CHAPTER 106: Ahab's Leg
Ishmael refers to Ahab's ivory leg as "dead bone," but ivory is not bone. Ivory is dead matter from the teeth and tusks of mammals. Bone is part of the skeletal system of mammals and other animals. Bone will have minute pores on the surface and is softer, lighter, and rougher than ivory.
"[It] had stake-wise smitten" means it had been driven into Ahab's body (specifically, his groin), end first.
"Grand Lama-like exclusiveness": The Grand Lama is also known as the Dalai Lama. Ishmael's term "exclusiveness" here refers to isolation or seclusion, however, which is not a feature of the Grand Lama's existence. Melville seems to be projecting the lives of monks in monastic orders onto the life of the Grand Lama.
The "unseen, ambiguous synod in the air" would be angels; the "vindictive princes and potentates of fire" would be the demons of Hell.
CHAPTER 107: The Carpenter
To insert a bull's eye in the deck would be to install an oval or circular wooden block with a groove around it and a hole in the center through which one threads a rope. (A bull's eye in a deck could also be a thick disk of glass to admit light below, but this is unlikely on a whaler such as the Pequod.)
"Athwartship" means "across the ship, from side to side."
A belaying pin is a pin or rod used to secure a rope fastened around it.
A top-block is a block hung under the cap of a lower mast and used in lowering the topmast.
"An unfractioned integral" may sound good, but is mathematical nonsense. Melville is confusing "integrals" with "integers".
"Multum in parvo" is literally "much in little", or more colloquially, "much in a small space."
The "Sheffield contrivances" are clearly what we would call today "Swiss Army knives." The "Offiziersmesser" was invented in 1891. The term "Swiss Army knife" was coined by American soldiers after World War II. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on Swiss Army knives cites the "Sheffield contrivances" of Moby Dick as clearly being a forerunner of the Swiss Army knife.) The largest Swiss Army knife is "The Giant", released in 2006 with 87 tools and 141 functions. Undoubtedly, "not only blades of various sizes, but also screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers, [and] countersinkers" were included.
Quicksilver is another name for mercury.
Hartshorn was an aqueous ammonia solution used as smelling salts, prepared from deer's horns.
CHAPTER 108: Ahab and the Carpenter
The carpenter also refers to what he is working on as bone. But it must be ivory, because he says, "That is hard which should be soft [the ivory], and that is soft which should be hard [the file]." For that matter whalebone is also not bone at all, but a keratinous material similar to horn.
A "ferule" is a flat ruler with a wider end, used for punishment. Melville probably meant "ferrule", a metal ring or cap that strengthens the end of a stick and keeps it from splitting.
A buckle-screw is the screw that fastens the leather loop that holds the buckle on a belt.
A hop-pole is a vertical support for a hop vine.
A "Mogul" is a member of the Muslim dynasty of Mongol origin founded by Tamerlane, and which ruled India from the 16th to 19th century.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus was one of the Titans, and supposedly created man from clay.
"Imprimis" means "in the first place" and is used to introduce a list.
The Thames Tunnel, finished in 1843, was 35 feet wide and 20 feet high.
Ahab describes the "phantom limb" syndrome fairly accurately.
A poser is a difficult question or puzzle.
A pudding-head is a person who is not very intelligent or clever.
When the carpenter says, "I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with the wealthiest Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was the world's)," he is referring to the auctioning of the title of emperor that took place after the assassination of Pertinax by the Praetorian Guard. The auction was won by Didius Julianius, who ruled for 66 days before he was killed. However, it was not the Praetorians who were bidding--they were selling, not buying.
It should go without saying, but by "queer", the carpenter means "peculiar" rather than "homosexual".
The carpenter says, "What was that now about one leg standing in three places, and all three places standing in one hell--how was that?" I am as mystified as he was.
Herons are long-legged wading birds.
The "resurrection fellow [who] comes a-calling with his horn for all legs, true or false" would be Gabriel whose horn, among other uses, also announces (brings about?) the Resurrection. However, I think the general dogma is that bodies would be resurrected intact, with all their original limbs and parts, rather than with artificial replacements.
CHAPTER 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin
Formosa was an earlier name for Taiwan, and was derived from the Portuguese word for "beautiful". The "Bashee Isles" were presumably in the Bashi Channel (note spelling change), part of the Luzon Strait. They are probably what are called the Batan Islands today. They were first mapped by William Dampier during his 1699-1701 voyage.
"Niphon" became "Nippon", which then became the name for the entire nation, with the island being Honshu. Matsmai is Hokkaido, and Sikoke is Shikoku.
A burton is a heavy tackle made of several blocks and used for lifting heavy objects. "We must up Burtons" means they must haul up the barrels to find and repair the leaks.
