99 The Doubloon
Ere now it has been related how Ahab was wont to pace his quarter-deck, taking regular turns at either limit, the binnacle and mainmast; but in the multiplicity of other things requiring narration it has not been added how that sometimes in these walks, when most plunged in his mood, he was wont to pause in turn at each spot, and stand there strangely eyeing the particular object before him. When he halted before the binnacle, with his glance fastened on the pointed needle in the compass, that glance shot like a javelin with the pointed intensity of his purpose; and when resuming his walk he again paused before the mainmast, then, as the same riveted glance fastened upon the riveted gold coin there, he still wore the same aspect of nailed firmness, only dashed with a certain wild longing, if not hopefulness.
But one morning, turning to pass the doubloon, he seemed to be newly attracted by the strange figures and inscriptions stamped on it, as though now for the first time beginning to interpret for himself in some monomaniac way whatever significance might lurk in them. And some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth, and the round world itself but an empty cipher, except to sell by the cartload, as they do hills about Bostonhills about Boston: From 1807 to 1835, Boston’s steep Mount Vernon, Beacon Hill, and Pemberton Hill were leveled and their earth used for landfill to expand and connect the city’s different landmasses., to fill up some morass in the Milky Way.
Now this doubloon was of purest, virgin gold, raked somewhere out of the heart of gorgeous hills, whence, east and west, over golden sands, the head-waters of many a PactolusPactolus: In Greek myth, this river in western Turkey became laden with gold after King Midas washed in it to remove the unanticipated curse of his touch, the ability to turn anything to gold, from which comes the expression “Midas touch.” flow. And though now nailed amidst all the rustiness of iron bolts and the verdigrisverdigris: greenish crust formed on copper exposed to seawater. of copper spikes, yet, untouchable and immaculate to any foulness, it still preserved its Quito glow. Nor, though placed amongst a ruthless crew and every hour passed by ruthless hands, and through the livelong nights shrouded with thick darkness which might cover any pilfering approach, nevertheless every sunrise found the doubloon where the sunset left it last. For it was set apart and sanctified to one awe-striking end; and however wanton in their sailor ways, one and all, the mariners revered it as the white whale’s talismantalisman: object marked with mystic signs to avert evil.. Sometimes they talked it over in the weary watch by night, wondering whose it was to be at last, and whether he would ever live to spend it.
Now those noble golden coins of South America are as medals of the sun and tropic token-pieces. Here palms, alpacas, and volcanoes; sun’s disks and stars; eclipticsecliptics: the ecliptic is the apparent yearly path of the sun as observed from Earth. , horns-of-plenty, and rich banners waving, are in luxuriant profusion stamped; so that the precious gold seems almost to derive an added preciousness and enhancing glories, by passing through those fancy mints, so Spanishly poetic.
It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequoddoubloon of the Pequod: In describing the coin, Melville omitted some of the symbols that appear on an actual Ecuadorian doubloon, and apparently misperceived others; editors of Moby-Dick have misidentified some of the symbols as well. An official decree of 1836 specifies the details of the eight escudo coin, also called a doubloon, issued in 1838: “on the obverse it will have . . . the zodiac or the ecliptic. . . . To the right will be the two principal mountains that make up the Pichincha mountain chain; on the first point the Guagua Pichincha on which will rest a condor [not a cock as in Moby-Dick] and on the second the Ruco Pichincha volcano [smoking, not flame-topped]. To the left of the shield will be engraved a cliff [not a mountain summit], on it a tower and on this will be placed another condor [not mentioned in the text] that will face the one that is on the peak to the right. The inscription will be REPUBLIC OF ECUADOR—QUITO, placed perpendicularly below the sun” (trans. Stephen Grimsley). Not specified by the decree are the signs of the zodiac Melville describes, two on each side of the central, “keystone” sun. From left to right they are Leo, Virgo, Libra, and Scorpio. was a most wealthy example of these things. On its round border it bore the letters, REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO. So this bright coin came from a country planted in the middle of the world, and beneath the great equator, and named after it; and it had been cast midway up the Andes, in the unwaning clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those letters you saw the likeness of three Andes’ summits; from one a flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all marked with their usual cabalisticscabalistics: hidden meanings, but here the symbols associated with of the signs of the zodiac., and the keystone sun entering the equinoctial point at Libraequinoctial point at Libra: Astrologically, the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs as the sun is entering the constellation Libra, the Scales..
