It is unknown where the name Darmonodes comes from--it does not match standard Greek name structure (much as we would say that "Darhen" is not an English name).

The young women's "zones" are their waists (or more specifically, the belts or girdles worn around their waists).

A touch-hole is the hole on a musket to which one applies the fire.

For a bird to flirt is for it to open and close its wings with a quick flicking motion; here Melville applies it to a whale's flukes.

Satan is portrayed in many forms; in one he has claws instead of hands. It is presumably tormented because Satan is in Hell, though he is also portrayed as ruling in Hell, not being tormented. The "flame Baltic of Hell" uses "Baltic" to mean simply "sea".

The Dantean mood would be that brought about specifically by Dante Aligheri's "Inferno", since obviously his "Paradiso" is not populated by demons, but by angels. The Book of Isaiah contains writing about archangels.

The "fire worshippers".of Persia referred to were Zoroastrians. However, Zoroasterians do not worship fire; rather, they see fire as a symbol of purity, righteousness, and truth. The detailed knowledge of non-Christian religions was not a priority in the 19th century, and sailors would be unlikely to have encountered many, since they lived primarily far inland. (Persia is known today as Iran.)

Ptolemy Philopater is more accurately Ptolemy IV Philopater reigned towards the end of the third century B.C.E. It is not surprising that he was knowledgeable about elephants, since his army was involved in one of the two great elephant battles of the ancient Middle East, the Battle of Raphia. That African elephants were used contradicts the commonly held belief that African elephants are not trainable.

King Juba would be King Juba II, whose father (King Juba I) was defeated by Julius Caesar. King Juba II was eventually restored to the throne of Numidia and was also noted as an author and a student of natural history. Flavius Philostratus specifically mentions Juba's discourse on elephants.

Why does Melville specify an Indian juggler with his balls? Could it be that circuses or shows of the time employed only Indians, or (more likely) traditionally billed their jugglers as Indians to add a touch of exoticism?

We still see a remnant of "mystic gestures" today in the motions of magicians' hands, but in Melville's time, there was more belief in the efficacy of them in performing actual magic.

"Free-Mason signs and symbols" refers not just to the common belief that Freemasons have secret signs by which they recognize each other (which is probably true), but also to the then-current belief that they also used secret signs for magical rituals.

"But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none? Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face shall not be seen." This refers to Exodus 33:20-23: "And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen."

CHAPTER 87: The Grand Armada

"The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca" is now primarily Malaysia; the water between it and the island of Singapore are still the Malacca Straits. "Birmah" is now Burma (Myanmar), and "Bally" is now "Bali".

The "thickly studded oriental archipelagoes" would include the East Indies, the Philippines, and so on.

"Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java." They are now called the Sunda Strait (singular). The straits are only 15 miles across at their narrowest, but also very shallow (65 feet in parts). That is why they were important when ships were smaller, but as ships got wider and deeper, they became less useful, and modern ships use the Strait of Malacca instead.

Java Head was used as the title of a 1934 movie.

"[The] inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory with which the thousand islands of that oriental sea are enriched" reminds us of how this area was a destination for traders of one sort or another for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

The area has "the appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping western world" by Java Head. But as the history of the area shows, it was pretty ineffectual, with the Dutch East India Company followed by the French and then the British in controlling the region.

"The shores of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied with those domineering fortresses which guard the entrances to the Mediterranean, the Baltic, and the Propontis." The Mediterranean is guarded by the Rock of Gibralter, the Baltic by Kronberg Castle in Helsingør, and the Propontis (the Sea of Mamara) by the hills of Gallipoli.

"Unlike the Danes, these Orientals do not demand the obsequious homage of lowered top-sails from the endless procession of ships before the wind." Apparently this dates back to the fifteenth century--all ships passing Kronberg Castle were required to lower their sails. And there were very specific rules about when the sails needed to be lowered and when they could be raised, and which sails, and so on.

