The Project Gutenberg ebook of Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville

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In that sloping afternoon sunlight, the shadows that the three boats

sent down beneath the surface, must have been long enough and broad

enough to shade half Xerxes' army. Who can tell how appalling to the

wounded whale must have been such huge phantoms flitting over his head!

"Stand by, men; he stirs," cried Starbuck, as the three lines suddenly

vibrated in the water, distinctly conducting upwards to them, as by

magnetic wires, the life and death throbs of the whale, so that every

oarsman felt them in his seat. The next moment, relieved in great part

from the downward strain at the bows, the boats gave a sudden bounce

upwards, as a small icefield will, when a dense herd of white bears are

scared from it into the sea.
"Haul in! Haul in!" cried Starbuck again; "he's rising."
The lines, of which, hardly an instant before, not one hand's breadth

could have been gained, were now in long quick coils flung back all

dripping into the boats, and soon the whale broke water within two

ship's lengths of the hunters.

His motions plainly denoted his extreme exhaustion. In most land animals

there are certain valves or flood-gates in many of their veins, whereby

when wounded, the blood is in some degree at least instantly shut off in

certain directions. Not so with the whale; one of whose peculiarities

it is to have an entire non-valvular structure of the blood-vessels, so

that when pierced even by so small a point as a harpoon, a deadly

drain is at once begun upon his whole arterial system; and when this is

heightened by the extraordinary pressure of water at a great distance

below the surface, his life may be said to pour from him in incessant

streams. Yet so vast is the quantity of blood in him, and so distant

and numerous its interior fountains, that he will keep thus bleeding and

bleeding for a considerable period; even as in a drought a river will

flow, whose source is in the well-springs of far-off and undiscernible

hills. Even now, when the boats pulled upon this whale, and perilously

drew over his swaying flukes, and the lances were darted into him,

they were followed by steady jets from the new made wound, which kept

continually playing, while the natural spout-hole in his head was only

at intervals, however rapid, sending its affrighted moisture into the

air. From this last vent no blood yet came, because no vital part of him

had thus far been struck. His life, as they significantly call it, was

As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of

his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly

revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were

beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the

noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes

had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see.

But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his

blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the

gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the

solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.

Still rolling in his blood, at last he partially disclosed a strangely

discoloured bunch or protuberance, the size of a bushel, low down on the

"A nice spot," cried Flask; "just let me prick him there once."
"Avast!" cried Starbuck, "there's no need of that!"
But humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart an

ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more than

sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with swift fury

blindly darted at the craft, bespattering them and their glorying crews

all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat and marring the

bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by

loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had

made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin,

then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up

the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most

piteous, that last expiring spout. As when by unseen hands the water

is gradually drawn off from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled

melancholy gurglings the spray-column lowers and lowers to the

ground--so the last long dying spout of the whale.

Soon, while the crews were awaiting the arrival of the ship, the body

showed symptoms of sinking with all its treasures unrifled. Immediately,

by Starbuck's orders, lines were secured to it at different points, so

that ere long every boat was a buoy; the sunken whale being suspended a

few inches beneath them by the cords. By very heedful management, when

the ship drew nigh, the whale was transferred to her side, and was

strongly secured there by the stiffest fluke-chains, for it was plain

that unless artificially upheld, the body would at once sink to the

It so chanced that almost upon first cutting into him with the spade,

the entire length of a corroded harpoon was found imbedded in his flesh,

on the lower part of the bunch before described. But as the stumps of

harpoons are frequently found in the dead bodies of captured whales,

with the flesh perfectly healed around them, and no prominence of any

kind to denote their place; therefore, there must needs have been

some other unknown reason in the present case fully to account for

the ulceration alluded to. But still more curious was the fact of a

lance-head of stone being found in him, not far from the buried iron,

the flesh perfectly firm about it. Who had darted that stone lance? And

when? It might have been darted by some Nor' West Indian long before

America was discovered.

What other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous

cabinet there is no telling. But a sudden stop was put to further

discoveries, by the ship's being unprecedentedly dragged over sideways

to the sea, owing to the body's immensely increasing tendency to sink.

However, Starbuck, who had the ordering of affairs, hung on to it to the

last; hung on to it so resolutely, indeed, that when at length the ship

would have been capsized, if still persisting in locking arms with the

body; then, when the command was given to break clear from it, such was

the immovable strain upon the timber-heads to which the fluke-chains and

cables were fastened, that it was impossible to cast them off. Meantime

everything in the Pequod was aslant. To cross to the other side of the

deck was like walking up the steep gabled roof of a house. The ship

groaned and gasped. Many of the ivory inlayings of her bulwarks and

cabins were started from their places, by the unnatural dislocation.

