Chapters

80 The Nut CHAPTER 80 THE NUT. If the Sperm Whale be physiognomically a SphinxREVISION NARRATIVE: Sphinx // The British version's spelling here is "Sphynx," which is in keeping with both the title and internal usage of the word in Ch. 70, "The Sphynx." The OED favors "Sphinx," but "Sphynx" appears often in engravings, photographs, and literary works from the 18th century to the present, including Alexander Kinglake's popular oriental travelogue Eothen (1844). Although the NN editors do not remark upon this spelling variant, treating it as an "accidental" of no substantive meaning, it may be Melville's revision in order to retain either consistency or whatever exotic flavor the "y"-spelling might connote. The NN edition does not emend to "Sphynx"; nor do Longman and MEL. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., to the phrenologist his brain seems that geometrical circle which it is impossible to squareimpossible to square: Ancient Greeks first posed the problem of constructing a square whose area equals that of a given circle. In fact, the puzzle cannot be solved because pi (used to determine the area of a circle) is a transcendental number, that is, infinitely uncountable.. In the full-grown creature the skullthe skull: Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale is the main source for this chapter’s anatomical details. will measure at least twenty feet in length. Unhinge the lower jaw, and the side view of this skull is as the side view of a moderately inclined plane resting throughout on a level base. But in life—as we have elsewhere seenelsewhere seen: at the beginning of Ch. 57.—this inclined plane is angularly filled up, and almost squared by the enormous superincumbentsuperincumbent: lying on top. mass of the junk and sperm. At the high end the skull forms a crater to bed that part of the mass; while under the long floor of this crater—in another cavity seldom exceeding ten inches in length and as many in depth—reposes the mere handful of this monster’s brain. The brain is at least twenty feet from his apparent forehead in life; it is hidden away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel within the amplified fortifications of Quebec. So like a choice casket is it secreted in him, that I have known some whalemen who peremptorily deny that the Sperm Whale has any other brain than that palpable semblance of one formed by the cubic-yards of his sperm magazine. Lying in strange folds, courses, and convolutions, to their apprehen-sions, it seems more in keeping with the idea of his general might to regard that mystic part of him as the seat of his intelligence. It is plain, then, that phrenologically the head of this Leviathan, in the creature’s living intact state, is an entire delusion. As for his true brain, you can then see no indications of it, nor feel any. The whale, like all things that are mighty, wears a false bowfalse bow: In this chapter, titled “The Nut,” Ishmael notes that the whale’s brain is so deeply embedded in the skull that the pseudoscience of phrenology (which gauges character and ability by the shape of the skull) is of no use in understanding the whale’s “true brain.” The skull, he remarks, is “an entire delusion” and “a false bow.” A false bow is additional sheathing or structures, in wood or metal, applied to the bow of a ship to repair damage, provide reinforcement, or deceive enemies; its presence conceals a ship’s true structure. However, arguing that the intended meaning is “false brow,” the NN edition emends “bow” to “brow.” Longman and MEL make no change. to the common world. If you unload his skull of its spermy heaps and then take a rear view of its rear end, which is the high end, you will be struck by its resemblance to the human skull, beheld in the same situation, and from the same point of view. Indeed, place this reversed skull (scaled down to the human magnitude) among a plateplate: page of illustrations. of men’s skulls, and you would involuntarily confound it with them; and remarking the depressions on one part of its summit, in phrenological phrase you would say—This man had no self-esteem, and no veneration. And by those negations, considered along with the affirmative fact of his prodigious bulk and power, you can best form to yourself the truest, though not the most exhilarating conception of what the most exalted potency is. But if from the comparative dimensions of the whale’s proper brain, you deem it incapable of being adequately charted, then I have another idea for you. If you attentively regard almost any quadruped’s spine, you will be struck with the resemblance of its vertebræ to a strung necklace of dwarfed skullsdwarfed skulls: Some editions of Thomas Maurice's Indian Antiquities, one of Melville’s sources, show the goddess Kali wearing a necklace of dwarfed skulls. Several German naturalists had proposed the analogy between the skull and vertebrae, including Lorenz Oken (1779–1851), from whom the great German writer and natural philosopher Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) borrowed the idea., all bearing rudimental resemblance to the skull proper. It is a German conceit, that the vertebræ are absolutely undeveloped skulls. But the curious external resemblance, I take it the Germans were not the first men to perceive. A foreign friend once pointed it out to me, in the skeleton of a foe he had slain, and with the vertebræ of which he was inlaying, in a sort of basso-relievobasso-relievo: more commonly "bas relief," a sculpted design projecting slightly from a flat surface., the beaked prow of his canoe. Now, I consider that the phrenologists have omitted an important thing in not pushing their investigations from the cerebellum through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a man’s character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world. Apply this spinal branch of phrenology to the Sperm Whale. His cranial cavity is continuous with the first neck-vertebra; and in that vertebra the bottom of the spinal canal will measure ten inches across, being eight in height, and of a triangular figure with the base downwards. As it passes through the remaining vertebræ the canal tapers in size, but for a considerable distance remains of large capacity. Now, of course, this canal is filled with much the same strangely fibrous substance—the spinal cord—as the brain; and directly communicates with the brain. And what is still more, for many feet after emerging from the brain’s cavity, the spinal cord remains of an undecreasing girth, almost equal to that of the brain. Under all these circumstances, would it be unreasonable to survey and map out the whale’s spine phrenologically? For, viewed in this light, the wonderful comparative smallness of his brain proper is more than compensated by the wonderful comparative magnitude of his spinal cord. But leaving this hint to operate as it may with the phrenologists, I would merely assume the spinal theory for a moment, in reference to the Sperm Whale’s hump. This august hump, if I mistake not, rises over one of the larger vertebræ, and is, therefore, in some sort, the outer convex mould of it. From its relative situation then, I should call this high hump the organ of firmness or indomitableness in the Sperm Whale. And that the great monster is indomitable, you will yet have reason to know.