The "piratical proas of the Malays" would be their outrigger canoes or other multi-hulled sailboats. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca was both profitable for the pirates and useful for the local rulers, and had been common for hundreds of years.

Piracy did eventually get greatly reduced by the Europeans, though as Melville notes, not entirely eliminated, and still exists even to this day.

Calling the Pequod "circumnavigating" is a bit inaccurate. It reached the Pacific by sailing east around the Cape of Good Hope, and "circumnavigating" implies that it planned to sail east around Cape Horn as well. But it was extremely rare for ships to sail in that direction--they would return the way they had come. The "Line" is the equator.

"[The] circus-running sun has raced within his fiery ring" compares the sun to something like a circus horse that runs around the ring with a trick rider on its back.

Calling a cargo of trade goods "alien stuff" indicates the whalers' scorn for the merchant seamen, but is also somewhat ironic, since while the whaler's ship starts out with only what the crew itself needs, but eventually fills itself with whale oil and ambergris, two very alien substances that they will then sell when they reach home.

Of course, the fresh water in the hold is not "bottled" but stored in casks or barrels. (And just from the point of view of volume, it would have to be a fairly small lake to have "a whole lake's contents" held inside the ship.)

Pig-lead is crude lead cast in blocks (or "pigs"), which clearly has no use on board ship other than as ballast. Kentledge is pig iron or scrap metal used as ballast. Ships expecting to acquire goods (in exchange for cash, jewels, or lighter-weight items) would take on enough ballast at the beginning of their trip to stabilize the ship, and then discard it as the weight of the actual cargo increased.

It is quite possible that the water from Peruvian or Indian streams was "brackish" when drawn near the mouths of the streams (as a whale ship would do). While spring water or rain water as one would get on Nantucket would be clear and uncontaminated, water flowing down tens or hundreds of miles through tropical forests would pick up all sorts of plant and animal matter on the way, and by the time it got near the sea might be very repulsive indeed.

It is understandable that a ship that did not touch land for three years would consider itself an ark capable of riding out even the Great Flood, which lasted less than a year, although the average whale-ship did not have a menagerie aboard it as well.

The four oceans were (and to some extent still are) the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian, and the Arctic.

"Unlike the straight perpendicular twin-jets of the Right Whale, which, dividing at top, fall over in two branches, like the cleft drooping boughs of a willow, the single forward-slanting spout of the Sperm Whale presents a thick curled bush of white mist, continually rising and falling away to leeward." The right whale has a divided spout; the sperm whale does not.

A "high hill of the sea" would be the crest of a wave.

In the days of coal or wood fires, chimneys would all have a stream of smoke rising from them. (That was the cause of the famous London fogs of the time.)

Melville is not suggesting that the white elephant of the Siamese was actually swimming at some point, but that just as it was in the midst of beings not as sacred as itself, Moby-Dick might be found traveling with more ordinary whales. While white elephants owned by monarchs were considered a blessing for him, the presentation of one to a courtier was often ruinous for the courtier, since they were expensive to maintain in a manner befitting their status and could not be put to any labor.

By "in our van" Ishmael means "in our vanguard," or "in front of us."

It is typical of Melville's time that he could write about "these rascally Asiatics" without any trace of irony.

Rowels are spiked revolving disks at the end of a spur, used by a rider to goad a horse.

A defile is a narrow pass or gorge between two mountains or hills.

"Inhuman atheistical devils" may have a trace of irony, though. Or maybe not.

Cockatoo Point is 9°7'50.7"S, 160°17'11.4"E.

"Drawers" is a semi-obsolete term for men's underwear.

King Porus was King Parvateshwar was defeated by Alexander in the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 B.C.E.

Melville described the American bison as "lion-maned buffaloes" to distinguish them from the true buffalo of African, Asia, or Europe.

"Gallied" is a nautical term meaning worried or frightened.

In this instance, a shoal is a school of fish (or a pod of whales) swimming together, rather than a shallow area.

