Annotations and Commentary on Moby Dick

by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2018

Last Updated 24 Feb 2018

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CHAPTER 96: The Try-Works

An anomaly is something out of place or unexpected.

Masonry is stonework, but is also applied to brick or concrete. Oak is wood, and hemp is from a plant (though not a tree). Though the hemp plant is closely related to marijuana, they are not the same.

A brick-kiln is a kiln in which bricks are made, not a kiln made of brick. Mortar is the paste used to bind masonry together. It includes pitch, asphalt, clay, and cement.

"Knees" were brackets built into the structure of a wooden ship used for attaching or tying things down.

"To batten" is to fasten something with a long flat strip of wood or metal. Now it is used more generally to mean to secure something (e.g., "we are battened down for the hurricane").

Soapstone is a stone made primarily from talc, which has a "soapy" feel, but has no particular cleansing properties. It has many uses, but polishing pots does not seem to be one. Still, it does not seem like something Melville would make up.

A punch-bowl is variable in size, but usually between one and five gallons. The larger size would still be much smaller than a try-pot, but is still one of the largest containers to common use shaped like a try-pot.

"It is a place also for profound mathematical meditation. It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in precisely the same time." A cycloid is the curve traced by a point on the circumference of a circle being rolled along a straight line; it looks like a series of arches. The cycloid Melville is describing is a tautochrone; Christiaan Huygens in 1659 proved that tautochrones were cycloids (with upward-pointing cusps). (The quick explanation of why an object released at any point on the curve will be at the bottom at the same time is that the higher up you release it, the more that gravity's force is exerted vertically, making it move faster. This sounds wrong; if you put something at the cycloid at the very bottom, it will obviously take zero time to arrive there, yet that is clearly not true of any other point. The trick is that each ball is at the bottom after the same time, not that it first reaches the bottom after the same time. Melville's phrasing neither of those, but a somewhat ambiguous third version.)

A fire-board was a board covering a fireplace in warm weather. Before dampers were invented, an unused fireplace could provide entrance for insects, birds, and possibly even small mammals unless it was blocked off with a fire-board (a.k.a.a chimney-board).

"Plethoric" generally means overfull or inflated; I suspect Melville used the phrase "plethoric burning martyr" to mean a heavy (overweight) martyr, who would feed the flames with his own fat. A "self-consuming misanthrope" would presumably be one who feeds his distaste for other people by looking at what a miserable person he himself was.

"Hindoo" is the old spelling of "Hindu". Hindus burn their dead on funeral (funereal) pyres, which would put forth an unpleasant odor. (When we saw the funeral pyres at the "burning ghats" in Benares, our boat was far enough out on the Ganges, and the wind blowing in the other direction, that we could not smell them.)

"It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit." This is a reference to Matthew 25:31-41: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: ... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:"

Greek fire was a highly flammable liquid used to set fire to enemy ships (since it would continue to burn while floating on water). It was invented in the Eastern Roman Empire in the seventh century and is variously thought to have been based on pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur, or niter.

A Hydriote is someone from the island of Hydra. "Canaris" is Constantine Kanaris, a Greek who used fire ships against the Turks in the Greek war for independence in 1822. He was not born on Hydra, though, but on Psara.

Tartarus is the deep dungeon where the Titans are kept imprisoned in pain and torment, as far below Hades as Hades is below Earth. Tartarus is also one of the primordial Greek deities. "Tartarean" would therefore mean "infernal": "Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooneers" would seem doubly infernal to Christian readers.

A sea-sofa is apparently a sofa used at sea.

"Tawny" is orange-brown or yellowish-brown. The harpooners' "tawny features" would be caused by the combination of the darkness of their skins and the orange flames.

A monomania is a "single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind." Ahab has the pre-occupation, though one might question whether he has an otherwise sound mind. However, he does not display other signs of insanity--he doesn't dress strangely, or eat only purple food, or have any other peculiarities.

A binnacle is a stand mounted on the deck of a ship, and holding navigational instruments.

Dismal Swamp, now called Great Dismal Swamp, and the location of the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, is it southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Before the Civil War it served as a refuge for runaway slaves.

"Rome's accursed Campagna" was a low-lying area surrounding Rome. It was in use for farming and residences for much of Rome's history, but abandoned during the Middle Ages when the population of Rome decreased such that these malarial areas were no longer needed. Most of the Campgna, except a section along the Appian Way has been reclaimed as urban land.

"Wide Sahara", or the Sahara Desert, is 3000 miles wide east-to-west. (Wikipedia calls the north-to-south measurement the width and the east-to-west as the length, but it seems likely that Melville meant "wide" to apply to the east-west measurement.)

The Man of Sorrows is a reference to the Messiah-to-come in Isaiah 53: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." [Isaiah 53:3]

Proverbs is explicitly ascribed to Solomon, since it begins, "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;"; Ecclesiastes is traditionally considered to have been written by Solomon, since it begins, "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem." So either Proverbs or Ecclesiastes was likely what Melville was calling "the truest of all books", since it seems unlikely that he would be referring to the Song of Solomon. Given that he separately references Ecclesiastes in the next sentence, I would presume this refers to Proverbs.

Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity. ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon's wisdom yet." This is from Ecclesiastes 1:2. Solomon was of course unchristian, since he lived before Jesus, but Melville is giving it a double meaning, pointing out that in his time "un-Christian" was a term encompassing all the negative aspects of human beings, but that "unchristians" could indeed be embued with "Christian" virtues.

William Cowper was an eighteenth century English poet who wrote about everyday scenes. In later years he became an evangelical Christian and wrote hymns. Edward Young was another eighteenth century English poet. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer. Jean Jacques Rousseau was an eighteenth century Genevan philosopher. François Rabelais was a sixteenth century French writer of fantastic, grotesque, and bawdy works.

"But even Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain" (I.E., even while living) "in the congregation of the dead." This is from Proverbs 21:16.

It has been pointed out that Catskill eagles actually fish in the reservoirs, and it is turkey vultures that soar in the gorges. In any case, Rocky Mountain eagles probably outdo both of them in terms of being the bird with the highest low point of their flight.

CHAPTER 97: The Lamp

"Canonized kings and chancellors" would be those who have been named as saints (e.g., St. Louis or St. Thomas Becket).

A score of lamps would be twenty lamps.

Queens, at least queens in Europe, generally did not nurse their own babies, but hired wet nurses. As a result their milk dried up quickly, hence the scarcity of "the milk of queens."

A pallet is a straw mattress, or more generally, a makeshift bed

The story of Aladdin's lamp is a Middle Eastern folk tale found in The Book of a Thousand and One Nights. It was not included in that work until Antoine Galland added it to his French translation. Galland claimed to have heard it from a Syrian storyteller; no definite "original" source has been found. The story starts out saying it is set in China, but most later references indicate a more Muslim and less Buddhist/Confucian setting, leading some to place it in Central Asia.

"Unvitiated" means "unspoiled".

The feed that cows eat is reflected in the flavor of their butter, so "sweet as early grass butter" tells us that early grass (i.e., the early shoots in the spring) produced the sweetest butter.

"... solar, lunar, or astral contrivances" would have been the original light sources.

CHAPTER 98: Stowing Down and Clearing Up

A surtout is a man's coat similar to a frock coat, and presumably refers to the cassock described earlier.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were advisors to King Nebuchadnezzar who refused to bow down to his idols. According to Daniel 3:20-3:26: "And [Nebuchadnezzar] commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire."

In beer, a six-barrel cask is also called a tun and has a capacity of 216 imperial gallons. A (beer) barrel has a capacity of 36 gallons. An imperial gallon is approximately 1.2 US gallons, so a cask would be 259 US gallons, and a barrel would be 43 gallons. All this is assuming that the measures for whale oil are the same as for beer.

"Ex officio is Latin for "by virtue of one's office or position".

A cooper is a barrel-maker.

A freshet is a rush of fresh water into the sea, or the flooding of a river from heavy rain or snowmelt.

On a ship, bulwarks are the extensions of the sides above the level of the deck.

"The daintiest Holland" are fine Dutch bed sheets.

A cambric is a lightweight, closely woven cloth of cotton or linen.

A piazza is a town square.

Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the soul at death into a new body.

Pythagoras was a 6th century B.C.E. philosopher, though known now primarily as a mathematician. While he did die in "Magna Graecia", Metapontum is actually in present-day Italy. It is not clear whether he was "so good, so wise, so mild," since there is little definite about his life. However, one story has him interceding for a dog that was being beaten (although the reason he gave was that he believed he could hear in its voice that the soul of a deceased friend has transmigrated into it).

CHAPTER 99: The Doubloon

A morass is an area of muddy or boggy ground.

The Milky Way is our galaxy, but here it is specifically the starry band across the night sky we see when we look through the thickest part of our galaxy. However, it is rarely seen these days because of light pollution. (I can remember seeing it only twice--once from the Arizona desert about fifty miles north of Phoenix, and once from the Australian outback.) In various mythologies, it is considered a celestial road, so filling potholes or boggy spots with earth is a reasonable simile.

Pactolus is a river in Turkey. In ancient times it contained electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, and was supposedly the river that cured King Midas, hence its connection to the many references to gold in this sentence..

Verdigris is copper acetate, the green coating that forms on copper, brass, and bronze.

Quito is the capital of Ecuador.

A talisman is a magical object that brings good luck.

Regarding gold South American coins, Melville is speaking of coins primarily from Peru and Ecuador. Palms would be representative of the coastal, alpacas and volcanoes of the higher regions. The alpaca is a domesticated camelid, something like a small llama; they live in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and northern Chile.

The ecliptic is the path the sun appears to trace through the stars over a year; how it can be depicted on a coin is unclear.