Before this equatorial coin, Ahab, not unobserved by others, was now pausing.
“There’s something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here,—three peaks as proud as Luciferproud as Lucifer: In Christian tradition the prideful Satan was named Lucifer, meaning “light bearer,” before he led certain angels in rebellion against God and was cast out of heaven to rule in hell. “Proud as Lucifer” is proverbial.. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself. Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see! aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinoxthe sign of storms, the equinox: The spring or vernal equinox occurs in the Northern Hemisphere when, in astrology, the sun is said to be in the constellation Aries, the Ram. Correspondingly, during the fall or autumnal equinox, the sun is in Libra.
Subscribing to the popular belief (probably derived from sailors’ experience of hurricanes in the West Indies) that severe storms in North America occur most frequently at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, Ahab then interprets the coin's positioning of the sun in Libra as also recalling the sun's "former equinox at Aries." And from this pairing, he derives a larger conclusion that our lives proceed "from storm to storm."! and but six months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries! From storm to storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, ’tis fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then! Here’s stout stuff for woe to work on. So be it, then.”
“No fairy fingers can have pressed the gold, but devil’s claws must have left their mouldings there since yesterday,” murmured Starbuck to himself, leaning against the bulwarks. “The old man seems to read Belshazzar’s awful writingBelshazzar’s awful writing: During a feast held by Babylonian King Belshazzar, a disembodied hand writes mysterious, prophetic words on a wall (see "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" in Ch. 119), which the prophet Daniel correctly interprets as predicting the prideful king’s death and the downfall of his kingdom (Daniel 4). See also "Belshazzar" in Ch. 34.. I have never marked the coin inspectingly. He goes below; let me read. A dark valley between three mighty, heaven-abiding peaks, that almost seem the Trinity, in some faint earthly symbol. So in this vale of Deaththis vale of Death . . . sun of Righteousness: Briefly sermonizing before losing hope in religious solace, the Quaker Starbuck, steeped in the Bible, echoes “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23), and quotes “Sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4.2)., God girds us round; and over all our gloom, the sun of Righteousness still shines a beacon and a hope. If we bend down our eyes, the dark vale shows her mouldy soil; but if we lift them, the bright sun meets our glance half way, to cheer. Yet, oh, the great sun is no fixture; and if, at midnight, we would fain snatch some sweet solace from him, we gaze for him in vain! This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still sadly to me. I will quit it, lest Truth shake me falsely.”
“There now’s the old Mogul,” soliloquized Stubb by the try-works, “he’s been twiggingtwigging: observing (sailor slang). it; and there goes Starbuck from the same, and both with faces which I should say might be somewhere within nine fathoms long. And all from looking at a piece of gold, which did I have it now on Negro Hill or in Corlaer’s HookNegro Hill or in Corlaer’s Hook: Like Boston’s infamous Negro Hill, Corlear’s Hook was a red-light district in New York City, frequented by sailors, and referred to early in Ch. 1., I’d not look at it very long ere spending it. Humph! in my poor, insignificant opinion, I regard this as queer. I have seen doubloons before now in my voyagings; your doubloons of old Spain, your doubloons of Peru, your doubloons of Chili, your doubloons of Bolivia, your doubloons of PopayanPopayan: site of a famous mint in Colombia.; with plenty of gold moidores and pistoles, and joesmoidores and pistoles, and joes: Spanish and Portuguese coins., and half joes, and quarter joes. What then should there be in this doubloon of the Equator that is so killing wonderful? By GolcondaGolconda: Ruined city near Hyderabad, India, famed for its diamonds; its name implies great wealth.! let me read it once. Halloa! here’s signs and wonderssigns and wonders: Frequent biblical phrase pertaining to the actions of God in the Hebrew Bible, and those of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. truly! That, now, is what old Bowditch in his EpitomeBowditch in his Epitome: Nathaniel Bowditch (1773–1838) wrote the New American Practical Navigator, Being an Epitome of Navigation (1802), which became the standard American navigational handbook. calls the zodiac, and what my almanack below calls ditto. I’ll get the almanack; and as I have heardREVISION NARRATIVE: as I have heard // The conversion of “I have” to “I’ve” in the British edition is almost certainly Melville’s revision to bring Stubb’s colloquial speech in line with his other contractions. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. devils can be raised with Daboll’s arithmeticDaboll’s arithmetic: Nathan Daboll’s Complete Schoolmaster’s Assistant (1799) was for many years a common American arithmetic textbook., I’ll try my hand at raising a meaning out of these queer curvicues here with the Massachusetts calendarMassachusetts calendar: An almanac containing a diagram titled “the Man of the Signs,” showing a man surrounded by the signs of the zodiac (see Feidelson, Moby-Dick, 553).. Here’s the book. Let’s see now. Signs and wonders; and the sun, he’s always among ’em. Hem, hem, hem; here they are—here they go—all alive:—Aries, or the Ram; Taurus, or the Bull and Jimini! here’s Gemini himself, or the Twins. Well; the sun he wheels among ’em. Aye, here on the coin he’s just crossing the threshold between two of twelve sitting-rooms all in a ring. Book! you lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places. You’ll do to give us the bare words and facts, but we come in to supply the thoughts. That’s my small experience, so far as the Massachusetts calendar, and Bowditch’s navigator, and Daboll’s arithmetic go. Signs and wonders, eh? Pity if there is nothing wonderful in signs, and significant in wonders! There’s a clue somewhere; wait a bit; hist—hark! By Jove, I have it! Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac here is the life of man in one roundround: like the coin, but also meaning whole or complete. chapter; and now I’ll read it off, straight out of the book. Come, Almanack! To begin: there’s Aries, or the Ram—lecherous dog, he begets usREVISION NARRATIVE: the Ram—lecherous dog, he begets us // A term used freely by Melville’s early English sources, “lecherous” had little currency in the mid-nineteenth century among polite readers, and it may have been his own desire to tone down the lewdness of his comparison of the Ram to a “lecherous dog” that led Melville himself to cut this phrase from the British edition; if not, an editor surely obliged. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.; then, Taurus, or the Bull—he bumps us the first thing; then Gemini, or the Twins—that is, Virtue and Vice; we try to reach Vir-tue, when lo! comes Cancer the Crab, and drags us back; and here, going from Virtue, Leo, a roaring LionLeo, a roaring Lion: For Leo, Stubb quotes part of the familiar biblical phrase, “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5.8)., lies in the path—he gives a few fierce bites and surly dabs with his paw; we escape, and hail Virgo, the Virgin! that’s our first love; we marry and think to be happy for ayefor aye: forever., when pop comes Libra, or the Scales—happiness weighed and found wanting; and while we are very sad about that, Lord! how we suddenly jump, as Scorpio, or the Scorpion, stings us in the rear; we are curing the wound, when whang come the arrows all round; Sagittarius, or the Archer, is amusing himself. As we pluck out the shafts, stand aside! here’s the battering-ram, Capricornus, or the Goat; full tilt, he comes rushing, and headlong we are tossed; when Aquarius, or the Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and to wind up with Piscesand to wind up with Pisces: Given its punctuation (not altered in the British edition), the clause is slightly ambiguous. Stubb may be announcing that he is going “to wind up” his discourse and conclude that we sleep with Pisces, or the fishes; or he may be saying that he is winding up his discourse with a focus on Pisces, and our final end is that we sleep in death. The NN edition adds commas to set off “to wind up” and settles on the first reading only; MEL makes no change., or the Fishes, we sleep. There’s a sermon now, writ in high heaven, and the sun goes through it every year, and yet comes out of it all alive and hearty. Jollily he, aloft there, wheels through toil and troubletoil and trouble: From the refrain in the witches’ spell in Macbeth 4.1. According to his sister, Helen, Melville as a teenager playfully quoted from this scene (See Bryant, Herman Melville: A Half Known Life, vol. 1, ch. 23.).; and so, alow herealow here: down here., does jolly Stubb. Oh, jolly’s the word for aye! Adieu, Doubloon! But stop; here comes little King-Post; dodge round the try-works, now, and let’s hear what he’ll have to say. There; he’s before it; he’ll out with something presently. So, so; he’s beginning.”