"Ice-isles" seems to be Melville's own coinage, meaning either icebergs or ice floes. The description of "striving to steer through their complicated channels and straits, knowing not at what moment it may be locked in and crushed," though, seems to imply floes in a close pack rather than bergs.

"Sheering" is now more commonly spelled "shearing".

"Wonted" means "customary or usual."

The sperm whale's hump leads to Melville referring to it as a dromedary (camel).

"Drugg" is defined by Melville. One suspects that even among readers who would recognize most nautical terms, this one was uncommon. Similarly, he also defines a "sleek".

Melville"s imagery of circus horses and riders tells us that this particular display dates back at least to his time.

"Embayed" means "to shelter, as in a bay."

"Gulf-weed" is another name for sargassum.

The "maternal reticule" is the womb; a reticule is a woman's small purse.

By "bent like a Tartar's bow" Melville implies a very sharp bend, not merely a slight bend.

"The sperm whale, as with all other species of the Leviathan, but unlike most other fish, breeds indifferently at all seasons; after a gestation which may probably be set down at nine months, ..." It is not surprising that the breeding season of the sperm whale differs from "other" fish, because it is not a fish. But Melville gets the gestation period wrong--it is sixteen months for the sperm whale.

"An Esau and a Jacob" refers to the twin sons of the Biblical Isaac.

"The milk is very sweet and rich" because whale milk has the second highest fat content of any mammal milk, with 34.8 percent fat. (Gray seal milk is the highest, with 53.2 percent.) By comparison, reindeer milk has 22.5 percent, sheep's milk 5.3 percent, goat's milk 3.5 percent, cow's milk 4 to 5.5 percent, and human milk 4.5 percent.

One eyewitness at the Battle of Saratoga described General Benedict Arnold as "inspired by the fury of a demon."

When Melville speaks of "the great river Hudson [breaking] up in Spring," he is referring to a full river freeze rather than just some sections and, while common in the 19th century, it became rare in the 20th. (It may be making a come-back in the 21st, though.)

The Dardanelles (also known as the Hellespont) is the strait in Turkey that separates Europe from Asia at that point. It is 1.2 kilometers (0.75 mile) wide at its narrowest point.

"Waifed" is another lesser-known whaling term that Melville defines for his readers. "A pennoned pole" is one with a pennant or banner on it (sort of like the flag on a golf hole).

CHAPTER 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

"Cavalier" now means "showing a lack of proper concern," but Melville is using its older meaning of "pertaining to horsemen, mounted soldiers, or [especially] knights." "Chivalry" comes from the same root. The reference to gallantry in the next sentence emphasizes the chivalric aspect.

An Ottoman was a Turk (as in the "Ottoman Empire"), and the "harem" and "concubines" refer to the practice of polygamy, particularly in the upper classes, where the concept of a secluded harem was more common than in the poorer classes.

Melville's definition of "delicate" as "not to exceed a half dozen yards round the waist" is another example of his humor. "En bon point" is, conversely, plumpness and voluptuousness.

"Bashaw" is an earlier spelling of pasha, which is a high rank in the Ottoman political hierarchy. When Turkish was converted to the Roman alphabet, the spelling used became "pasha".

Lothario was a character in "The Impertinently Curious Man", a story narrated within Don Quixote. In that, Lothario was a serial seducer pf women.

More, precisely, Solomon was reported to have "seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines..." [I Kings 11:3]

"Grand Turks" were high-ranking men in the Ottoman Empire.

A bower is a shelter in a garden made of tree limbs or vines, but is also a lady's private chamber in a medieval castle.

Eugène Franc¸ois Vidocq was a famous criminal in late 18th and early 19th century France who repented of his criminal past and joined with law enforcement, founding the S&ucarat;reté.

Lord Byron wrote in Don Juan:

Of the great names which in our faces stare,
     The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals any where;
     For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoyed the lonely vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.