"T'gallant-sails" is an contraction of "topgallant-sails".
Top-sails are sails above other sails.
CHAPTER 110: Queequeg in His Coffin
A puncheon is a short post used to support the roof of a coal mine.
A tierce is a cask with a volume of a third of a pipe, or thirty-five imperial gallons.
A shook is a set of staves and headings for one cask. The staves are the vertical wooden slats; the headings are the top and bottom disks.
A demijohn is a bulbous, narrow-necked bottle. "Air-freighted" does not mean sent by airplane (obviously), but rather filled with air (as opposed to liquid).
Queequeg's "woollen drawers" were his woolen underpants. Why woolen underwear in the South Pacific? One imagines that most sailors had a limited wardrobe, and woolen underwear would be necessary in the colder climates or at night.
Zoroaster was a prophet somewhere in western or central Asia between 2500 to 3500 years ago. Just as there is no agreement on when or where he was born, there is none on when, where, or how he died, though there is general consensus that he was 77 years old. There are undoubtedly some stories of "strange things in his face," though they are by no means common.
A Chaldee was a native of Chaldea in the southeastern corner of Mesopotamia between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C.E.
The Lackaday islands are the Laccadive Islands, or Lakshadweep.
The Antilles include Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands, and several other islands.
CHAPTER 111: The Pacific
The "South Seas" is what we call the "South Seas", encompassing the Pacific Ocean south of the latitude of Panama.
When Ishmael speaks of "that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues of blue," this is not an exact measurement. At its widest point it is 12,300 miles or a little more than 3500 nautical leagues.
The "fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John" refers to the legend that St. John is not dead, but just sleeping, and his breath would cause the dust around the altar of the basilica where he was buried to stir. This made it holy, and pilgrims would bring flasks to collect the dust.
Potters' Fields are burial grounds for the poor. The name comes from Matthew: "Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day." [Matthew 27:3-8]
"Magian" refers to the magi of ancient Persia, with particular reference for Christian readers of the "Three Magi", especially in terms of their being rovers.
It is somewhat obvious that the Indian Ocean could be considered an arm of the Pacific Ocean, but the Atlantic is less obvious. One thinks of the Strait of Magellan as connecting the two (which it does), but that is not the primary connection. That is the Drake Passage, which is about 600 miles wide. (The Strait of Magellan is shorter and more sheltered, but also very narrow. As ships got larger, the Drake Passage became the preferred route.)
"Moles" are stone structures used as piers or breakwaters. (The most famous "mole" was probably the one at Dunkirk used in the World War II evacuation.)
There were still "unknown Archipelagoes" in Melville's time, and "impenetrable Japans" refers to the isolation of Japan when Moby Dick was published. Japan enacted sakoku ("closed country") between starting in 1633 and remained closed to almost all foreigners until Admiral Matthew Perry's visit in 1853 (two years after the publication of Moby Dick.
Pan is the Greek god of nature.
CHAPTER 112: The Blacksmith
A ringbolt is a bolt with a ring fitted through an eye in the bolthead.
The foremast is the mast of the ship nearest the bow.
Boat-spades were spades carried in the whaleboats and used to cut the tendons of the a whale's fin or tail to disable it.
The "Bottle Conjuror" here is alcohol. There was an anonymous hoax in 1749 regarding "The Bottle Conjuror" who would supposedly put himself inside a wine bottle; he failed to appear at the scheduled performance.
Crape is a hard, scratchy silk with a crimped appearance produced by heat, and associated with mourning clothes.
CHAPTER 113: The Forge
Iron-wood is the common name for many varieties of wood known for their hardness.
"Mother Carey's chicken" is the folkloric name for a storm petrel.
Nail-stubs are nails used in shoeing horses.
Matches used to be called "lucifers". Ahab could also be using it to mean "devils".
A fusee is a large-headed match that will stay lit in a strong wind.
The powder-pan on a musket holds the powder which is then lit by a spark from the flintlock.
"Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" ("I do not baptize you in the name of the Father, but in the name of the Devil!") is Ahab's transformation of the standard blessing, "Ego baptizo te in nomine patris, ..."
Seizings are a class of stopping knots used to semi-permanently bind together two ropes or other objects.
The Three Fates were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho spun the thread of life, Lachesis measured it, and Atropos cut it. In some stories the three are represented as one goddess.
A mummery is a ridiculous or absurd ceremonial, particularly of a religious nature.
CHAPTER 114: The Gilder
A birch canoe, also known as a birchbark canoe, was the lightest of canoes made by the Indians..
"[When] beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang." While a heart beats beneath a skin, paws do not conceal fangs, but rather claws.
CHAPTER 115: The Pequod Meets The Bachelor
"Vernal" means "referring to the spring," as in "vernal equinox."