The "horn-of-plenty" is a cornucopia: a goat's horn filled to overflowing with fruits, vegetables, and so on. As a symbol of a country, it would represents the fertility and abundance of the land.

"REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO" is "Republic of [the] Ecuador: Quito".

"Ecuador" is Spanish for "equator".

While countries on the equator may have seasons, these would be wet and dry seasons, with nothing resembling our autumn.

The coin described is the same one mentioned earlier in Chapter 36 ("The Quarter Deck") and is an 8 escudos doubloon, minted between 1838 and 1843. It may be "Spanishly poetic", but it was minted long after Ecuador's independence from Spain, so "Spanishly" is inaccurate, or at least misleading.

Cabalistics would be magical symbols.

The "keystone" is the top stone of an arch, so the sun it at the top and center of the zodiac segment, in Libra. The sun enters "the equinoctial point at Libra" September 22, that is, at the (fall in the Northern hemisphere, spring in the Southern) equinox.

Lucifer is another name for Satan, a.k.a. the Devil.

The peak with the flame is a volcano, possibly Cotopaxi, the best-known of Ecuador's many volcanoes.

A magician's glass is a glass (or mirror) into which a magician looked to see the future.

"Methinks" means "it seems to me".

Libra is "the sign of storms, the equinox" because that about when tropical storm season begins. Aries is the zodiacal sign six months from Libra, during the other equinox.

Belshazzar was co-regent of Babylon in the 6th century b.C.E. He was the ruler who gave the feast at which the writing "mene, mene, tekel, upharsin" appeared on the wall, which Daniel interpreted as foretelling Babylon's fall [Daniel: 5:25-28].

The Trinity is "the Christian Godhead as one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

The Moguls (a.k.a. Mughals) were descended from the Turco-Mongol-Persianate conquerors who ruled India from 1526 to 1857 (and hence were still in power when Moby Dick was written). Ahab in this case is "the old Mogul"; "mogul" (lower-case) is used nowadays to mean an important person, especially in the motion picture industry.

To twig something is to understand it, or more to realize it. It appears to be of Irish origin, and is used in James Joyce's Dubliners, but Melville clearly precedes this.

Nine fathoms would be fifty-feet, but in this case seems to be just a synonym for a long face.

In Melville's time, Negro Hill was a district in Boston.

As noted in the annotations for Chapter 1, Corlaer's Hook (a.k.a. Corlears Hook) was part of Manhattan's Lower East Side near what is now FDR Drive and Cherry Street, but is now under a landfill. Negro Hill in Boston and Corlaer's Hook in New York were areas known for their bars, gambling dens, brothels, and so on.

A pistole was a two-escudo gold coin. The eight-escudo gold coin was a quadruple pistole, and was also called a "double doubloon"; eventually English colonists just called it a Spanish doubloon, and valued it at about four pounds sterling. A moidore was a 4000-réis Portuguese or Brazilian, worth about 27 shillings. A joe is a 36-shilling brass coin weight; a quarter joe is a 9-shilling weight.

"Chili" is Chile, "Popayan" (actually Popayán) is a city in Columbia that minted coins from 1760 on.

Golconda was a city in India famous for its wealth.

Nathaniel Bowditch first published The American Practical Navigator: An Epitome of Navigation and Nautical Astronomy in 1802.

An almanac is an annual calendar containing information such as astronomical data and tide tables.

Nathan Daboll wrote an arithmetic textbook in 1799 that remained in common use throughout the 19th century. He also had a navigation schol and published many almanacs, "Raising devils" is obviously a pun on "Daboll"; however, the phrase "devil's arithmetic" itself apparently did not exist until Jane Yolen used it as the title of her book.

"Curvicues" appears to be a word invented by Starbuck.

"Signs and wonders" is a phrase from the Bible: "And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes:" [Deuteronomy 6:22]

Stubb's recounting of the zodiac is fairly comprehensive, though he claims they are "all alive", but Libra (the Scales) are inanimate.

"Jimimi" (a.k.a. "Jiminy") is an expression of surprise, and in this case a pun on "Gemini". It is the shortened form of "Jimini Cricket", which dates back to 1848, shortly before Melville wrote Moby Dick. "Jimini Cricket" was considered a way to say the equivalent of "Jesus Christ!" without blaspheming.

The "little King-Post" is Flask.

"It is worth sixteen dollars, that's true; and at two cents the cigar, that's nine hundred and sixty cigars." Actually, it's eight hundred cigars.

"Halloa" is a variant of "hallo" (or "hello"), and here means something like "wait a minute".

The lion is the horse-shoe sign because the iconic/symbolic representation of Leo is a horseshoe.

"Surgeon's Astronomy" is a malapropism for James Ferguson's Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton's Principles. (1756). Ferguson also published Astronomical Tables in 1763.

"Trowsers" is an older spelling of "trousers".