But in fact, Daniel Boone was married for over fifty years and had ten children. So Melville (and Byron) seem to have exaggerated his desire for "no one near him but Nature herself."

"Forty-barrel bulls" would be those who yielded forty barrels of oil.

Gout was considered the result of over-indulgence in food and drink, hence "penal" (or disciplinary) in nature. In spite of Melville's tendency toward off-color puns, this is probably not a reference to any particular body part.

CHAPTER 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

The States-General was the Dutch Parliament.

Justinian's Pandects (a.k.a. "The Digest") was a fifty-volume compendium of Roman law compiled by Justinian I between 530 and 533.

"The By-laws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People's Business" are an invention of Melville's.

A Queen Anne's farthing was the smallest-valued British coin, representing a quarter ("fourth") of a penny. They were minted in 1814 (Queen Anne's final year), and were the first farthings after the union of England and Scotland in 1707; it never really entered circulation. It was small, being only 22 millimeters (0.8 inches) in diameter.

"Coke-upon-Littleton" is the short name for "The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England. Or, a Commentarie upon Littleton, Not the Name of a Lawyer Onely, but of the Law it Selfe," first printed in 1628. It is Coke's commentary on Thomas de Littleton's treatise on land tenure, a subject not unrelated to the question of whale ownership at sea. So the "Coke-upon-Littleton of the fist" would be basically the use of force to decide the issue.

"Trover" is taking possession of personal property that has been lost, or a legal action to recover lost property.

"Doxology" is a song of praise to God. A "doxology to the deed" would be the claiming not only of the whale, but also of the equipment.

Mr. Erskine was Thomas Erskine, noted for defending radicals in the late 18th century. These included Lord George Gordon, William Davies Shipley, John Stockdale, and Thomas Paine, and resulted in changes to laws regarding treason, libel, and insanity defenses.

Lord Ellenborough was an English judge of the same period, and eventually Lord Chief Justice. The case Melville refers to does not seem to have been a notable one in either man's career.

A "crim. con. case" is a criminal conversation case. Criminal conversation is a tort resulting from adultery, and was a suit brought be a husband for compensation for the breach of fidelity of his wife. It was abolished as a tort in England in 1857.

The Temple of the Philistines was the temple Samson brought down in Judges 16:23-30. Samson brought down the Temple of the Philistines by pulling upon just two pillars; Melville says the Temple of the Law also depends on just two props.

"Is it not a saying in every one's mouth, Possession is half of the law...?" Actually, so far as I can tell, no. The saying is in every one's mouth is that possession is nine-tenths of the law. And that is certainly closer to what Melville says next: "But often possession is the whole of the law."

In Melville's time, Russian serfs were effectively owned by their masters; they were not freed until 1861. They were subject to all the laws of chattel slavery, with the exception that masters could not kill them.

"Republican slaves" refers to slaves in the United States, though "Republican" often has the implication of "French Republic."

The story of the "widow's last mite" is told in both Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4. Although both versions refer to two mites, the story is invariably titled in the singular. In any case, Melville is referring more to the notion of a widow having only one mite (half a farthing) and the landlord taking it rather than to the story of the widow giving it to the Temple as an offering.

"What is the ruinous discount which Mordecai, the broker, gets from poor Woebegone, the bankrupt, on a loan to keep Woebegone's family from starvation;" The names in this section are abstract and allegorical (such as the ones in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Origress), so the use of the Jewish name Mordecai would seem to imply that Jews are the "abstraction" of brokers (money-lenders).

Other abstract names are the Archbishop of Savesoul and the Duke of Dunder. John Bull is the personification of England, created in 1712, just as Uncle Sam is the personification of the United States. The "apostolic lancer, Brother Jonathan," is another personification of the United States.

"What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish...?" Well, other than in the possession of all the indigenous population, that is, but we see as Melville goes on about Poland, Greece, India, and Mexico that he is indulging in irony here. Indeed, the whole comparison of a fast fish and a loose fish with various spouses is another example of Melville's humor.