Ether does not refer to the anesthetic, but to the material that was thought to fill the universe above the earth's atmosphere and provide a medium to carry light waves. It is also spelled "aether".
Starbuck calls them "teeth-tiered sharks" because sharks' teeth grow in rows back to front (perpendicular to the jaw), with the back teeth moving forward when the front tooth falls out.
The Bachelor's sailing around the other ships in a sort of victory dance is not unlike a football player's dance in the end zone after a touchdown.
Bunting is a decoration of fabric or material imitating fabric.
Signals, ensigns, and jacks are flags. Jacks are flown on the jackstaff at the bow, while ensigns are flown on the stern. Jacks are named after James I (who signed himself "Jacques") during whose reign the Union Jack was designed.
A brazen lamp is a brass lamp.
The "cursed Bastile" (usually spelled "Bastille" and formally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine) was a fortress in Paris. It was begun in 1357 and finished in the 1380s. Used as a prison since 1417, it served as a symbol for the oppressiveness of the French monarchy and was stormed by revolutionaries on July 14, 1789, its seven prisoners freed, and its store of gunpowder seized. It was destroyed by November, 1789.
The taffrail is the rail and decoration around a ship's stern.
CHAPTER 116: The Dying Whale
An orison is a prayer. To inwreathe (or enthreathe) is to surround or encircle, so "inwreathing orisons" would be prayers that surrounded and engulfed one.
Vesper hymns would be hymns sung at vespers, or evening prayers.
in 1851, Manilla (or Manila) and the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire and so were one of the few places in the South Pacific where Christianity was the dominant religion, hence the "Spanish land-breeze" and "convent valleys".
The Niger River is the third longest river in Africa, after the Nile and the Congo. Its source is in the Guinea Highlands. One reason for the difficulty in determining the source is that it is only 150 miles inland, although the river itself takes over 2500 miles to finally reach the Gulf of Guinea. Though Mungo Park mapped much of the river in 1804, Richard and John Lander finally established its source in 1830. So speaking if "the Niger's unknown source" is a bit anachronistic in 1851. (The source of the Nile was not discovered until 1858; that would have been a better choice.)
CHAPTER 117: The Whale Watch
A waif-pole is the pole to which the masthead waif is made fast. A waif, or waft, is a flag used to signal wind direction.
Lake Asphaltites was another name for the Dead Sea, and Josephus claims it was formed by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Hemp was commonly used for hangmen's ropes.
CHAPTER 118: The Quadrant
A brace is a rope or line used to rotate a yard (the spar on a mast from which the sails are set) around a mast.
Effulgence is extreme brightness.
"Cabalistic" means relating to mystical or esoteric doctrine. Though some use Cabala, Kabbalah, and Qabalah (and other spellings) interchangeably, they are frequently distinguished as follows: "Kabbalah" refers to Jewish mysticism, "Cabala" refers to Christian mysticism, and "Qabalah" refers to Hermetic mysticism. These distinctions were probably not made in Melville's time.
Using "the level ship's compass, and the level deadreckoning, by log and by line" would mean calculating one's position by applying information regarding direction and speed of travel to one's last known position. "By log and by line" describes the traditional method of determining speed: a wooden log attached to a long line is thrown over the stern. The line is knotted at regular intervals, and the sailor counts how many knots play out in a given period of time (hence knots as a nautical unit of speed). For example, if the knots are 88 feet apart and 10 knots play out in one minute, then the ship is going 10 knots. (880 feet/min is 52800 feet/hr, or 10 miles per hour. I do not know how far the knots were, but this seems the simplest way to do it.) Note: Knots are a unit of speed, not of distance.
"Up helm!" means "move the tiller to the upward (windward) side of the ship." "Square in!" derives from "square" as being at right angles to the mast and paralle to the horizon.
The "yards swung round" would be the result of moving the tiller.
"[The] ship half-wheeled upon her heel" means the ship spun halfway around on her stern.
"[It] seemed as the three Horatii pirouetting on one sufficient steed." The Horatii were Roman triplets who agreed to fight three brothers from the Curiatii to decide the outcome of a war between Rome and Alba Longa. Two of the Horatii were killed, but the third ran across the battlefield, which drew the injured Curiatii apart as their injuries affected them to different degrees. When they were separated, the last Horatii was able to fight and kill them one at a time.
Knight-heads are upright members flanking and securing the bowsprit on a ship.
Sea-coal was mineral coal (as contrasted with charcoal). Sea-coal was brought by ship, hence the name.
CHAPTER 119: The Candles
Bengal is an area in Asia encompassing West Bengal (the state on the eastern edge of India) and Bangladesh.