If Fedallah is a "ghost-devil" he would have to conceal his tail and cloven hoofs, hence "[his] tail coiled out of sight as usual, oakum in the toes of his pumps as usual." Oakum is a fiber made from untwisting old rope and used for caulking wooden ships, or in this case filling the parts of Fedallah's shoes ("pumps") where a human's tarsals and metatarsals would go.

"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look." Pip's conjunction here includes the archaic "ye" for the second person plural. This is not to be confused with "Ye" as in "Ye Olde Shoppe", where the 'Y' stands in for the now-abandoned "thorn" (a letter representing the 'th' sound).

Lindley Murray was a Pennsylvanian Quaker who published his English Grammar in 1795. He also wrote several other books on grammar, reading, and so on.

A flag would be nailed to the mast of a ship as a sign it would never be lowered; this was done only in dire circumstances.

Tolland County is in the northeastern part of Connecticut.

The "green miser" is the sea, which never gives back what it takes.

Hoe-cake is cornmeal flatbread. The term "hoe-cake" was from the southern United States; in the North it was "johnny cake".

CHAPTER 100: Leg and Arm. The Pequod of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of London

Samuel Enderby was the founder in 1773 of Samuel Enderby & Sons, a well-known shipping, whaling, and sealing company in London, which went bankrupt three years after Moby Duck was published.

A roundabout is coat cut in a circle, i.e., having no tails.

Pilot-cloth is a heavy twilled cloth with a thick nap, used for sailors' coats.

A huzzar (a.k.a.hussar) was a light cavalryman in the 18th and 19th centuries. They traditionally wore a short fur-lined or fur-trimmed jacket (surcoat) loose over their left shoulder, hence the reference to the empty arm of a jacket.

The captain of the Samuel Enderby also uses whalebone to replace a limb severed by a whale, though a mallet seems less traditional (or useful) than a hook.

The kelson (as noted in Chapter 9) is a piece of timber at the lowest point of the ship, while the bulwarks are the highest sides of the ship.

Cleets (a.k.a. cleats) are T-shaped pieces of wood or metal to which a rope can be attached, but which could also serve as footholds on the side of a ship.

Bannisters (a.k.a. banisters) are handrails, usually on a staircase. (Balusters are the vertical supports for banisters.) In Melville's case, "bannisters" seems to include the cleats and the ropes which would form the handrails.

The whale ran in circles, just as a circus horse does.

To "trim dish" is to balance the boat.

"Sitting all their sterns" is a polite way to refer to the body parts placed on the gunwale.

"Crows' feet" are the line that form from age around the eyes.

The fast-line is the line holding the whale fast (tight) to the boat.

Fluking is turning one's flukes up prior to diving.

"Down comes the tail like a Lima tower" is probably a reference to the Lima earthquake of 1746. It was magnitude 8.6-8.8 and completely destroyed Lima and Callqo.

A marlingspike (a.k.a. marlinspike) is a tapered metal cone used in marine ropework.

Hot rum toddies were a popular remedy/preventative and were made with rum, sugar, and water. Rum would have been the most common alcoholic beverage on ships in the 19th century.

"Half seas over" is "drunk".

"En passant" is French for "in passing". Its most common use is in chess, where when a pawn makes its initial move two squares forward through a square attacked by an opponent's piece, the opponent can capture it as if it had stopped on that square.

Hydrophobia is rabies. It causes difficulty in swallowing, hence a fear reaction in sufferers when presented with liquids (of any sort) to drink. "Aquaphobia" is the medical term for a specific fear of water unrelated to rabies.

Ceylon is now called Sri Lanka.

An emetic is a concoction to make one vomit.

A lancet is a small surgical knife, which Bunger intends to use to bleed Ahab as a curative.

The Manilla men (as noted in Chapter 48) were the crew of Fedallah's boat, from Manilla (the Philippines).

CHAPTER 101: The Decanter

The Tudors were the rulers of England from 1485 to 1603. The Bourbons were the rulers of France and other states in Europe from the 16th century until the 19th century. (The Bourbons were still in power when Melville wrote Moby Dick.) The two families never united in fact; Melvile means "united" in the sense of "combined"; that is, even including all the history of those two great houses, Enderby & Sons by itself is almost as interesting.

Enderby & Sons started whaling in 1775, but as noted above, began as a shipping firm two years earlier.

The Coffin family began whaling from Nantucket in the 1690s (not 1726). The Maceys are evidently another whaling family. It is not believed that towns on Long Island were whaling as early as 1650.

The Vineyard is Martha's Vineyard.

Melville is careful to specify that Nantucketers were the first to harpoon whales with "civilized steel", since obviously humans were harpooning whales before them. Evidence indicates that harpoons were being used as early as 6000 B.C.E. In historical times, there is reference to Basque whaling as early as 1059 C.E.

Enderby & Sons did send the 270-ton Amelia to the South Pacific in 1788, after getting permission to enter the area, for which the East India Company had held a monopoly. Archelus Hammond killed the first sperm whale there in 1789, and the Amelia returned to England in 1790 with 139 tons of sperm oil.