CHAPTER 90: Heads or Tails

In "'De balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam.' BRACTON, L. 3, C. 3.", Bracton is Henry of Bracton, a 13th century English cleric and jurist. The translation Melville gives is reasonable.

The Cinque Ports are a confederation of seaports in Kent and Sussex: Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich.

A beadle is a minor parish officer dealing with petty offenders. Lord Warden is a title specific to the Cinque Ports.

A sinecure is a job with no real work, but granting its holder status or money. Fobbing is trying to pass something off as more valuable than it is. Perquisites ("perks") are special privileges that come as part of a job.

"Blackstone" refers to Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone, written in the 18th century.

The Duke of Wellington Melville refers to is the hero of the Napoleonic wars, who did not die until 1852.

Edmund Plowdon was a 16th century English lawyer who wrote commentaries on England's laws.

CHAPTER 91: The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud

"In vain it was to rake for Ambergriese in the paunch of this Leviathan, insufferable fetor denying not inquiry." That is, it was useless to search for ambergris in the stomach (abdomen) of the whale, even though the unbearable stench did not stop the search." Sir Thomas Browne was a seventeenth century polymath who wrote widely in all subjects, and is cited in the OED over two thousand times as the first usage of a word or of a particular meaning of a word, and over four thousand as the first evidence of a word. Melville was supposedly heavily influenced by his style, and called him "a cracked archangel." Browne wrote about seeing a beached sperm whale on the Norfolk coast; he went hoping to get some ambergris. He wrote an account of this in Pseudodoxia Epidemica ("Vulgar Errors") in 1646, which Melville seems to misquote. The text I found has it as, "In vain it was to rake for Ambergreece in the panch of this Leviathan, as Greenland discovers, and attests of experience dictate, that they sometimes swallow great lumps thereof in the sea; insufferable fetor denying that enquiry." By changing "that" to "not", Melville has reversed the sense of Browne's statement; Browne is actually saying they could not continue the search. "V.E." stands for "Vulgar Errors", and "Vulgar" is in the older sense of common or popular (i.e., the Vulgate is the Bible in the common language of its time--Latin--rather than Hebrew or Aramaic)..

To keel up is to turn over, the keel being the underside of the ship.

Why "an Assyrian city" in the plague? It brings to mind the Siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians approximately 701 B.C.E., which failed when the Assyrian army was struck by a plague, as described in II Kings 19:35: "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." While an army camp is not a city, it is likely this is what Melville is referring to. This verse, by the way, is often pointed out as paradoxical/oxymoronic.

Attar-of-rose is the oil contained in rose petals and is produced using steam distillation. Note the irony of the name of the ship, which is quite the opposite of attar-of-rose.

Nosegays are another plague reference; they were thought in medieval times to help ward off the Black Plague, which was believed to be caused by bad air.

"Crappoes" may be derived from the French "crapaud", or toad. Could it just be a play on "crap"? The The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is of no help, not even listing the slang meaning. The sense of residue or scrap goes back well before Melville's time, though it is possible.

Obviously the slang meaning of "dipping one's wick" (having sexual intercourse) must have been in use back in 1851.

Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands. In Melville's time, French (Guern&eaccute;siais) was still the official language of Guernsey. This, as well as historical ties to France, would make it not surprising that Guernseymen would sail on French ships.

Posies are a bunch of flowers rather than a specific type of flower.

A gill is (was) a quarter of a pint, or four liquid ounces.

The "Cologne manufacturer" was a manufacturer of perfumes, not a manufacturer from the German city of Cologne. Ambergris was used in the manufacture of perfumes.

Worsted is fabric made from combed long-staple wool, making a close textured surface with no nap.

"Their olfactories" is just a fancy way of saying "their noses."

An anathema is a formal curses by a pope or a Church council.

"Abaft" means closer to the stern of a ship.