“I see nothing here, but a round thing made of gold, and whoever raises a certain whale, this round thing belongs to him. So, what’s all this staring been about? It is worth sixteen dollars, that’s true; and at two cents the cigar, that’s nine hundred and sixty cigarsnine hundred and sixty cigars: Since 16 dollars will buy only eight-hundred cigars at 2 cents each, either Flask is egregiously bad at arithmetic or he is assuming a quantity price of twelve cigars for 20 cents on a Spanish American dollar (as noted in the NN edition).. I won’t smoke dirty pipes like Stubb, but I like cigars, and here’s nine hundred and sixty of them; so here goes Flask aloft to spy ’em out.”
“Shall I call that wise or foolish, now; if it be really wise it has a foolish look to it; yet, if it be really foolish, then has it a sort of wiseish look to it. But, avast; here comes our old Manxman—the old hearse-driverManxman—the old hearse-driver: In sailor folklore a Manxman (a native of the Isle of Man) is a soothsayer, particularly a predictor of doom and gloom as is the one on the Pequod, introduced in Ch. 40., he must have been, that is, before he took to the sea. He luffs upluffs up: stops. before the doubloon; halloa, and goes round on the other side of the mast; why, there’s a horse-shoe nailed on that side; and now he’s back again; what does that mean? Hark! he’s muttering—voice like an old worn-out coffee-mill. Prick ears, and listen!”
“If the White Whale be raised, it must be in a month and a day, when the sun stands in some one of these signs. I’ve studied signs, and know their marks; they were taught me two score years ago, by the old witch in Copenhagen. Now, in what sign will the sun then be? The horse-shoe sign; for there it is, right opposite the gold. And what’s the horse-shoe sign? The lion is the horse-shoe sign—the roaring and devouring lion. Ship, old ship! my old head shakes to think of thee.”
“There’s another rendering now; but still one text. All sorts of men in one kind of world, you see. Dodge again! here comes Queequeg—all tattooing—looks like the signs of the Zodiac himself. What says the Cannibal? As I live he’s comparing notes; looking at his thigh bone; thinks the sun is in the thigh, or in the calf, or in the bowels, I suppose, as the old women talk Surgeon’s AstronomySurgeon’s Astronomy: Kevin J. Hayes and others argue that "Surgeon's" is a likely mistranscription for “Ferguson’s Astronomy,” referring to the enormously popular 1768/69 guide to astronomy titled Easy Introduction to Astronomy for Young Gentlemen and Ladies by James Ferguson (1710-1776). Melville's father, Allan Melvill, purchased an 1805 copy [Sealts 214] for his own edification, and it remained in the family library for his children. For Melville's familiarity with astronomy, see Ch. 57, "Whales in Paint; ... in Stars." in the back country. And by Jove, he’s found something there in the vicinity of his thigh—I guess it’s Sagittarius, or the Archer. No: he don’t know what to make of the doubloon; he takes it for an old button off some king’s trowsers. But, aside again! here comes that ghost-devilREVISION NARRATIVE: that ghost-devil // The British version of this epithet for Fedallah, reading “that old ghost-devil,” is probably a revision requested by Melville. Traditionally, the devil is taken to be ancient or ageless, and Melville adopts the trope. For instance, in Ch. 50, the demonic Fedallah is associated with aboriginal culture. And in Ch. 73, where Fedallah is called a "devil in disguise," Stubb estimates Fedallah's age by reckoning the mast as the numeral one and the ship's barrel hoops as an infinite number of zeroes following it. When Fedallah returns in Ch. 99 to gaze at the doubloon, Stubb calls Fedallah, in the American version, simply a "ghost-devil." Chances are that, to underscore Fedallah's agelessness established in Ch. 73, Melville added "old" in the sheets he sent to England. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., Fedallah; tail coiled out of sight as usual, oakum in the toes of his pumps as usual. What does he say, with that look of his? Ah, only makes a sign to the sign and bows himself; there is a sun on the coin—fire worshipper, depend upon it. Ho! more and more. This way comes Pip—poor boy! would he had died, or I; he’s half horrible to me. He too has been watching all of these interpreters—myself included—and look now, he comes to read, with that unearthly idiot face. Stand away again and hear him. Hark!”