The Rattler made its voyage of discovery in 1793 and 1794, mapping (among other places) the Galapagos Islands. The Syren sailed in 1819 to the seas near Japan and returned in 1822 with 346 tons of sperm oil.

The Enderby house did indeed exist to the day Melville wrote this, but not too much longer.

The Patagonian coast would be the coast along both sides of the southern end of South America, in Argentina on the east and Chile on the west. flip

"And that fine gam I had--long, very long after old Ahab touched her planks with his ivory heel" clearly indicates that Ishmael will survive whatever happens, though the trick of having a book narrated by a dead person is more of a 20th century conceit in any case.

Saxon hospitality was believed to have been generous by obligation, although more recent research has called this into question.

"Furled our jackets into the sails"--that is, when they rolled up the sails, they caught their jackets in them and ended up entangled in the sail.

"Tars" are sailors.

The forecastle scuttle would be a hole in the side of the forecastle that would let water in (or out).

Bull-beef (or bully beef) is a type of corned beef.

"Dromedary beef" is a joke; there is no such thing. Ishmael is playing off the idea that "bull beef" is meat that comes from bulls, and so there would also be "dromedary beef", or meat that comes from camels.

An antiscorbutic is something that would prevent or combat scurvy. There was a (mistaken) belief that bread was an antiscorbutic. When Ishmael says, "the bread contained the only fresh fare they had," he is referring to bugs.

Hollanders, Zealanders, and Danes would be from Holland (one part of the current Netherlands), Zealand (another part--not New Zealand), and Denmark.

In the online urban dictionary, "swackhammer" is indicated as having an obscene meaning, but I do not know whether this was true in the mid-nineteenth century.

Low Dutch was the dialect spoken in the low countries (the Netherlands). High German is what is spoken in certain regions of southern Germany.

There might be a college of St. Nicholas, since he is a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Orthodox branches of Christianity. But there would not be a college of Santa Claus, and there is no Saint Pott.

Friesland is a province in the northwest of the Netherlands.

Texel cheese is made from sheep on Texel Island, an island off the coast of the Netherlands,

Leyden cheese is a caraway and cumin flavored semi-hard cheese made in the Leiden area of the Netherlands.

A firkin is a small cask, and also a liquid measure that is half a kilderkin, or 72 pints.

An anker is about 41 quarts. "Ankers of Geneva" would casks of gin.

A pipe is 105 gallons. A barrel is one-eighth of a pipe. Six gills make a quart.

A trancendental application would pertain to a spiritual or non-physical realm. A Platonic application would be an ideal (or theoretical) application. Hence, rather than two different types of applications, Melville lists two somewhat similar ones. On the other hand, transcendental conveys the idea of something beyond definition, while "Platonic" means the perfect embodiment of a definition.

During the whaling era, Greenland was a Danish colony. Spitzbergen is in Norway, and Norway was part of a union (and the weaker part) with Denmark until 1814.

CHAPTER 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

The Arsacides is Cape Arsacides, in the northeastern part of Malaita, an island in the Solomon Islands.

"Untagging the points of one's hose" means to unfasten one's trousers; points were cords with metal tips used to fasten trousers in Melville's time.

Before elastic came into use, garters were fastened with buckles, hence "unbuckling his garters."

Hooks and eyes were a common fastener for clothing before machine sewing made buttonholes easy to make. When there were buttons, they tended to be paired with loops rather than holes.

Ishmael makes a small joke by referring to "the subterranean parts of the whale."

It seems peculiar that someone knowledgeable about whales would refer to a "small cub Sperm Whale," rather than a "small calf Sperm Whale."

The poke or bag is the stomach of the whale.

Tranque is a fictional tribe/area on Malaita. Pupella and "Bamboo-Town" are equally fictional.

"Dey" was the title of the rulers of Algiers under the Ottoman from 1671 until France conquered Algeria in 1830.

"Vertù" is excellence in an object of art, but Ishmael limits Tranquo's interest to just those items of barbaric "vertù".

"Fathom-deep enfoldings" would be six feet deep if Ishmael were speaking literally.

"The hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles" was popularized by Cicero in "Tusculan Disputations" (45 B.C.E.). Damocles was not the ruler in the parable, but someone who was impressed (or claimed to be) by the greatness of the tyrant Dionysius II of Syracuse (late fifth century B.C.E.). Dionysius sat Damocles at his banquet table and wined and dined him until at some point Damocles noticed a sword suspended over his head by a single horsehair. This emphasized the point (!) that if you have great wealth and power, you are also a great target.

The Icy Glen is another name for the Ice Glen in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Ice Glen is known for its rocks covered with mosses, and Melville would have been very familiar with the area.

The warp are the long yards held in place by the loom, the woof (or weft, is the yarn which is drawn through in an over-and-under fashion, by the shuttle (a wooden object holding a bobbin of yarn and pointed at both ends)..

Verdure is lush green vegetation.

A freshet-is a flood of water from a heavy rainfall or snow rushing through a river.

