Chapters

82 The Honor and Glory of Whaling CHAPTER 82 THE HONOR AND GLORY OF WHALING. The Honor and Glory of Whaling: In Chs. 82 and 83, Melville borrowed from three sources: the article on “Jonas” in Pierre Bayle’s Historical and Critical Dictionary, the articles on “Jonah” and “Whale” in John Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, and passages in Sir Thomas Browne's Works (see Mansfield and Vincent, 778–79). There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method. The more I dive into this matter of whaling, and push my researches up to the very spring-head of it, so much the more am I impressed with its great honorableness and antiquity; and especially when I find so many great demi-gods and heroes, prophets of all sorts, who one way or other have shed distinction upon it, I am transported with the reflection that I myself belong, though but subordinately, to so emblazonedemblazoned: illustrious. a fraternity. The gallant Perseus, a son of JupiterPerseus, a son of Jupiter: In Greek mythology Perseus, slayer of Medusa and savior of Andromeda (a princess of Ethiopia who was chained to a rock to appease a rampaging sea monster) is the son of Zeus (Roman Jupiter). Zeus turned himself into a shower of gold to impregnate Perseus’s mother, Danaë. To bring "knightly" Perseus ("prince of whalemen") into the whaling fraternity, Ishmael departs significantly from the myth. (See also "Perseus" in Chs. 28 and 55.), was the first whaleman; and to the eternal honor of our calling be it said, that the first whale attacked by our brotherhood was not killed with any sordid intent. Those were the knightly days of our profession, when we only bore arms to succor the distressed, and not to fill men’s lamp-feeders. Every one knows the fine story of Perseus and Andromeda; how the lovely Andromeda, the daughter of a king, was tied to a rock on the sea-coast, and as Leviathan was in the very act of carrying her off, Perseus, the prince of whalemen, intrepidly advancing, harpooned the monster, and delivered and married the maid. It was an admirable artistic exploit, rarely achieved by the best harpooneers of the present day; inasmuch as this Leviathan was slain at the very first dart. And let no man doubt this Arkite storythis Arkite story: From a biblical tribe that, according to Kitto, also had a myth of Perseus and Andromeda.; for in the ancient Joppa, now Jaffa, on the Syrian coast, in one of the Pagan temples, there stood for many ages the vast skeleton of a whale, which the city’s legends and all the inhabitants asserted to be the identical bones of the monster that Perseus slew. When the Romans took Joppa, the same skeletonsame skeleton: Melville replays this anecdote of the whale skeleton “carried to Italy,” first mentioned in “one of the mighty triumphs given to a Roman general” in Ch. 24; see also note on “subsequent chapters” in Melville’s footnote. was carried to Italy in triumph. What seems most singular and suggestively important in this story, is this: it was from Joppa that Jonah set sail. Akin to the adventure of Perseus and Andromeda—indeed, by some supposed to be indirectly derived from it—is that famous story of St. George and the DragonSt. George and the Dragon: Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) comments in Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Vulgar Errors) that some take the Perseus and Andromeda story to be “the father” of the St. George tale, in which the future saint slays a dragon ready to devour a sacrificial princess.; which dragon I maintain to have been a whale; for in many old chronicles whales and dragons are strangely jumbled together, and often stand for each other. “Thou art as a lion of the waters, and as a dragon of the sea,” saith “Thou art as a lion of the waters, and as a dragon of the sea,” saith Ezekielsaith Ezekiel: Melville alters scripture. In Ezekiel 32.2, God commands the prophet, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers.”; hereby, plainly meaning a whale; in truth, some versions of the Bible use that word itself. Besides, it would much subtract from the glory of the exploit had St. George but encountered a crawling reptile of the land, instead of doing battle with the great monster of the deep. Any man may kill a snake, but only a Perseus, a St. George, a Coffina Coffin: member of the well-known Nantucket whaling family., have the heart in them to march boldly up to a whale. Let not the modern paintings of this scene mislead usLet not the modern paintings of this scene mislead us.: Raphael painted at least one such rendering in the early 1500s, and Tintoretto painted one sometime around 1560, all of which Melville may have seen on view during his 1849 visit to the National Gallery in London.; for though the creature encountered by that valiant whaleman of old is vaguely represented of a griffin-likegriffin-like: A griffin has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. shape, and though the battle is depicted on land and the saint on horseback, yet considering the great ignorance of those times, when the true form of the whale was unknown to artists; and considering that as in Perseus’ case, St. George’s whale might have crawled up out of the sea on the beach; and considering that the animal ridden by St. George might have been only a large seal, or sea-horsesea-horse: walrus.; bearing all this in mind, it will not appear altogether incompatible with the sacred legend and the ancientest draughts of the scene, to hold this so-called dragon no other than the great Leviathan himself. In fact, placed before the strict and piercing truth, this whole story will fare like that fish, flesh, and fowl idol of the Philistines, DagonDagon: Mentioned several times in the Bible, Dagon is thought by some scholars to have been represented as part fish, an idea that Melville combines with the proverbial expression “neither fish, flesh, nor fowl.” See, in particular, 1 Samuel 5.4: “behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.” According to Kitto, the Hebrew root for Dagon (“dag”) is the same word for the sea beast that swallowed Jonah. by name; who being planted before the ark of Israel, his horse’s head and both the palms of