Chapters

102 A Bower in the Arsacides CHAPTER 102 A BOWER IN THE ARSACIDES. Arsacides: Part of the Solomon Islands, near the Philippines. Inhabitants of the Solomons resisted European incursion so fiercely that in 1769 the French navigator Jean François de Surville named the islands “Terre des Arsacides” (“land of the assassins”) after an ancient dynasty in the Near East. Ishmael’s non-eurocentric depiction of life on “Tranque” (actually the name of a little-known Chilean island) contradicts that reputation. Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly dwelt upon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail upon some few interior structural features. But to a large and thorough sweeping comprehension of him, it behoves me now to unbutton him still further, and untagging the points of his hoseREVISION NARRATIVE: untagging the points of his hose // A “point” is a ribbon or lace used to attach a gentleman’s doublet (a vest-like jacket) to his hose (leggings); the laces are called points because of the metal tags (also “points”) used to keep the tips from fraying. Here, Ishmael speaks of undressing, and the expected verb for undoing the “points of his hose” is something like “unlacing” not “untagging,” which suggests removing the metal tips from the laces. In the British edition, the word has been revised to “untrussing.” Well into the eighteenth century, to “untruss one’s points” was a common term for untying one’s clothing. Melville may have misspoken in first writing “untagging the points” and realizing the error, revised to “untrussing”; or an editor might have made the correction. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., unbuckling his garters, and casting loose the hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones, set him before you in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his unconditional skeleton. But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the fishery, pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the whale? Did erudite Stubb, mounted upon your capstan, deliver lectures on the anatomy of the Cetacea; and by help of the windlass, hold up a specimen rib for exhibition? Explain thyself, Ishmael. Can you land a full-grown whale on your deck for examination, as a cook dishes a roast-pig? Surely not. A veritable witness have you hitherto been, Ishmael; but have a care how you seize the privilege of Jonah alone; the privilege of discoursing upon the joists and beamsREVISION NARRATIVE: discoursing upon the joists and beams // In the British edition, the first the has been deleted to give “discoursing upon joists and beams.” Removing the definite article changes “joists and beams” from individual items to a general category of roof support; what follows the semicolon, then, are the particular kinds of supports. Given this distinctive modulation, the revision is likely to have been Melville’s. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.; the rafters, ridge-pole, sleepers, and under-pinnings, making up the frame-work of leviathan; and belike of the tallow-vats, dairy-rooms, butteries, and cheeseries in his bowels. I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far beneath the skin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been blessed with an opportunity to dissect him in miniature. In a ship I belonged to, a small cub Sperm Whale was once bodily hoisted to the deck for his poke or bagpoke or bag: stomach., to make sheaths for the barbs of the harpoons, and for the heads of the lances. Think you I let that chance go, without using my boat-hatchet and jack-knife, and breaking the sealbreaking the seal: Of a letter sealed with wax, revealing something previously secret, as with the book having “seven seals” in Revelation 5. and reading all the contents of that young cub? And as for my exact knowledge of the bones of the leviathan in their gigantic, full grown development, for that rare knowledge I am indebted to my late royal friend Tranquo, king of Tranque, one of the Arsacides. For being at Tranque, years ago, when attached to the trading-ship Dey of Algiersthe trading-ship Dey of Algiers: Because the Dey (ruler) protected piracy, thus supporting the kidnapping and enslavement of sailors, the vessel’s name is unlikely in reality but here points ironically to contemporary American slavery and the repression of seamen, about which Melville had written in Redburn and White-Jacket. In 1839, Melville had shipped on the St. Lawrence, a packet (if not "trading-ship") transporting cotton to Liverpool. In his first whaling ship and aboard the naval frigate United States (from 1842 to 1844), Melville also cruised the coast of Chile, where he could have heard of the Chilean island of Tranque (see "Arsacides," above)., I was invited to spend part of the Arsacidean holidays with the lord of Tranque, at his retired palm villa at Pupella; a sea-side glen not very far distant from what our sailors called Bamboo-Town, his capital. Among many other fine qualities, my royal friend Tranquo, being gifted with a devout love for all matters of barbaric vertùvertù: art objects and curios. , had brought together in Pupella whatever rare things the more ingenious of his people could invent; chiefly carved woods of wonderful devices, chiselled shells, inlaid spears, costly paddles, aromatic canoes; and all these distributed among whatever natural wonders, the wonder-freighted, tribute-rendering waves had cast upon his shores. Chief among these latter was a great Sperm Whale, which, after an unusually long raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his head against a cocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings seemed his verdant jet. When the vast body had at last been stripped of its fathom-deep enfoldings, and the bones become dust dry in the sun, then the skeleton was carefully transported up the Pupella glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it. The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebræ were carved with Arsacidean annals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth its vapory spout; while, suspended from a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrated over all the devotees, like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damoclesthe hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles: In his Tusculan Disputations, the Roman orator and writer Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE) tells of the tyrant Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse, Italy, who teaches his courtier Damocles a lesson about the precariousness of life for those in power, by seating him at a banquet under a sword hanging by a single thread.. It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy GlenIcy Glen: Not far from “Arrowhead,” Melville’s farm house in Pittsfield, MA, this cold, mossy grotto in nearby Stockbridge was on the itinerary of a social occasion at which Melville met Hawthorne on August 5, 1850. At the time, Melville had interrupted his writing of Moby-Dick to compose his laudatory review essay, "Hawthorne and his Mosses." "Icy Glen" is also mentioned in Pierre.; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver’s loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver!—pause!—one word!—whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!—stay thy hand!—but one single word with thee! Nay—the shuttle flies—the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet-rushing carpetfreshet-rushing carpet: images in the carpet flow like a suddenly flooding stream. for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafenedREVISION NARRATIVE: and by that weaving is he deafened // In the British edition, “is he” has been transposed to “he is.” The transposition is a common enough typographical intervention performed, perhaps, by an inattentive printer. In this case, the typo foils the more poetic tone of the inverted “is he” diction. However, Melville may have had a hand in the revision. Ishmael’s sentence is composed in precise iambic meter, with alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. In fact, the transposition does not mar this consistent beat, for “he is deafened” can be read with the same stress pattern as “is he deafened.” The only difference is that in the American version “is” is the stressed word, while in the British, “he” (the “weaver-god”) is stressed. The transposition here also puts “he is deafened” in parallel with “we . . . are deafened” in the next clause. The modification, then, is arguably authorial. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even so it is in all material factories. The spoken words that are inaudible among the flying spindles; those same words are plainly heard without the walls, bursting from the opened casements. Thereby have villanies been detected. Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world’s loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar. Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the great, white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging—a gigantic idler! Yet, as the ever-woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around him, the mighty idler seemed the cunning weaver; himself all woven over with the vines; every month assuming greener, fresher verdure; but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death; Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories. Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale, and saw the skull an altar, and the artificial smoke ascending from where the real jet had issued, I marvelled that the king should regard a chapel as an object of vertù. He laughed. But more I marvelled that the priests should swear that smoky jet of his was genuine. To and fro I paced before this skeleton—brushed the vines aside—broke through the ribs—and with a ball of Arsacidean twineball of Arsacidean twine: Third use of the myth of the Cretan Labyrinth, previously found in Chs. 4 and 85., wandered, eddied long amid its many winding, shaded colonnades and arbors. But soon my line was out; and following it back, I emerged from the opening where I entered. I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones. Cutting me a green measuring-rod, I once more dived within the skeleton. From their arrow-slit in the skull, the priests perceived me taking the altitude of the final rib. “How now!” they shouted; “Dar’st thou measure this our god! That’s for us.” “Aye, priests—well, how long do ye make him, then?” But hereupon a fierce contest rose among them, concerning feet and inches; they cracked each other’s sconcessconces: heads (slang). with their yard-sticks—the great skull echoed—and seizing that lucky chance, I quickly concluded my own admeasurements. These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be it recorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancied measurement I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can refer to, to test my accuracy. There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell me, in Hull, England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where they have some fine specimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, I have heard that in the museum of Manchesterthe museum of Manchester: According to Mansfield and Vincent (808–809), Melville drew on Thomas Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale for most of the British information on whale skeletons. In addition to the well-known collection of whale and whaling specimens in Hull, the skeleton in this second "Leviathanic Museum" in Manchester, New Hampshire, also mentioned by Thoreau, has disappeared., in New Hampshire, they have what the proprietors call “the only perfect specimen of a Greenland or River Whale in the United States.” Moreover, at a place in Yorkshire, England, Burton ConstableBurton Constable: Melville's third "Leviathanic Museum" is located at Burton Constable, the aristocratic house, also in Hull, of Sir Clifford Constable. See also Revision Narrative for "Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence," below. by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale, but of moderate size, by no means of the full-grown magnitude of my friend King Tranquo’s. In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons belonged, were originally claimed by their proprietors upon similar grounds. King Tranquo seizing his because he wanted it; and Sir Clifford, because he was lord of the seignoriesseignories: feudal domains. of those parts. Sir Clifford’s whale has been articulated throughout; so that, like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his bony cavities—spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan—and swing all day upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap-doors and shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch of keys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at the whispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view from his forehead.REVISION NARRATIVE: Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at the whispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view from his forehead. // Melville’s acquaintance with Sir F. Clifford Constable is entirely through Beale, who praised the gentleman’s good work in bringing to the public the skeleton of a beached whale found in Yorkshire in 1825. Melville's teasing (indeed invented) portrayal of Constable as a kind of British P. T. Barnum may or may not have been fair, but Melville’s editor probably removed this sentence to avoid offense or the possibility of a libel suit. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. 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 bodyREVISION NARRATIVE: wished the other parts of my body // The British edition inserts the word “all” to give “all the other parts of my body.” Because the intensification is not grammatically required, Melville, and not an editor, probably made the revision. The sentence in both versions establishes Ishmael as a poet and humorously equates tattooing and writing, body and paper, word and flesh. However, Melville's likely revision to "all the parts" (that is, all of the remaining "untattooed parts") of his body suggests that for Ishmael writing poetry is both a priority and a bodily act. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. 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.