In vain handspikes and crows were brought to bear upon the immovable

fluke-chains, to pry them adrift from the timberheads; and so low

had the whale now settled that the submerged ends could not be at all

approached, while every moment whole tons of ponderosity seemed added to

the sinking bulk, and the ship seemed on the point of going over.
"Hold on, hold on, won't ye?" cried Stubb to the body, "don't be in such

a devil of a hurry to sink! By thunder, men, we must do something or go

for it. No use prying there; avast, I say with your handspikes, and run

one of ye for a prayer book and a pen-knife, and cut the big chains."

"Knife? Aye, aye," cried Queequeg, and seizing the carpenter's heavy

hatchet, he leaned out of a porthole, and steel to iron, began slashing

at the largest fluke-chains. But a few strokes, full of sparks, were

given, when the exceeding strain effected the rest. With a terrific

snap, every fastening went adrift; the ship righted, the carcase sank.
Now, this occasional inevitable sinking of the recently killed Sperm

Whale is a very curious thing; nor has any fisherman yet adequately

accounted for it. Usually the dead Sperm Whale floats with great

buoyancy, with its side or belly considerably elevated above the

surface. If the only whales that thus sank were old, meagre, and

broken-hearted creatures, their pads of lard diminished and all their

bones heavy and rheumatic; then you might with some reason assert that

this sinking is caused by an uncommon specific gravity in the fish so

sinking, consequent upon this absence of buoyant matter in him. But it

is not so. For young whales, in the highest health, and swelling with

noble aspirations, prematurely cut off in the warm flush and May of

life, with all their panting lard about them; even these brawny, buoyant

heroes do sometimes sink.
Be it said, however, that the Sperm Whale is far less liable to this

accident than any other species. Where one of that sort go down, twenty

Right Whales do. This difference in the species is no doubt imputable in

no small degree to the greater quantity of bone in the Right Whale;

his Venetian blinds alone sometimes weighing more than a ton; from this

incumbrance the Sperm Whale is wholly free. But there are instances

where, after the lapse of many hours or several days, the sunken whale

again rises, more buoyant than in life. But the reason of this

is obvious. Gases are generated in him; he swells to a prodigious

magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon. A line-of-battle ship could

hardly keep him under then. In the Shore Whaling, on soundings, among

the Bays of New Zealand, when a Right Whale gives token of sinking, they

fasten buoys to him, with plenty of rope; so that when the body has gone

down, they know where to look for it when it shall have ascended again.

It was not long after the sinking of the body that a cry was heard from

the Pequod's mast-heads, announcing that the Jungfrau was again lowering

her boats; though the only spout in sight was that of a Fin-Back,

belonging to the species of uncapturable whales, because of its

incredible power of swimming. Nevertheless, the Fin-Back's spout is so

similar to the Sperm Whale's, that by unskilful fishermen it is often

mistaken for it. And consequently Derick and all his host were now in

valiant chase of this unnearable brute. The Virgin crowding all sail,

made after her four young keels, and thus they all disappeared far to

leeward, still in bold, hopeful chase.

Oh! many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.

CHAPTER 82. The Honour and Glory of Whaling.

There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true

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 honourableness 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 emblazoned a


The gallant Perseus, a son of Jupiter, was the first whaleman; and

to the eternal honour 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 story; 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 skeleton 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 Dragon; 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 Ezekiel; 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 Coffin, have the heart in them to march boldly

up to a whale.

Let not the modern paintings of this scene mislead us; for though

the creature encountered by that valiant whaleman of old is vaguely

represented of a griffin-like 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-horse;

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, Dagon 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. George. And therefore, let not the knights of that honourable

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 Hercules among us or not, concerning this I long

remained dubious: for though according to the Greek mythologies, that

antique Crockett and Kit Carson--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 versa; certainly

they are very similar. If I claim the demigod then, why not the prophet?

Nor do heroes, saints, demigods, and prophets alone comprise the whole

roll of our order. Our grand master is still to be named; for like royal

kings of old times, we find the head waters of our fraternity 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 Vishnoo, one

of the three persons in the godhead 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 Brahma, 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?

CHAPTER 83. Jonah Historically Regarded.