If "gorgeous Cuba knows tornadoes that never swept tame northern land" it is because they did not sweep Cuba either. Cuba does not get tornadoes (though it can get waterspouts). Tornadoes form and travel over land, and there just is not that much land in Cuba for them to travel over. Melville may have been thinking of hurricanes.
A typhoon is a hurricane in the Pacific Ocean.
A doxology is a hymn praising God.
The weather bow is the windward side of the bow.
The stern-sheets is the space in the stern not occupied by the thwarts.
Flambeaux are flaming torches.
"`Look aloft!' cried Starbuck. 'The St. Elmo's Lights (corpus sancti) corpusants! the corpusants!'" St. Elmo's Lights, or St. Elmo's Fire) is a glow that appears at the end of pointed objects during thunderstorms due to the strong electric field. It is named for St. Erasmus ("Elmo" in Italian) of Formia, the patron saint of sailors due to its frequent appearance on ships. It was considered a good omen. A corposant is an appearance of St. Elmo's Fire on a mast or rigging.
"Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin" are the words that appeared on the wall during Belshazzar's feast. Daniel interpreted this as follows: And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." (Daniel 5:25-28)
"Preternatural" means "beyond the natural, supernatural."
A tableau is a group of motionless figures representing a scene from history.
"Chock a' block" means "crammed full." The term has nautical origins, at least the "block" part.
"In various enchanted attitudes, like the standing, or stepping, or running skeletons in Herculaneum, others remained rooted to the deck; but all their eyes upcast." Herculaneum, along with Pompeii, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius August 24-25, 79 C.E. Though originally it was thought that death was caused by ash and poisonous gases, it is now believed that a pyroclastic (heat) surge of 482° Fahrenheit killed the inhabitants instantly, and that they were then buried in the ash. The result was that skeletons are found frozen in mid-stride, etc.
"Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship ..." Parsis are followers of Zoroaster and consider fire holy, though it is not clear that they worship it per se. They do build "fire temples" and always pray in the presence of fire. Believing that burning corpses pollutes the fire, Parsis have traditionally relied on birds of prey to dispose of corpses. (Similar practices in Tibetan Buddhism are called "sky burials".)
CHAPTER 120: The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch
"The lee lift is half-stranded." That would be the lift on the side away from the wind.
A coasting smack was a fishing boat used along the Atlantic coasts of Britain and America in the 19th century and in decreasing numbers during the first half of the 20th century.
A hooroosh is a wild confusion.
CHAPTER 121: Midnight--The Forecastle Bulwarks
Aquarius, the Water-Bearer, is one of the signs of the zodiac, representing Ganymede, who was the cup-bearer to the gods.
A hydrant is a fixture in a street attached to a water main; one would not find them on a ship.
A tarpaulin now refers to a heavy water-proofed cloth, usually of tarred canvas, but in Melville's time it was a sailor's tarred or oilskin hat.
A swallow-tail is a formal coat with two long tails.
A beaver was a beaverskin formal hat.
CHAPTER 122: Midnight Aloft--Thunder and Lightning
CHAPTER 123: The Musket
Preventer tackles are those that prevent normal motion of rigging.
A storm-trysail is a sail having its luff hooped or otherwise bent to a mast, used to keep a ship headed into the wind.
"Yes, it would make him the wilful murderer of thirty men and more, if this ship come to any deadly harm; and come to deadly harm ..." So the size of the ship's crew is thirty men.
The "error-abounding log" was described earlier. Obviously, it is prone to cumulative errors.
A hawser is a thick rope or cable.
As noted, Starbuck refers to "locked Japan" because of its closure to foreigners.
CHAPTER 124: The Needle
A binnacle is a stand on the deck of a ship that holds the compass and other navigational instruments near the helmsman.
"... last night's thunder turned our compasses." This is, indeed, possible.
"Loadstone" is another spelling of "lodestone".
The "transpointed compasses" are those that have been reversed.
A top-maul is a heavy hammer with a steel or wooden head.
One can indeed magnetized a needle by aligning it north-south and hammering it. Magnetizing it by holding it and a metal lance vertically does not seem to be a standard method.
CHAPTER 125: The Log and Line
"There now's a patched professor in Queen Nature's granite-founded College; but methinks he's too subservient." I have no idea to what this is referring.
The Isle of Man is an island off the coast of England which has in a complicated connection to Britain described in a note in Chapter 40.
CHAPTER 126: The Life-Buoy
The "ghosts of all Herod's murdered Innocents" would be the ghosts of the children that Herod ordered killed in order to be sure he killed the prophesied "King of the Jews". According to Matthew 2:16-18. Herod had all male children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed; this is known as the Slaughter of the Innocents, or the Massacre of the Innocents. There are no other accounts of this, either in the other gospels, or in historical sources. Although many Eastern Orthodox theologies cite ten, or even hundreds, of thousands killed, the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that, based on the population of Bethlehem at the time, the number would be between five and thirty.