St. Jago was the nineteenth century name for the island of Santiago, Cape Verde, "Santiago" being Portuguese for "Saint James". (In Cape Verde Creole, it is "Santiagu".) There are monkeys in Cape Verde but they arrived from Africa; the only indigenous mammal being a bat.

Bordeaux would be any wine produced in the Bordeaux (Gironde) region of France.

"[It] was like turning up old Roman tiles and pottery buried in fat English loam." By the nineteenth century, archaeology was quite the thing, so finding ancient relics of Rome in England would have been profitable for the finder. Loam is a soil of clay, sand, and humus.

Windsor soap was a fine scented soap. "Ripe" implies particularly odorous, though in this case the odor was very pleasant.

A guinea was a quarter an ounce of gold. it was originally (1663) worth a pound sterling, or twenty shillings, but fluctuations caused this to change. From 1717 to 1816 it was fixed at twenty-one shillings; in 1816 it was replaced by the pound as the unit of currency. The term "guinea" continued in use to mean twenty-one shillings, and was considered more aristocratic than the pound. As a result, it remained in use for the prices of luxury goods until the 1970s.

The entire episode is, of course, an example of Melville's humor.

CHAPTER 92: Ambergris

Amber is fossilized tree resin. Ambergris is the secretion of the intestines of the sperm whale. So they do not even come from the same kingdom.

It is not just the Turks who use ambergris in cooking. The Chinese were the first to be recorded as using it in food, Charles II ate it in eggs, Cardinal Richelieu consumed in in pastilles, and it was used in a variety of foods over the years and in many countries.

Frankincense is an aromatic tree resin. So it is perhaps understandable that ambergris was confused with amber, both being aromatic materials.

Turks would go to Mecca to perform the haj, or pilgrimage, at least once in their lifetime.

Dyspepsia is indigestion.

Brandreth's pills were a strong purgative (hence the need to "run out of harm's way" after administering them to the whale|) that was very popular for the middle half of the nineteenth century. The Brandeth Pill Factory is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Trowsers" is an alternate spelling of "trousers". The term "trousers" is more common in England, where "pants" has traditionally referred to underwear. One presumes that it was also more common in the United States in the nineteenth century.

"Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonour, but raised in glory." This refers to I Corinthians 15:42-44: "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."

Regarding "what it is that maketh the best musk," Paracelsus said in The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings, "Hence it happens that occasionally some of the excrement is mingled with musk, because this penetrates more readily than any lily with all its operations."

Whether in its early manufacturing stages, Cologne-water really was the most malodorous is not clear, but one suspects these days, there are far worse.

"Slatternly" means "dirty and untidy", and like its root, "slattern", is almost always applied to a woman. The male equivalent of a slattern is a sloven, though the noun form is rarely used these days.

"Odious stigma" is not quite a pun ("odious" being derived from Latin "odium", or hatred, rather than from the Latin "odor", or smell), but there is clearly an implied pun here.

A bung hole is a hole in the side of a cask or barrel through which it can be filled or emptied; it is stoppered with a bung. "Bung hole" has acquired a vulgar meaning that makes its modern usage in the original sense problematic.

A lying-in hospital was a maternity hospital. The reference to a grave-yard is not because that is where they generally built lying-in hospitals, but as a contrast: just as the death in grave-yards contrasts with the life in lying-in hospitals, so does the stench of the "untried" whale contrast with the sweet-smelling products produced from it.

Smeerenberg (or Schmerenburgh) was a settlement on Amsterdam Island in Svalbard in the first half of the seventeenth century. It has acquired a mythic status, with hundreds of ships and thousands of inhabitants and visitors. In fact, the maximum would have been a dozen or so ships and maybe four hundred men.

Fogo Von Slack is not a real person, nor is his book on smells a real book (alas!).