A trellis is a wickerwork framework that supports wines.

Admeasurements are apportionments.

If the Leviathanic Museum in Hull actually existed, its function (and exhibits?) have probably been incorporated into the current Maritime Museum.

I can find no record of a whaling museum in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Sir Clifford Constable of Burton Constable, Yorkshire, did indeed display the skeleton of a sixty-foot-long sperm whale in his park. It is still there, but has been moved into the Great Barn.

Sir Clifford was lord of the seignory (territory) where the skeleton was discovered and hence had the right to claim ownership of it.

Here we have yet another example of Melville's humor: "The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing--at least, what untattooed parts might remain--I did not trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale."

CHAPTER 103: Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton

If a 60-foot whale weighs 70 tons, a 90-foot whale of congruent shape would weigh 3.375 times as much, or 300 tons. If, on the other hand, it is the same size in cross-section, but just longer, it would weigh 105 tons. Melville's estimate of 85 to 90 tons seems to assume not only a mere elongation, but also more lengthening of the less dense sections and less of the denser ones.

"Reckoning thirteen men to a ton" means an average of 150 pounds or so per man, which seems low. However, he then cites a village of 1110 people as being comparable, and that would include not just men, but also women and children, so 150-pound average might be accurate. The current figure used by the U.S. Coast Guard for "Assumed Average Weight Per Person" is 185 pounds, but this probably assumes a higher proportion of adults on a ship than in the population at large, and also a tendency to add a safety margin.

Ishmael's injunction to "carry [the skull] under your arm" sounds like a reference to the idea that the ghosts of those who have been beheaded carry their heads under their arms, as in the song "With her head took'd underneath her arm, she wa-a-alks the Bloody Tower" written by R. P. Weston and Bert Lee in 1934, and originally performed by Stanley Holloway. Presumably the song was based on actual legends.

Briefly, Ishmael says that the skeleton is four-fifths (80%) the length of the whale, and the skull and jaw two-sevenths (roughly 30%) of the skeleton, with the remaining 70% being backbone, and a third of that the support for the ribs. So, a 90-foot whale has a 72-foot skeleton, a 20-foot skull, and a 50-foot backbone, of which 17 feet supports the ten pairs of ribs. What this means (among other things, is that the giant whale has fewer ribs than a man does.

The Pompey's Pillar referred to is clearly the Roman triumphal column in Alexandria, Egypt, and not the rock formation east of Billings, Montana, reached by Lewis and Clark in 1806.

Ishmael claims that in a sperm whale, "There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton are not locked together." Whales actually seem to have "sixty and odd" vertebrae (it varies across species)--I cannot find a figure for sperm whales specifically--but in sperm whales only the first cervical ("neck") vertebra is free, while the remaining six are fused.

The "great knobbed blocks on a Gothic spire" were a distinctive architectural feature of the period between the 12th and 16th centuries in Europe.

More of Melville's attitude toward organized religion can be seen in his reference to "some little cannibal urchins, the priest's children," although it is not clear whether he is referring to a Catholic missionary's children, or merely those of a heathen priest, who might not be bound by the rule of chastity.

CHAPTER 104: The Fossil Whale

To expatiate is to write extensively.

Am imperial folio is a large book, approximately fifteen inches by twenty-two inches.

"Not to tell over again his furlongs from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measures about the waist; only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines, where they lie in him like great cables and hawsers coiled away in the subterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship." Hawsers (a.k.a. hausers) are heavy ropes used to moor or tow ships. The orlop-deck is the deck where cables (and hawsers) are stored. This is an example of over-flowery writing, if not expatiation specifically. The rest of this paragraph continues this style.

"To approve [oneself] omnisciently exhaustive" would be to cover absolutely every detail about a subject. "Approve" is synonymous with "prove" here.

"Seminal germs" would be sperm cells. They would not be found in a whale's blood.

"Having already described him in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in an archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view." Habitatory refers to behavior, the last three refers to information about ancient whales, antdiluvian referring to the time before Noah's flood. (Whether Noah's flood would have had any effect on whales is not touched upon.)

"Fain am I to stagger to this emprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me." This is a very self-referential passage. A quarto, while smaller than an imperial folio, is still large, being twelve inches by nineteen inches. Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, containing almost 43,000 words and over 100,000 literary citations. It was not surpassed are the pre-eminent English dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1884. Johnson himself was both tall and portly, hence the reference to his "personal bulk."

Chirography is penmanship. "Placard capitals" would be large capital letters, suitable for public signs designed to be read quickly from a distance. (The formal term for capital letters is "majuscule"; one is surprised Melville did not use that word instead.) A condor is a very large bird, hence with a very large quill; people still wrote with quill pens in Melville's time. Vesuvius is a volcano near Naples.

Ishmael compares whales to mastodons, which in Melville's time were the largest known land animals ever to have lived. Some dinosaur bones had been discovered earlier, but none of the truly large dinosaurs were discovered until after Moby-Dick was published. In any case, it is worth noting that the largest animal ever to exist was, and still is, the blue whale, which is twice the size of titanosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis.