When Melville refers to how "for the space of some moments stood, or sat, or leaned all transfixedly listening, like the carved Roman slave," he may be referring to a specific statue, or perhaps he is thinking that a slave would have to "listen transfixedly," and a carved statue doubly so.
A mermaids are is a creature that has a human female head and torso, but whose lower half is that of a fish.
In regard to seals (and sheep), "dams" are mothers. Melville uses "cubs" for seal offspring, but the more common term is "pups".
A bandbox is a small cylinder container for hats and such.
"It's like turning an old coat; going to bring the flesh on the other side now." This would be an apt description of what happens with a fur coat, fur coats being much more common in Melville's time. Think in terms of the mittens in "The Song of Hiawatha" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Made them with the fur side inside.
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the inside skin side outside.
He, to get the cold side outside,
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That's why he put the fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.
[It is worth pointing out, though, that Longfellow published "The Song of Hiawatha" in 1855, four years after Moby Dick was published.]
"The Vineyard" would be Martha's Vineyard.
Aroostock hemlock is hemlock from Aroostock County, the northernmost county of Maine. Part of one of the state's two natural hemlock forests is in Aroostock County. (Currently, hemlocks in Maine are threatened by the hemlock woolly adelgid.)
A crupper is astrap under a horse's tail that keeps a saddle from slipping. "Cruppered with a coffin?" however, seems to give it a meaning of simply burdened or attached.
"I'll have me thirty separate, Turk's-headed life-lines, each three feet long hanging all round to the coffin. Then, if the hull go down, there'll be thirty lively fellows all fighting for one coffin ..." A Turk's-Head is an ornamental (woven) knot, using to form a knob at the end of a rope and resembling a turban in shape. The number thirty idicates (again) a crew of thirty on the Pequod.
CHAPTER 127: The Deck
A line-tub is the tub on a whaleboat that carries the coiled rope, or line.
Oakum is a tarred fiber used to seal gaps. ("Picking oakum," or unraveling and unwinding it, was a traditional punishment both on board ship and in English prisons in the 19th century. Oscar Wilde was assigned to pick oakum during his time in prison.)
The Titans were the offspring of Gaia and Uranus and the parents of the Olympians. The battles between the Titans and the Olympians were believed to cause volcanic eruptions.
The "gravedigger in the play" refers to the gravedigger in Hamlet, who sings as he is digging.
A bier is a frame to hold a coffin as it is carried.
"I've heard that the Isle of Albemarle, one of the Gallipagos, is cut by the Equator right in the middle." Albemarle was named for the Duke of Albemarle in 1684, but its name was later changed to Isabela. It is crossed by the Equator, but not right in the middle. In fact, it is shaped something like a lower-case 'd' and the Equator crosses it about one-tenth of the way down from the northern tip.
Musical glasses, also known as a glass harp, is a musical instrument consisting of wine glasses filled to various levels (to achieve different pitches) and played by running a moistened or chalked finger around the edges.
The grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus) lives is a wide range that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean through Europe and Asia all the way to the Pacific.
CHAPTER 128: The Pequod Meets The Rachel
Rachel is mentioned in Jeremiah 31:15: "Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." This is interpreted by Christian theologians as predicting the Massacre of the Innocents mentioned in Chapter 126.
A stunsail is an extra sail on a square-rigged ship.
To yaw is to twist or oscillate around a vertical axis.
Starboard is to the right; larboard is to the right. "Larboard" is now considered archaic; "port" is used instead.
"But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not." This is yet another reference to Jeremiah 31:15 (as noted above).
CHAPTER 129: The Cabin
A transom in nautical terms is a horizontal beam reinforcing the stern.
A "seventy-four" was a two-decked sailing ship of the line that carries 74 guns. (A "ship of the line" was a ship designed to take part in the tactic known as "line of battle.")
Epaulets are ornamental shoulder pieces worn with a dress uniform by officers.
"But here I'll stay, though this stern strikes rocks; and they bulge through; and oysters come to join me." Pip seems to be confusing oysters with barnacles; the latter attach themselves to rocks, while the former do not.
CHAPTER 130: The Hat
"As the unsetting polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months' night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze": The North Star (Polaris) is on an almost direct line along the Earth's axis above the North Pole, so appears fixed in the northern sky. Normally it is invisible during the day, but in the Arctic, there is six months when wither the entire sky is dark, or the northern sky is dark enough to make Polaris visible continuously.
A cabin-scuttle would be an opening (with a cover) in the ship's deck to the cabin.
Dinner was the midday meal, supper the evening meal.