"... nor can whalemen be recognised, as the people of the middle ages affected to detect a Jew in the company, by the nose." Melville here refers to a supposed smell that Jews give off, not to the shape of their noses. (Note that he also denies this, describing it as something peopleaffected to do.)

Myrrh, like frankincense, is an aromatic tree resin.

Reagrding "that famous elephant, with jewelled tusks, and redolent with myrrh, which was led out of an Indian town to do honour to Alexander the Great?" a Greek named Apollonia reported that in Taxila (in present-day Pakistan) four hundred years after the Battle of the Hydapses, people were honoring an elephant that they claimed had fought for Alexander in that battle. Since elephants do not live hundreds of years, the aceepted explanation now is that the elephant was a descendent of the famous Ajax.

CHAPTER 93: The Castaway

Melville uses "comprising" correctly here, meaning "making up", rather than "composed of", which is gradually replacing the original meaning.

A reminder: a wight is a living or sentient creature.

If Pippin is his nick-name, and Pip its abbreviation, what is his actual name?

Another reminder: Dough-Boy is the steward, called that because his face looks like a pale loaf of bread.

Calling Pip's ethnic group a "tribe" is somewhat derogatory. (The use of the term "tribe" to refer to Jews is similarly derogatory.)

The idea that for blacks, every day is a festive holiday, indicates that either Melville is being ironic or incredibly dense and insensitive, for how could slaves consider a day of forced labor a festive holiday?

Tolland County in Connecticut is in the northeastern part of the state. It is the smallest county in Connecticut, and in the mid-nineteenth century has about 20,000 people on 410 square miles of land. By comparison, the island of Nantucket had about 9000 people on 45 square miles of land.

Referring to it as Pip's native county could be accurate, since the importation of slaves from Africa was banned in 1809.

Even-tide is evening.

"Ha-ha!" here is laughter, not the landscape design of the same name.

A tambourine is a round drum-like instrument with "zils" (small cymbal-like disks) set in it frame. The horizon replaces these with stars.

"A blue-veined neck" would be that of someone we would cal a "blueblood". This came to refer to the upper class because they did not work outside, hence their skin was paler, hence the blue blood in the veins was more visible than in heavily tanned farm workers.

Moby-Dick was written too early for "unnatural gases" to be fluorescent lights. Rather, than are just gas lights, unnatural when compared to the candles and oil lamps that had been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

An effulgence is a brilliant radiance.

A poltroon is a craven coward.

Pip's "blue, choked face" would appear to be an error, especially since Melville described Pip's blackness as having a brilliance that implies a face very black.

Execrations are curses.

"... a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama." The average price for a slave in 1850 was $400 ($11,300 in 2009 dollars), so that implies a whale was worth $12,000 (or $339,000 in 2009 dollars). Records show that a whale produced an average of 20 barrels of oil, with between 30 and 35 gallons per barrel, or about 650 gallons of oil at $1.77 a gallon for low-quality oil, and about twice that for high-quality. That's between $1150 and $2300 per whale, considerably less than $12,000. Even assuming Pip sold for $200, it closer to a factor of six than thirty.

Gold-beater's skin is the outer membrane of a calf's intestine and has many uses, including the manufacture of gold leaf (hence the name).

A spring-carriage was a carriage mounted on springs, and while we would not call a ride in it "easy," it was certainly easy compared to the carriages that preceded it.

A merman is the male equivalent of a mermaid.

CHAPTER 94: A Squeeze of the Hand

What Melville calls "sperm" is, of course, spermaceti, not sperm. However, referring to "spermaceti" would not make this chapter nearly as salacious as it is.

"Constantine's bath" probably refers to the public Baths of Constantine in ancient Rome.

A mollifier is now something that soothes, but used also mean a softener.

It is not clear whether Paracelsus's superstition that "sperm" calms anger applies to sperm or spermaceti. It could very well be sperm, since he had various theories about sperm and homunculi, which would mean that his superstition does not apply to Ishmael's situation.

White-horse is the substance between the upper jaw and junk of a sperm whale.