“I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.”
“Upon my soul, he’s been studying Murray’s GrammarMurray’s Grammar!: Lindley Murray (1745–1826) wrote English Grammar (1795), widely used in England and the United States.!
Improving his mind, poor fellow! But what’s that he says now—hist!”
“I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.”
“Why, he’s getting it by heart—hist! again.”
“I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look.”
“Well, that’s funny.”
“And I, you, and he; and we, ye, and they, are all bats; and I’m a crowI’m a crow: Acutely conscious of his blackness and small size, Pip may be expressing his sense of inferiority by alluding to the minstrel show stereotype called Jim Crow., especially when I stand a’top of this pine tree here. Caw! caw! caw! caw! caw! caw! Ain’t I a crow? And where’s the scare-crow? There he stands; two bones stuck into a pair of old trowsers, and two more poked into the sleeves of an old jacket.”
“Wonder if he means me?—complimentary!—poor lad!—I could go hang myself. Any way, for the present, I’ll quit Pip’s vicinity. I can stand the rest, for they have plain wits; but he’s too crazy-witty for my sanity. So, so, I leave him muttering.”
“Here’s the ship’s navel, this doubloon here, and they are all on fire to unscrew it. But, unscrew your navelunscrew your navel: Though the doubloon is central to the ship’s symbolism, analogous to other metaphorical “navels” such as the Kaaba in Mecca for Islam, and the Omphalos of early Greek religion in Delphi, Melville is alluding to a very old joke: unscrew your navel and your buttocks fall off., and what’s the consequence? Then again, if it stays here, that is ugly, too, for when aught’s nailed to the mastnailed to the mast: In naval battle under desperate conditions, the colors (flag) were sometimes nailed to the mast so no one aboard could lower them in surrender. Compare Ahab’s order to nail a replacement flag to the mast of the Pequod in Ch. 135. it’s a sign that things grow desperate. Ha, ha! old Ahab! the White Whale; he’ll nail ye! This is a pine tree. My father, in old Tolland county, cut down a pine tree once, and found a silver ring grown over in it; some old darkey’s wedding ring. How did it get there? And so they’ll say in the resurrectionREVISION NARRATIVE:
Hushing Pip //
Some of Pip’s mutterings were taken to be mildly irreverent. His phrase, “in the resurrection,” referring to the so-called Last Day or Judgment Day, when all souls are sent either to heaven or hell (see Revelation 20), was revised by British editors to simply “one day.” See also "Hish! Hish! etc.," below. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., when they come to fish up this old mast, and find a doubloon lodged in it, with bedded oysters for the shaggy bark. Oh, the gold! the precious, precious gold!—the green misergreen miser: Davy Jones, also mentioned in Chs. 18 and 81.’ll hoard ye soon! Hish! hish! God goes ’mong the worlds blackberrying. Cook! ho, cook! and cook us! Jenny! hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, Jenny, Jenny! and get your hoe-cake done!"REVISION NARRATIVE: Hushing Pip // Pip’s last lines—when he hushes himself, sees God picking blackberries, greets the cook, and breaks into song—were cut entirely, even though only the image of God going berry picking might have been taken as objectionable. Perhaps Melville made this cut himself to end on Pip’s more ominous prediction: “the green miser’ll hoard ye soon!” (See also "in the resurrection," above.) Feidelson (557) suggests that "blackberrying" may be Pip’s variant of “blackbirding,” kidnapping Black people into slavery. A blackface minstrel song with African roots, “Jenny Get Your Hoe Cake Done” was popularized by Joel Walker Sweeney and sung by him in New York City in 1840. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.