A "downward-reeved rope" would be one passed downward through a hole or pulley.
The "red-billed seahawk" seems to be a bird Melville invented. The only bird close would be a red-billed gull, but it is white, and Melville later describes the seahawk as black.
"Then it darted a thousand feet straight up into the air; then spiralized downwards, and went eddying again round his head." Thos is within the range of what sea birds do.
"An eagle flew thrice round Tarquin's head, removing his cap to replace it, and thereupon Tanaquil, his wife, declared that Tarquin would be king of Rome. But only by the replacing of the cap was that omen accounted good." Tarquin was Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of ancient Rome, reigning from 616 B.C.E. to 579 B.C.E. Livy relates the legend of the eagle in his History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita), Book I, Chapter 34, sentences 8-10, written in the first century B.C.E.
CHAPTER 131: The Pequod Meets The Delight
Shears are defined in the text, are beams that hold unused or unusable whale boats.
CHAPTER 132: The Symphony
The "robust and man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson's chest in his sleep." It was while Samson was asleep that Delilah had his hair cut: "And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him. [Judges 16:19]
The "small, unspeckled birds" with "snow-white wings" are not immediately identifiable.
"But so have I seen little Miriam and Martha, laughing-eyed elves, heedlessly gambol around their old sire; sporting with the circle of singed locks which grew on the marge of that burnt-out crater of his brain." Miriam (Mary) and Martha are visited by Jesus: "Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word." [Luke 10:38-39] However, it is more likely that Miriam and Martha are children, dancing around their father. (They would not be Ahab's children, because Ishmael would have had no chance to see them gamboling around Ahab.) "Marge" means "margin."
"On such a day ... I struck my first whale--a boy-harpooneer of eighteen! Forty--forty--forty years ago!--ago!" So Ahab is fifty-eight years old, give or take (because "forty" may represent a round number used rather than, say, thirty-nine or forty-one).
"... out of those forty years I have not spent three ashore." As a total aside, my father was in the Air Force, and O estimate he spent a third of the time between my birth and high school graduation away from home.
Ahab spent "whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow--wife? wife?--rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her." In Melville's time, the average Pacific whaling voyage was three to three-and-a-half years, so if he married past fifty and is now fifty-eight, he was home probably twice in the interim. So he could have had two children, especially if they were a set of twins.
"I see my wife and my child in thine eye." This implies that Ahab had but one child, although it is possible that he had a second born after he left on this voyage. However, if he was injured on the voyage immediately preceding this one (a reasonable conclusion), then it is likely his all-consuming thirst for revenge meant he was probably not having relations with his wife.
"Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's ..." So Starbuck is also married.
"About this time--yes, it is his noon nap now--the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again." This is Ahab, referring to his child. He appears to have only one, and a son, not a daughter.
"'Tis my Mary, my Mary herself! She promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father's sail! Yes, yes! no more! it is done! we head for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy's face from the window! the boy's hand on the hill!" This is Starbuck (addressing Ahab as "Captain"); he also has one son.
A handspike is a wooden rod with an iron tip used as a lever.
"Albicore" is an alternate spelled of "albacore", a longfin tuna.
CHAPTER 133: The Chase--First Day
A dog-vane is a small vane of light material at the top of the masthead that indicates the direction of the wind.
To shorten a sail is to tie the short lines attached to it partway up from the bottom to points below the sail, thereby reducing the area of the sail in heavy weather.
A tide-rip is a stretch of turbulent water caused by one current flowing into or across another.
"Shiver her!" Heavy seas would raise and lower a ship hard enough to "shiver" the timbers, or wooden support frame, of the ship. Driving a ship hard through normal seas would do the same.
The nautilus is a cephalopod. It is the only cephalopod with an external shell, to which it keeps adding larger chambers as it grows. Underwater, it would be noiseless.
The "Turkish-rugged waters" are waters appearing like a Turkish rug, not waters that are rugged (/'rəgəed/) in some Turkish fashion.
A pennon is a flag that is larger at the hoist (side nearest the pole) than at the fly (side farthest from the pole).
"Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam." In Roman and Greek mythology Jupiter (a.k.a. Jove, a.k.a. Zeus) conceived a passion for Europa, the mother of King Minos of Crete. Jupiter changed himself into a white bull and joined Europa's father's herd. Europa saw him, stroked him, and eventually climbed on his back, at which point Jupiter jumped into the sea and swam to Crete. The story is a Cretan myth adopted by the Romans.
"Virginia's Natural Bridge" is a geological formation in Rockbridge County, Virginia, near Lexington. It is a natural arch 215 feet high with a 90-foot span. It is alleged to have been visited by George Washington in 1750, it was at one point owned by Thomas Jefferson, and it was a major tourist attraction for European visitors. It went through several owners before becoming a Virginia State Park in 2013.