Melville says of his writing, "We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it." The expansion of writing that he refers to is not that of mere size, but of theme and philosophical ideas. However, he seems to be claiming that the subject of a great book must have a certain physical size, and humans are much smaller than whales, so he would seem to be claiming that one could not write a great book about humans as easily as about whales. (Proportionally, a human is closer to the size to a whale than to a flea. At one pound, a guinea pig would be about the halfway point.)

"I desire to remind the reader, that while in the earlier geological strata there are found the fossils of monsters now almost completely extinct; the subsequent relics discovered in what are called the Tertiary formations seem the connecting, or at any rate intercepted links, between the antichronical creatures, and those whose remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark..." Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection was not published until 1859, but clearly the ideas of extinction, and to some extent evolution, were around before then, though Melville does talk about monsters "now almost completely extinct." However, his acknowledgement that Cetacean fossils are not identical to known existing species but are "akin to them" at least implies something other than the creation of each species ab nihilo.

The Tertiary Period is the period from 66 million years ago to about 2 million years ago, and is the beginning of the "Age of Mammals". Again, clearly there was knowledge of geologic time, and of the animals of at least some of the periods.

"Pre-adamite whales" would be those existing before Adam. Since whales were created on the fifth day [Genesis 1:21-22], and Adam on the sixth [Genesis 1:26-31], this would still be acceptable terminology from a theological standpoint. By the middle of the 18th century, scientists were knowledgeable about geological time, and reconciled it with the Bible by saying that the "days" of the first chapter of Genesis were not 24-hour days, but days of indeterminate length but at least in the millions of years.

"Antichronical" refers to something out of the normal progress of time, a term which could be applied to many of the fossils found around that time.

In Melville's time, Lombardy was a kingdom in the northwest part of Italy ruled by Austria, though it was briefly a republic after the 1848 revolution. Milan was the capital of Lombardy.

There was indeed a whale skull found in 1779 in the Rue Dauphine in Paris, discovered in a wine cellar. The palace of the Tuileries was the royal (and imperial) residence of Paris from the 16th century until it was burned by the Paris Commune in 1871.

Construction of Antwerp's docks were begun by Napoleon in 1811.

As noted, the whale discovered in 1842 on the Clarke County, Alabama, plantation of Judge John Creagh was a Basilosaurus; the Basilosaurus cetoides is now the Alabama state fossil.

"I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man." Melville's use of the flood simile brings to mind Noah's flood, which was (and still is) frequently used as an explanation for extinct species (drowned in the waters), and for the existence of marine fossils on mountain tops or elsewise well above sea level (carried there by the waters at their maximum height). The notion that time began with man would seem to contradict Genesis, however, since man was not created until the sixth day and pretty much everything else was created before him (as noted above). It also seems to refer to the pre-Socratic philosopher Protagoras's statement, "Man is the measure of all things."

"Saturn's grey chaos" refers to the god of Roman mythology, or rather to the Greek god Cronus (a.k.a.a Kronos) with which he was identified. Cronus was the Greek god of chaos; the Roman version Saturn was much better regarded, being the god of the seasons, the calendar, and the harvest.

If "not an inhabitable hand's breadth of land was visible" from the poles to the tropics, then all the land animals would have died off. This is therefore a bit of poetic license on Melville's part. He seems a bit vague on whether the earth was covered with ice, or water, but apparently it was a combination of the two.

"The Himmalehs" are the Himalayas. However, whales never swam over the Andes or the Himalayas; the sea level was never that high. Although one might claim that at some point the areas that are now the Andes and the Himalayas were not that elevated, this would have been well before whales populated the oceans. The Himalayas as a mountain range formed about 40 to 50 million years ago, about the same time as whales evolved, but by then the land that became the Himalayas was above sea level.

The Pharaoh referenced would be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Rameses II, around 1300 B.C.E. or so. Methuselah reportedly lived to be 969 years old, and died (according to Biblical scholars) 3074 B.C.E. Shem was on of Noah's sons; the Flood was supposedly seven days after Methuselah died. "Antemosaic" would be "before Moses", hence before 1300 B.C.E., just as "antediluvian" is "before the Flood." However the whales have not "been before all time," since as noted above they were created on the fifth day [Genesis 1:21-22], after the first four days. However, they were created before humans, so Melville's poetic claim (for symmetry, one presumes) that they "must needs exist after all humane ages are over" has at least some rationale.

Limestone is a sedimentary rock that often contains fossils, as is marl. (The first hadrosaur skeletons were found in Haddonfield, NJ, only a few miles from Marlton, so named because of its marl pits.)

Melville speaks of "Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim for them an almost fossiliferous character," but the oldest tablets would be no earlier than 3000 B.C.E., and the youngest fossils are 10,000 years old (by definition).

Denderah (a.k.a. Dendera) was built in Egypt in the 1st century B.C.E. and has a zodiac painted on its ceiling. The ceiling would be a planisphere, a spherical image projected onto a plane.

