70 The Sphynx
It should not have been omitted that previous to completely stripping the body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading of the Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and not without reason.
Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a neck; on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there, in that very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also, that the surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet intervening between him and his subject, and that subject almost hidden in a discolored, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and bursting sea. Bear in mind, too, that under these untoward circumstances he has to cut many feet deep in the flesh; and in that subterraneous manner, without so much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thus made, he must skilfully steer clear of all adjacent, interdicted parts, and exactly divide the spine at a critical point hard by its insertion into the skull. Do you not marvel, then, at Stubb’s boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?
When first severed, the head is dropped astern and held there by a cable till the body is stripped. That done, if it belong to a small whale it is hoisted on deck to be deliberately disposed of. But, with a full grown leviathan this is impossible; for the sperm whale’s head embraces nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to suspend such a burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a whaler, this were as vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barnDutch barn: The barns of Dutch American farmers, who had a reputation for careful husbandry, would presumably be heavy with produce. Melville, who grew up with Dutch American relatives, also could have found a literary embodiment of such a barn in the well-known story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) by Washington Irving (1783-1859). in jewellers’ scales.
The Pequod’s whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head was hoisted against the ship’s side—about half way out of the sea, so that it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. And there with the strained craft steeply leaning over to it, by reason of the enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-arm on that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giant Holofernes’slike the giant Holofernes’s from the girdle of Judith: In the story told in the apocryphal book of Judith, Holofernes, the Assyrian general besieging the Hebrew city Bethulia, is a giant only in power. The pretty widow Judith charms her way into the enemy camp and the general’s tent, gets him drunk, and cuts off his head with his sword. In the many works of art based on the story, Holofernes is sometimes depicted as a giant, perhaps to magnify Judith’s bravery by analogy to David and Goliath. No known painting or etching depicts the scene as described here; perhaps Melville misremembered one that shows Judith holding the head by the hair, at the level of her waist, such as by Christoforo Allori (1615) or Peter Paul Rubens (1620–22). from the girdle of Judith.
When this last task was accomplished it was noon, and the seamen went below to their dinner. Silence reigned over the before tumultuous but now deserted deck. An intense copper calmcopper calm, like a universal yellow lotus: “Copper” is common in meteorological descriptions, and the noontime copper calm enveloping the Pequod also echoes Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": “All in a hot and copper sky / The bloody sun at noon, / Right up above the mast did stand.” The lotus flower, a symbol of the sun common to Buddhist, Hindu, and ancient Egyptian beliefs, signifies universal enlightenment and is an ironic introduction to Ahab’s ensuing dark address to the whale’s head., like a universal yellow lotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless leaves upon the sea.
A short space elapsed, and up into this noiselessness came Ahab alone from his cabin. Taking a few turns on the quarterdeck, he paused to gaze over the side, then slowly getting into the main-chainsmain-chains: The "chains," here aligned with the main-mast, is a wooden plank, combined with rigid links of chain, projecting from the outer side of the ship and designed to push the shrouds away from the ship's gunwale and thereby reduce wear on the rigging. Ahab inserts himself "into the main-chains" by perching on the wooden plank to soliloquize on the whale's head that is half-submerged but suspended up to his level and leaning against the side of the ship. he took Stubb’s long spade—still remaining there after the whale’s decapitation—and striking it into the lower part of the half-suspended mass, placed its other end crutch-wise under one arm, and so stood leaning over with eyes attentively fixed on this head.
It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’sthe Sphynx’s in the desert: The Egyptian Sphinx "in the desert" is conflated with the one in Greek myth, whose riddle was the curse of Thebes until Oedipus solved it, bringing about her death and Theban liberation. The story is one analogue of Ahab’s quest to solve the riddle of existence and at the same time destroy the enigmatic Moby Dick. in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoaryhoary: ancient. with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bellbell: device holding air, used for underwater work and observation. or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate mawinsatiate maw: ever-hungry mouth (of the sea).; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”REVISION NARRATIVE: O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!” // In his soliloquy Ahab argues that even Abraham, an Old Testament epitome of faith for his willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, at God’s command (Genesis 22), would be turned atheist by the horrors the whale had seen. Melville's British editors deemed the line irreverent and expurgated it, which undoes Melville's pairing of the image with the New Testament image of the "breeze" of St. Paul's faith appearing in the chapter's final paragraph. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.
“Sail ho!” cried a triumphant voice from the main-mast-head.
“Aye? Well, now, that’s cheering,” cried Ahab, suddenly erecting himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. “That lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better man.—Where away?”
“Three pointsThree points on the starboard bow: Because a point on the compass equals 11.25 degrees, the ship seen by the man aloft is 33.75 degrees to the right of the Pequod's bow. on the starboard bow, sir, and bringing down her breeze to us!”
“Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives in matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mindO Nature, . . . linked analogies . . . its cunning duplicate in mind.”: Ahab echoes the transcendental thinking of Ralph Waldo Emerson in which material nature is a symbol or analogy of a universal spiritual reality that suffuses and thereby links all things. Similarly, all material and spiritual things have their symbolic equivalent (or duplicate) in the mind. While Ahab can articulate these views, he cannot himself discover the links and duplicates of nature, soul, and mind; nor is the dead whale’s symbolic head divulging the secret..”