To walk "Indian file" means to walk single file, presumably because Indians (Native Americans) walked that way on narrow forest trails. Herons do fly single-file.
A weasel is a member of the Mustelidae. In the United Kingdom, it is applied to just the smallest species, while elsewhere it can refer to other species as well. The Bonaparte weasel turns white in the winter and is also called an ermine.
Ishmael describes "the whale obliquely lying on his back, in the manner of a biting shark." However, many sharks go into "tonic immobility" when upside down, so this simile seems to be misguided.
"So, in a gale, the but half baffled Channel billows only recoil from the base of the Eddystone, triumphantly to overleap its summit with their scud." Eddystone, or the Eddystone Rocks, is a group of rocks in Cornwall at the approach to the English Channel. Eddystone Rock (singular) is in the Falkland Islands north of Falkland Sound. Scud is clouds or rain driven by wind. In this case it may be the spray from the sea crashing against the rocks.
"The sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him, as the blood of grapes and mulberries cast before Antiochus's elephants in the book of Maccabees." In the Apocrypha, it is written, So that the number of [Antiochus's] army was an hundred thousand footmen, and twenty thousand horsemen, and two and thirty elephants exercised in battle. These went through Idumea, and pitched against Bethsura, which they assaulted many days, making engines of war; but they of Bethsura came out, and burned them with fire, and fought valiantly. Upon this Judas removed from the tower, and pitched in Bathzacharias, over against the king's camp. Then the king rising very early marched fiercely with his host toward Bathzacharias, where his armies made them ready to battle, and sounded the trumpets. And to the end they might provoke the elephants to fight, they shewed them the blood of grapes and mulberries." [I Maccabees 6:30-34] Another translation has the last verse as, "They made the elephants drunk on the juice of grapes and mulberries to get them ready to fight." (Note that Melville refers to "the book of Maccabees"; there are actually two books.)
To bank is to tilt sideways in making a turn; to "treble-bank his every fin" would be to use extreme measures to increase speed ot derease turning radius.
Albatrosses are often described as "double-jointed." One source says this is because they have a relatively long upper arm bone (humerus) with a bend at the elbow (between the humerus and the ulna) as well as at the wrist (between the ulna and the carpal joint). Someone else disputes this, but in English so badly spelled and grammatically incoherent that I have no idea what he is saying or whether it is correct.
"`.. beneath his slouched hat... " Didn't the seahawk take it in Chapter 130?
"[Then], whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man's; and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye!" This is a complicated game-theoretic problem. For any one man, he is better off if he is the first to raise the whale, but for the crew as a whole, they are better off letting Ahab raise the whale. If Ahab raises the whale, each man gets 10/29 of a doubloon, so if the men could agree to let Ahab raise the whale, and could trust everyone to stick by the agreement, each man's expectation increases tenfold from 1/29 doubloon. (This is the classic "Prisoner's Dilemma".)
CHAPTER 134: The Chase--Second Day
"The ship tore on; leaving such a furrow in the sea as when a cannon-ball, missent, becomes a plough-share and turns up the level field." This is an allusion to Isaiah 2:4: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
"They were one man, not thirty." Again, this establishes the crew of the Pequod as thirty in number.
The ship "was put together of all contrasting things--oak, and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp ..." Oak and maple are hard woods (maple being the harder) from deciduous trees. Pine is a soft wood from an evergreen. Iron is solid. Pitch is semi-liquid when hot, but hard and waterproof when cold. Hemp is a fiber used for rope, etc., which are not waterproof.
"The triumphant halloo of thirty buckskin lungs was heard ..." Buckskin is tanned deerskin. The implication is of sturdy leathery lungs.
Moby Dick "tossed himself salmon-like ..." This refers to salmon leaping over rapids as they swim upstream to spawn.
A backstay is apiece of standing rigging that runs from a past to either its transom or its rear quarter. A halyard is a rope used for raising a sail, spar, or other device.
"Ahab ... told them he would take the whale head-and-head,--that is, pull straight up to his forehead,--a not uncommon thing; for when within a certain limit, such a course excludes the coming onset from the whale's sidelong vision. But ere that close limit was gained ... yet all three boats were plain as the ship's three masts to his eye ..." It is true that there is a blind spot, but Melville notes it is "close limit." In addition, studies since Melville's time have indicated that toothed whales (which include sperm whales such as Moby Dick) use echolocation and so do not have a true blind spot there.
"... like the grated nutmeg in a swiftly stirred bowl of punch." Rum punch usually is topped with grated nutmeg.
The belfry is the part of a building (usually a church) where the bells are kept.