Reference was made to the historical story of Jonah and the whale in the

preceding chapter. Now some Nantucketers rather distrust this historical

story of Jonah and the whale. But then there were some sceptical Greeks

and Romans, who, standing out from the orthodox pagans of their times,

equally doubted the story of Hercules and the whale, and Arion and the

dolphin; and yet their doubting those traditions did not make those

traditions one whit the less facts, for all that.
One old Sag-Harbor whaleman's chief reason for questioning the Hebrew

story was this:--He had one of those quaint old-fashioned Bibles,

embellished with curious, unscientific plates; one of which represented

Jonah's whale with two spouts in his head--a peculiarity only true

with respect to a species of the Leviathan (the Right Whale, and the

varieties of that order), concerning which the fishermen have this

saying, "A penny roll would choke him"; his swallow is so very small.

But, to this, Bishop Jebb's anticipative answer is ready. It is not

necessary, hints the Bishop, that we consider Jonah as tombed in the

whale's belly, but as temporarily lodged in some part of his mouth. And

this seems reasonable enough in the good Bishop. For truly, the

Right Whale's mouth would accommodate a couple of whist-tables, and

comfortably seat all the players. Possibly, too, Jonah might have

ensconced himself in a hollow tooth; but, on second thoughts, the Right

Whale is toothless.
Another reason which Sag-Harbor (he went by that name) urged for his

want of faith in this matter of the prophet, was something obscurely in

reference to his incarcerated body and the whale's gastric juices. But

this objection likewise falls to the ground, because a German exegetist

supposes that Jonah must have taken refuge in the floating body of a

DEAD whale--even as the French soldiers in the Russian campaign turned

their dead horses into tents, and crawled into them. Besides, it has

been divined by other continental commentators, that when Jonah was

thrown overboard from the Joppa ship, he straightway effected his escape

to another vessel near by, some vessel with a whale for a figure-head;

and, I would add, possibly called "The Whale," as some craft are

nowadays christened the "Shark," the "Gull," the "Eagle." Nor have there

been wanting learned exegetists who have opined that the whale mentioned

in the book of Jonah merely meant a life-preserver--an inflated bag

of wind--which the endangered prophet swam to, and so was saved from a

watery doom. Poor Sag-Harbor, therefore, seems worsted all round. But

he had still another reason for his want of faith. It was this, if I

remember right: Jonah was swallowed by the whale in the Mediterranean

Sea, and after three days he was vomited up somewhere within three days'

journey of Nineveh, a city on the Tigris, very much more than three

days' journey across from the nearest point of the Mediterranean coast.

How is that?

But was there no other way for the whale to land the prophet within that

short distance of Nineveh? Yes. He might have carried him round by the

way of the Cape of Good Hope. But not to speak of the passage through

the whole length of the Mediterranean, and another passage up the

Persian Gulf and Red Sea, such a supposition would involve the complete

circumnavigation of all Africa in three days, not to speak of the Tigris

waters, near the site of Nineveh, being too shallow for any whale to

swim in. Besides, this idea of Jonah's weathering the Cape of Good Hope

at so early a day would wrest the honour of the discovery of that great

headland from Bartholomew Diaz, its reputed discoverer, and so make

modern history a liar.
But all these foolish arguments of old Sag-Harbor only evinced his

foolish pride of reason--a thing still more reprehensible in him, seeing

that he had but little learning except what he had picked up from the

sun and the sea. I say it only shows his foolish, impious pride, and

abominable, devilish rebellion against the reverend clergy. For by a

Portuguese Catholic priest, this very idea of Jonah's going to Nineveh

via the Cape of Good Hope was advanced as a signal magnification of

the general miracle. And so it was. Besides, to this day, the highly

enlightened Turks devoutly believe in the historical story of Jonah. And

some three centuries ago, an English traveller in old Harris's Voyages,

speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honour of Jonah, in which Mosque was

a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil.

CHAPTER 84. Pitchpoling.

To make them run easily and swiftly, the axles of carriages are

anointed; and for much the same purpose, some whalers perform an

analogous operation upon their boat; they grease the bottom. Nor is it

to be doubted that as such a procedure can do no harm, it may possibly

be of no contemptible advantage; considering that oil and water are

hostile; that oil is a sliding thing, and that the object in view is to

make the boat slide bravely. Queequeg believed strongly in anointing

his boat, and one morning not long after the German ship Jungfrau

disappeared, took more than customary pains in that occupation; crawling

under its bottom, where it hung over the side, and rubbing in the

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