his hands fell off from him, and only the stump or fishy part of him remained. Thus, then, one of our own noble stamp, even a whaleman, is the tutelary guardian of England; and by good rights, we harpooneers of Nantucket should be enrolled in the most noble order of St. Georgeorder of St. George: St. George is the patron of the Order of the Garter, the highest of British knighthood.. And therefore, let not the knights of that honorable company (none of whom, I venture to say, have ever had to do with a whale like their great patron), let them never eye a Nantucketer with disdain, since even in our woollen frocks and tarred trowsers we are much better entitled to St. George’s decoration than they. Whether to admit HerculesHercules . . . one of our clan: In one Greek myth, Hercules allows a sea monster to swallow him and then kills it from within. As for his being “thrown up” by the “whale,” Mansfield and Vincent (799) note that three of Melville’s sources—Thomas Browne, Bayle, and Kitto—associate Hercules with Jonah, a connection Ishmael also promotes in the following paragraph. among us or not, concerning this I long remained dubious: for though according to the Greek mythologies, that antique Crockett and Kit CarsonCrockett and Kit Carson: Tall and veracious tales told about the exploits of frontiersmen Davy Crockett (1786–1836), who died at the Alamo, and Kit Carson (1809–1868), who helped seize California in the Mexican War, are American analogues of the mythical adventures of Hercules.—that brawny doer of rejoicing good deeds, was swallowed down and thrown up by a whale; still, whether that strictly makes a whaleman of him, that might be mooted. It nowhere appears that he ever actually harpooned his fish, unless, indeed, from the inside. Nevertheless, he may be deemed a sort of involuntary whaleman; at any rate the whale caught him, if he did not the whale. I claim him for one of our clan. But, by the best contradictory authorities, this Grecian story of Hercules and the whale is considered to be derived from the still more ancient Hebrew story of Jonah and the whale; and vice versâ; certainly they are very similar. If I claim the demi-god then, why not the prophet? Nor do heroes, saints, demigods, and prophets alone comprise the whole roll of our order. Our grand mastergrand master: elected leader of a Masonic Grand Lodge. is still to be named; for like royal kings of old times, we find the head-waters of our fraternityREVISION NARRATIVE: our fraternity // The British edition gives “paternity” instead of “fraternity.” Although each reading may lead to the conclusion that we are all related as offspring of the gods, they have significantly different implications: whereas “paternity” simply acknowledges the fatherhood of the gods, “fraternity” asserts that humanity is a god-sanctioned brotherhood, or community of equals. Given his paean to the “great democratic God” in Ch. 26, Melville is not likely to have made the change; a British typesetter might have introduced it as a typo. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. in nothing short of the great gods themselves. That wondrous oriental story is now to be rehearsed from the Shaster, which gives us the dread VishnooBramha . . . Shaster . . . Vishnoo: With Brahma (misspelled in the American edition) and Shiva, Vishnu (here, Vishnoo, known as the Preserver) heads the Hindu pantheon. The first of his ten incarnations was as a fish (matsya), which Melville makes a whale. See note on the “Matse Avatar” in Ch. 55. A Shaster (properly “shastra”) is one type of Hindu scripture. Melville closely modeled this passage on William Ward's History, Literature, and Mythology of the Hindoos; see John J. Gretchko, "William Ward, A Source for Melville’s Vishnoo," Melville Society Extracts 88., one of the three persons in the godheadREVISION NARRATIVE: three persons in the godhead // In the British edition, “in” is altered to “of”; the change in meaning is significant. The preposition “in” seems to treat “godhead” as a pantheon, that is a collection of all gods or a place wherein various orders of gods and their “incarnations” might reside. However, in this paragraph Melville directs our attention from “heroes, saints, demigods, and prophets” to the “great gods themselves,” and though his phrase, “the three persons in the godhead,” may indicate that only these three inhabit the godhead (and not their incarnations or avatars), the use of "in" might seem to contradict Melville’s intended use of “godhead,” which properly means the essence of divinity, not a place for the gods to reside. With this in mind, Melville may have revised to the more precise phrasing, “the three persons of the godhead.” Both Melville and his editor were aware of the doctrine among many Christians of the “Godhead” as the “three-person” God of the Holy Trinity, and either one might have opted for “of” to stress that trinitarian belief. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. of the Hindoos; gives us this divine Vishnoo himself for our Lord;—Vishnoo, who, by the first of his ten earthly incarnations, has for ever set apart and sanctified the whale. When BramhaREVISION NARRATIVE: Bramha // Misspelled in the American version, the highest of Hinduism's trinity of gods is properly spelled Brahma in the British version. Melville or an editor may have made the correction. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., or the God of Gods, saith the Shaster, resolved to recreate the world after one of its periodical dissolutions, he gave birth to Vishnoo, to preside over the work; but the Vedas, or mystical books, whose perusal would seem to have been indispensable to Vishnoo before beginning the creation, and which therefore must have contained something in the shape of practical hints to young architects, these Vedas were lying at the bottom of the waters; so Vishnoo became incarnate in a whale, and sounding down in him to the uttermost depths, rescued the sacred volumes. Was not this Vishnoo a whaleman, then? even as a man who rides a horse is called a horseman? Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo! there’s a member-roll for you! What club but the whaleman’s can head off like that?