"... while still as on the night before, slouched Ahab stood fixed within his scuttle; his hid, heliotrope glance anticipatingly gone backward on its dial; sat due eastward for the earliest sun." To quote Langford Wilson's Fifth of July, I defy anyone to diagram that sentence. However, heliotrope is a plant which was so named because it was believed that it turned its flowers towards the sun, an idea buried in that sentence.
CHAPTER 135: The Chase--Third Day
"... and once more the solitary night-man at the fore-mast-head was relieved by crowds of the daylight look-outs, who dotted every mast and almost every spar." Clearly, the crew has decided to sub-optimize their expectations and it is every man for himself for Ahab's doubloon.
"... this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turned to ice, and shiver it." Ice is less dense than water, so when water freezes, it expands. In general a glass holding water will not break because there is room at the (open) top for it to expand, but if one is talking about an enclosed glass container it could certainly break if the contents froze. Water is one of the few liquids that expands when it freezes. However, Melville is clearly referring to water-based contents--most other liquids have freezing points too low for Melville to be familiar with them. For example, pure ethanol freezes at -173.5° Fahrenheit. The reason that vodka and other beverages expand when frozen is that they are primarily water.
Ahab's hair is "like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava." Greenland lies entirely above the 60th parallel; Mount Vesuvius is almost on the 40th parallel. "Common grass" covers a wide range of species, and the species that grow in Greenland are not the same as those of Italy. In any case, the ones that grow in Vesuvius lava do not grow in molten Vesuvius lava, but rather in soil created by the break-down of Vesuvius lava.
The Trade Winds are winds blowing steadily towards the equator from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere.
"But let me have one more good round look aloft here at the sea; there's time for that. An old, old sight, and yet somehow so young; aye, and not changed a wink since I first saw it, a boy, from the sand-hills of Nantucket! The same!--the same!--the same to Noah as to me." True perhaps in Melville's time, but now we have the Great Pacific garbage patch, discovered in the late 1980s. It lies between 135° and 155° W and 35° and 42° N. Ahab might not have detected it, however, since it is made up of tiny particles almost invisible to the human eye. There is also a Great Atlantic garbage patch and an Indian Ocean garbage patch.
Ebb tide is is the time when the water is flowing away fro shore, between high tide and low tide.
"It is a thing not uncommonly happening to the whale-boats in those swarming seas; the sharks at times apparently following them in the same prescient way that vultures hover over the banners of marching regiments in the east." The question here is what is meant by "east"? 1848 saw a lot of wars and conflicts in the eastern part of Europe; for that matter, all of Europe, Africa, and west Asia might be considered east by a Nantucketer.
"Ahab was fairly within the smoky mountain mist, which, thrown off from the whale's spout, curled round his great, Monadnock hump ..." Mount Monadnock is a mountain in New Hampshire with a barren top. This is due to fires set by settlers in 1800 and again in the 1810s, the second of which burned for weeks, hence the idea of "smoky" mountain mist surrounding a barren mound.
"... the red flag, half-wrapping him as with a plaid ..." In this context, a plaid is a piece of clothing worn over the shoulder as a part of Scottish Highland dress.
"I hope my poor mother's drawn my part-pay ere this; if not, few coppers will now come to her, for the voyage is up." Apparently the families of whalers could draw part of their expected pay in advance of their return. Given that the whalers might be away for three years, and the families needed money to live on. What is not clear is what happened if the ship failed to return, or returned with less cargo than expected.
"... the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone." One might imagine that ordinary Turks could be as silent, but apparently "mutes" (deaf-mutes, actually) were employed by the Ottoman court as servants as well as assassins because, being deaf they could not hear any conversations they might be bribed to reveal. (And as assassins, they would not have to listen to pleas from their victims.
"Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea." A Fata Morgana is a "superior mirage" seen in a narrow band just above the horizon and caused by differing temperature layers. It includes seeing the images of ships that are so far away they are well below the horizon. They are named for Organ le Fay, since it was believed that the Fata Morgana of castles seen in the Strait of Messina were fairy castles in the air created by her.
"... and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it." If this is a reference to some legend about Satan, I was unable to find it. Epilogue
"'AND I ONLY AM ESCAPED ALONE TO TELL THEE' Job." In particular, this is the refrain of the four servants who come bearing evil tidings in Job:
"And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them: And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee." [Job 1:13-19]
"The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth?--Because one did survive the wreck." This is why it is necessary to read the Epilogue. Apparently several reviewers failed to do so when the book was first published and asked things like how Ishmael was able to relate all this if everyone on the Pequod was lost.
"Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve." Ixion was king of the Lapiths; when he offended the gods he was bound to a perpetually spinning winged fiery wheel.
"On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan." And here we have the final reference to Rachel "weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." [Jeremiah 31:15]