Citron is a citrus fruit, related to lemons, limes, and oranges, but in spite of the appearance of the word in various other languages meaning one of these fruits, in English the citron is not any of them. Unlike the rest, the pulp of the citron is dry, and what is used is the rind. It is used in the Jewish festival of Sukkoth; the Hebrew word for it is "etrog".

Louis le Gros was Louis VI of France (1081-1137); I am unable to find out just how much he did weigh. Presumably on "the first day after the venison season, and that particular venison season contemporary with an unusually fine vintage of the vineyards of Champagne" the King's thigh would have been particularly fat from over-eating venison and drinking a lot of champagne.

Slobgollion is a term defined by Melville, and some claim coined by him. It is related to "slumgullion", supposedly first used by Mark Twain in Roughing It (1872). "Slumgullion" is described as derived from "slum", meaning "slime", and "gullion", meaning " "mud or cesspool". If this is true, then it must have been in use before 1851 and Melville just spelled it differently. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary ignores both Melville's and Twain's use and cites a 1894 Bret Harte quote as first usage.

Gurry is generally defined as "fish offal"; Melville seems to consider it as a specific "dark, gelatinous substance scraped off the back of the Greenland ... whales."

Melville describes nippers as being part of the whale's anatomy. As with many of the words in this chapter, it is impossible to find any other such usage.

A squilgee is a squeegee (e.g., "Giuliani got rid of the squeegee men in New York City).

A tyros is a novice or a beginner.

Pike-and-gaffmen use pikes and gaffs. A gaff is a stick with a hook, or a barbed spear, used for spearing fish. A pike is a very long spear; it is meant to be thrust, not thrown.

Spademen use spades, tools with rectangular, sharp-edged blades on a long handle.

"Recondite" means little-known or abstruse (although one suspects that defining "recondite" as "abstruse" is not the most useful definition).

"Toes are scarce among veteran blubber-room men." We were told that the same is true of piranha fisherman in South America, since even after the piranha appear dead in the bottom of the boat, they have been known to suddenly revive and make use of their sharp teeth to avenge themselves on the fisherman.

CHAPTER 95: The Cassock

A "post-mortem" is an examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death, an autopsy.

Scuppers are holes in the sides of a ship that allow water to drain from the deck. The lee scuppers would be those on the leeward, or downwind, side.

Rather than name a specific length, Melville describes the "cassock" as "longer than a Kentuckian is tall." Kentuckians are stereotypically tall and lanky.

"And an idol, indeed, it is; or, rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which, King Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th chapter of the First Book of Kings." These idols were often phallic in shape.

There is a fish dubbed the "Fundulus grandissimus", but it is only twenty centimeters long. Melville's euphemism appears to be the generally accepted meaning.

A grenadier was a soldier armed with grenades or a grenade launcher. Now the term applies to soldiers in special regiments or units, regardless of weaponry.

A pelt refers to the skin of an animal with the hair or fur still attached. "The pelt of a boa" is an oxymoron--reptiles have no hair or fur.

Pantaloons were close-fitting pants (trousers) for men, even though now the term refer to women's baggy pants gathered at the ankle.

"Canonicals" refers to the official clothing of the clergy.

An investiture is a ceremony which confers an honor or rank on someone.

The "wooden horse" is like a saw-horse.

Why "bible leaves"? The average Bible has over 1200 pages. With normal paper this would make a very thick (and heavy) book. So Bibles (along with dictionaries, encyclopedias, Norton anthologies, and other books with a lot of pages use "Bible paper" (lightweight offset paper, between 22gsm and 40gsm). In spite of its thinness, Bible paper must be durable since a Bible is read and re-read. On the other hand, because you do not read a Bible cover-to-cover the way you do a novel, handling the "flimsy" pages is not the chore it would be in, say, Les Miserables.

An archbishopric is the office of an archbishop or the area over which he has authority. Clearly here it is a pun.

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