118 The Quadrant
The season for the Lineseason for the Line: In Ch. 44, “the Pequod had sailed from Nantucket [at Christmas] at the very beginning of the Season-on-the-Line,” whaleman’s jargon for the best time to hunt sperm whales in the Pacific along the equator (usually from November or December to April). The expression appears capitalized and hyphenated throughout Moby-Dick, but here the variant phrasing "season for the Line" may simply mean “the time for hunting whales near the equator was approaching.” at length drew near; and every day when Ahab, coming from his cabin, cast his eyes aloft, the vigilant helmsman would ostentatiously handle his spokesspokes: As in Ch. 61, a wheel replaces the Pequod’s whalebone tiller., and the eager marinersREVISION NARRATIVE: the eager mariners // In the British edition, “the” has been dropped. Though probably a typo, the missing word may convey a significantly different meaning. Whereas “the eager mariners” implies that all the crew of the Pequod are eager; “eager mariners” may mean only those of the crew who are eager. Since Ahab’s success depends upon the eagerness of the entire crew, the dropped “the” might suggest some dissent, an important matter in the final chapters. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. quickly run to the bracesbraces: ropes leading from the yardarm ends to the deck, used to pivot the yards., and would stand there with all their eyes centrally fixed on the nailed doubloon; impatient for the order to point the ship’s prow for the equator. In good time the order came. It was hard upon high noon; and Ahab, seated in the bows of his high-hoisted boat, was about taking his wonted daily observation of the sun to determine his latitude.
Now, in that Japanese seaREVISION NARRATIVE: Now, in that Japanese sea // Although in his whaling years Melville traveled as far west and north in the Pacific as Tahiti and Hawai’i, he never approached Japan. Indeed, most of Moby-Dick is set in waters the author never sailed. In the revised sheets he sent to England, Melville almost certainly inserted the important qualifier “sometimes” after “Now,” as a hedge on his statement (personally unverifiable given his limited experience) concerning the “days in summer” in that Japanese sea. The NN edition adds this revision. MEL makes no change, but notes the revision here. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., the days in summer are as freshets of effulgencesfreshets of effulgences: overflowing streams of brilliant light.. That unblinkingly vivid Japanese sun seems the blazing focus of the glassy ocean’s immeasurable burning-glass. The sky looks lacquered; clouds there are none; the horizon floats; and this nakedness of unrelieved radiance is as the insufferable splendors of God’s throne. Well that Ahab’s quadrantquadrant: “A reflecting instrument used to [measure] the altitude above the horizon of the sun, moon, or stars at sea, and thereby to determine the latitude and longitude [of a ship’s position]” (Sailor's Word-Book). was furnished with colored glasses, through which to take sight of that solar fire. So, swinging his seated form to the roll of the ship, and with his astrological-looking instrument placed to his eye, he remained in that posture for some moments to catch the precise instant when the sun should gain its precise meridianmeridian: highest point in the sky; local noon.. Meantime while his whole attention was absorbed, the Parsee was kneeling beneath him on the ship’s deck, and with face thrown up like Ahab’s, was eyeing the same sun with him; only the lids of his eyes half hooded their orbs, and his wild face was subdued to an earthly passionlessnessREVISION NARRATIVE: subdued to an earthly passionlessness // The British edition alteration of “earthly” to “unearthly” may be an authorial correction or revision. That is, Melville may have originally intended “unearthly,” but his American typesetter dropped the “un-,” and Melville used the British edition to correct the American typo to “unearthly.” Or he may have intended “earthly” and changed his mind to “unearthly.” In either event, the change is significant. The Parsee (Fedallah) is dark and racialized, hence, arguably “earthly”; however, he is also ominous and remote, hence “unearthly.” In this scene, his “wild face” transforms into a “passionlessness” so that we in fact witness both his “earthly” and “unearthly” attributes. The use of any modifier (earthly or unearthly) allows for a subtle modulation of Fedallah’s character and the change to “unearthly” at this point in the narrative stresses his more ethereal potential, in keeping with his prophetic role as Ahab approaches his fated end. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.. At length the desired observation was taken; and with his pencil upon his ivory leg, Ahab soon calculated what his latitude must be at that precise instant. Then falling into a moment’s revery, he again looked up towards the sun and murmured to himself: “Thou sea-mark! thou high and mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly where I am—but canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be? Or canst thou tell where some other thing besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby Dick? This instant thou must be eyeing him. These eyes of mine look into the very eye that is even now beholding him; aye, and into the eye that is even now equally beholding the objects on the unknown, thither side of thee, thou sun!”
Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other, its numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered: “Foolish toy! babies’ plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee: no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence thou insultest the sun! Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man’s eyes aloft to that heaven, whose live vividness but scorches him, as these old eyes are even now scorched with thy light, O sun! Level by nature to this earth’s horizon are the glances of man’s eyes; not shot from the crown of his head, as if God had meant him to gaze on his firmament. Curse thee, thou quadrant!” dashing it to the deck, “no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship’s compass, and the level dead-reckoning, by log and by linedead-reckoning, by log and by line: “Dead,” here, is a corruption of the abbreviation “ded.,” meaning “deduced”; thus, dead-reckoning is a deduction of a ship’s approximate position relative to its previous position, achieved by multiplying speed by time elapsed to give distance covered, by observing the compass courses steered, and by estimating the effects of drift and currents on the intended course. Speed is measured by the “log line,” a marked rope with a piece of wood at the end that is thrown overboard. The line unreels for a set time, and the length unreeled by then indicates the speed. It is described and used in Ch. 125.; these shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye,” lighting from the boat to the deck, “thus I trample on thee, thou paltry thing that feebly pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!”
As the frantic old man thus spoke and thus trampled with his live and dead feet, a sneering triumph that seemed meant for Ahab, and a fatalistic despair that seemed meant for himself—these passed over the mute, motionless Parsee’s face. Unobserved he rose and glided away; while, awestruck by the aspect of their commander, the seamen clustered together on the forecastle, till Ahab, troubledly pacing the deck, shouted out—“To the braces! Up helm!—square insquare in: turn the yards (and their sails) at right angles to the vessel, in order to sail directly before the wind.!”
In an instant the yards swung round; and as the ship half-wheeled upon her heel, her three firm-seated graceful masts erectly poised upon her long, ribbed hull, seemed as the three Horatiithe three Horatii: Legendary Roman triplets who fought another set of triplets, the Curiatii from Alba Longa, to decide a conflict between the cities. Although two of the Horatii died, the survivor was victorious. (They have sometimes been confused with Horatius Cocles who, aided by two other Romans, successfully defended a bridge over the Tiber.) The three are depicted in a famous painting of 1784, “The Oath of the Horatii,” by Jacques-Louis David. pirouetting on one sufficient steed.
Standing between the knight-headsknight-heads: vertical timbers in the bow that support the bowsprit., Starbuck watched the Pequod’s tumultuous way, and Ahab’s also, as he went lurching along the deck.
“I have sat before the dense coal fire and watched it all aglow, full of its tormented flaming life; and I have seen it wane at last, down, down, to dumbest dust. Old man of oceans! of all this fiery life of thine, what will at length remain but one little heap of ashes!”
“Aye,” cried Stubb, “but sea-coal ashes—mind ye that, Mr. Starbuck—sea-coal, not your common charcoal. Well, well; I heard Ahab mutter, ‘Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play them, and no others.’ And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die itand die it: The oddly elliptical phrasing of “and die it” appears in both the American and British editions. Given Melville’s Shakespeareanisms (as in “Down, dog, and kennel” in Ch. 29) and the peculiarities of Stubb’s diction, the barely grammatical expression might be intended. The NN edition considers the wording to be one of many “mistakes in typesetting” (792) and emends it to “and die in it,” which is only one of several possible emendations. MEL makes no change.!”