The "grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns" would be the constellations.

"Centuries before Solomon was cradled" would be centuries before 1000 B.C.E., which is about when Solomon was born.

"Osseous" means consisting of, or turned to, bone.

Just as antedilvuian means "before the Flood," so "post-diluvian" means after the Flood.

John Leo, the old Barbary traveller, is Johannes Leo Africanus (born al-Hasan Ibn Muhammed al-Wazzan al-Fasi), now known as Leo Africanus. He was best known for his 1550 book, Description of Africa.

"Afric" is an obsolete (or poetic) form of "African".

CHAPTER 105: Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?--Will He Perish?

Have whales actually been constantly getting larger? In the case of blue whales, yes.

Melville leaves the Biblical timescale and switches to the geologic one. The Tertiary "system" (or period, as we would probably say) is the oldest of the Cenozoic Era, dating back to 60 million years ago.

Aldrovandus (a.k.a. Ulisse Aldrovandi) was a 17th century Italian naturalist.

"Rope Walks" were long, straight paths used to lay out the strands of a rope before they were twisted together. The rope walk at Chatham Dockyard (built in 1790) is 1135 feet long, or almost a quarter of a mile.

"Thames Tunnels" refers to the underwater Thames Tunnel connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping. It is 1300 feet long (a quarter of a mile). As with all "underwater" tunnels, it actually runs through the ground below the riverbed.

"Banks and Solander, Cooke's naturalists" were Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who sailed with Captain James Cook on his first voyage (1768-1771).

"Iceland whales (reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled Bellies)": "Reydan" is Icelandic for "whale". "Fiskur" is Icelandic for "fish". It is not surprising that Melville would have replaced an 'f' with an 's' since even though the 'long s' had disappeared from printing by the time of Moby-Dick, it was still seen in handwriting. [Interesting side-note: Although the 'long s' in English resembles the terminal lower-case sigma in Greek, the English 'long s' was never used at the end of a word.] Lacépède was Bernard Germain de Lacépède, a French naturalist of the late 18th and early nineteenth century. His history of whales was Histoire naturelle des cétacées, published in 1804.

Smithfield is a cattle region of Australia.

Just because people and cattle are getting bigger does not mean that all animals are. Consider insular dwarfism and Foster's rule.

"Behring's straits" was an alternate spelling of the Bering Strait.

Speculating on the possible extinction of whales, Melville says: "Though so short a period ago--not a good lifetime--the census of the buffalo in Illinois exceeded the census of men now in London, and though at the present day not one horn or hoof of them remains in all that region; and though the cause of this wondrous extermination was the spear of man; yet the far different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily forbids so inglorious an end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one ship hunting the Sperm Whales for forty-eight months think they have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when the far west (in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness and a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of months, mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that, if need were, could be statistically stated." Melville seems to believe that whaling would never get any more efficient than it was in 1851, or that more ships would go out each year.

Melville then argues, "[At] one hunting the King of Siam took 4,000 elephants; that in those regions elephants are numerous as droves of cattle in the temperate climes. And there seems no reason to doubt that if these elephants, which have now been hunted for thousands of years, by Semiramis, by Porus, by Hannibal, and by all the successive monarchs of the East--if they still survive there in great numbers... Again, Melville underestimates the increasing efficiency of hunting, and the vastly decreased numbers of elephants in Thailand today are evidence of that. (There are currently only about 3500 wild elephants and 4000 captive elephants in Siam (Thailand).)

Of course, since "Harto, historian of Goa" appears to be someone Melville invented, in is possible that the figure of 4000 elephants killed in a single hunt is made up as well. Goa is a state along the western India coast that was a Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961.

Semiramis was a mythical Assyrian queen.

Porus was king of the Pauravas from 340 to 315 B.C.E. and fought against Alexander the Great in the Battle of the Hydaspes.

Hannibal was Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian general who lived from 247 B.C.E. to 181 B.C.E., who brought war elephants over the Pyrenees and the Alps from Iberia to Italy in 218 B.C.E. during the Second Punic War. (Actually only one of the forty elephants he started with survived the entire journey, and half of his army died as well.)

As noted above (Chapter 104), the Tuileries was the royal (and imperial) residence in Paris from 1564 to 1871. It was still undergoing construction when Melville wrote Moby Dick.

Windsor Castle is the British royal residence and has been since the early 12th century, making it the oldest royal residence in Europe.

The Kremlin is a fortified complex in Moscow begun in the 14th century but not "completed" until 1851 (though parts were later dismantled or destroyed in 1918). It has served intermittently as the residence of the Tsars and the heads of state of the U.S.S.R. and the Russian Republic.

"[If] ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats" is apparently a reference to William of Orange flooding part of the country in 1672 during the War of Spanish Succession in order to drown the armies of Louis XIV and block the French armies from conquering the United Provinces. "Rats" here is metaphorical.

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