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Moby-Dick - Reread > Etymology through Chapter 10

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message 1: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Etymology & Extracts
So here are the famous opening lines of Moby-Dick:
The pale Usher - threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.
Ok maybe this famous opening line is not as famous as the other famous opening line. What is Melville playing at here with his Etymotlogy and Extracts? Who are the late consumptive usher to a grammar school and the sub-sub-Librarian?

I cannot help but think there must be something more to these sections than setting the mood. For me, these two sections together demonstrate the global influence of whales and how they have influenced humanity since the beginning. And it seems whales were here first. These two sections are often overlooked; is Melville just showing off here?


message 2: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Chapter 1. Loomings.
Ishmael, in a state of spiritual despair, weaves (or looms) the threads of fate and free will that that begin to bring into focus a great and impending apprehension.

Ishmael's reasons are immediately dark when he tells us he goes to sea as a form of suicide preferred over cap and ball. He claims the sea has a magnetic and meditative effects of the sea on most people. Like Narcissus who saw his own reflection in the water:
. . .we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
Ishmael tells us when he goes to sea it is as a working sailor, not a passenger, which can be a trying experience for those who are not used to the harsh treatment, but they get used to it. It is all the same to Ishmael and he asks, "who isnt' a slave?, which is a rather pointed question in America in the 1850's. Then he jokes that sailors get paid to go to sea while the passengers must pay and we all happy to work for money despite it preventing us from going to heaven. Finally Ishmael tells us he goes to sea for the wholesome exercise and pure air.

After all of this, he is not sure why he chose to go on a whaling voyage instead of a merchant ship as he had previously and that he was only cognizant of his curiosity concerning whales themselves and the seas they roam.


message 3: by David (last edited Jul 10, 2018 08:17PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Chapter 2. The Carpet-Bag
Ishmael, with a couple of shirts in his carpet-bag he finds himself stuck in New Bedford, the largest center for whaling, for a few days having missed the boat to Nantucket Island. What do we think of Ishmael's preference to sail from the original, Nantucket, instead of the biggest, New Bedford?

Having little money, Ishmael decides he will have to accept what he can afford. He passes up The Crossed Harpoons and The Sword-Fish Inn and even stumbles into a black church service before finding The Spouter Inn - Peter Coffin He notes the ominous association of spouter and Coffin and decides it is the place for him.

What is the significance of the chapter title, The Carpet Bag?

Chapter 3. The Spouter-Inn
spouter noun
1. an obnoxious and foolish and loquacious talker
2. a spouting whale

Does Ishmael dismiss his own fearful, obnoxious, and foolish thoughts when he declares:
What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
Of course when you know yourself this well it helps:
Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself. . .



message 4: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Chapter 4. The Counterpane.
Ishmael wakes with Queequeg's tattooed arm over him and notices how it blends with the patchwork quilt they are sleeping under. The counterpane reminds him of a childhood nightmare in which he awoke in the middle of the night, his arm over the counterpane holding hands with an unseen phantom.

What can we make of the similarities of Queequeg's tattoos and the quilt and of Ishmael's childhood dream?

Chapter 5. Breakfast
Ismael gives advice to those who are made fun of as he was for his fear of Queequeg turned to friendship.
So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.
We are told about the whalemen at breakfast table that:
nearly every man maintained a profound silence. And not only that, but they looked embarrassed.
Why were they so quiet?


message 5: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Chapter 6. The Street.
Ishmael describes the streets of New Bedford as more of a cultural melting pot than the big cities full of both experienced whalers from all over the world and young people from urban and rural areas seeking their fortune. Large homes built by the profits of the whaling industry line the streets.

Chapter 7. The Chapel
Ishmael enters the whaleman's chapel and is surprised to see Queequeg there attracted by the solemnity of the place. Plaques dedicated to whalemen who perished at sea adorn the walls as a reminder that whaling is a serious and sometimes deadly business
But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.
And Ishmael tries to cheer himself by believing that should his body perish, his soul is indestructible.


message 6: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Chapter 8. The Pulpit
Father Mapple arrives. Ishmael describes the pulpit that is fashioned as the prow of a ship and sums up his thoughts
Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Chapter 9. The Sermon.
The use of the vernacular made me smile. Shipmates, clinch and yarns.

There are two lessons here. One for the shipmates and one for the pilot.

What do we think of these:
1. The difficulty in obeying god comes in having to disobey ourselves.
2. One should repent as Jonah did, don't ask for forgiveness sin, but instead be grateful for the punishment of the sin.
3. To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it! "This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of the living God who slights it.

Is Melville to Father Mapple as we readers are to Father Mapple's shipmates? What hard truth is Melville trying to tell us?


message 7: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Chapter 10. A Bosom Friend
As well as a modifier meaning close, very dear, or intimate, bosom is also appropriately a name for a ship's hold.

What do we think of Ishael's logical conclusion that participating in Quequeg's evening ritual was his duty? Do you think this duty Ishmael feels is the same Christian duty that Father Mapple tells his shipmates that he is burdened with?

Ishmael refers to their acquaintance as bosom friends. Are they? What would Aristotle say?


message 8: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments David wrote: "Etymology & Extracts
So here are the famous opening lines of Moby-Dick:
The pale Usher - threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.
Ok maybe this famous opening line is not as fam..."


Indeed! But where is the whale soup? Did I miss that, or is it named something else?


message 9: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments David wrote: "spouter noun
1. an obnoxious and foolish and loquacious talker
2. a spouting whale..."


The Spouter Inn and the Sermon are my favorite chapters in the group. This one is almost all description, and between the picture, the inn itself, and Queequeg and his Tom-a-hawk pipe, I'm sure it wasn't just Ishmael screaming for the Innkeeper.


message 10: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Clam or cod?


message 11: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Indeed! But where is the whale soup? Did I miss that, or is it named something else?"

Chapter 15 is titled, Chowder. Now, no more spoilers or it will be "no soup for you!" :)


message 12: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments Ha!

I worked in a clam factory once. I won't even go there. But the funny thing was the boss put me in the dream job, packaging, because I was college educated. That's what he told me. I just stared at him apoplectic.


message 13: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments David wrote: "Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Indeed! But where is the whale soup? Did I miss that, or is it named something else?"

Chapter 15 is titled, Chowder. Now, no more spoilers or it will be "no soup for you!..."


Best laugh of the day.


message 14: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments Cphe wrote: "Does anyone know what a “panther billow” is?"

I thought it meant a quick and dark wave. Maybe one not so easy to see until it was on top of you. But that's just a guess. Stealthy???


message 15: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments I think today we would call a "Panther Billow" a rogue wave. Solitary waves that are built up by constructive interference.
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/r...


message 16: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments Cphe wrote: "Ishmael does make a lot out of Queequeg's tattoos but I would have thought that they weren't out of the ordinary with seamen.

Also in my minds eye I likened Queequeg to a Maori for some reason not..."



Maori is a good choice given that Ishmael says Queequeg's home is a good 20,000 miles away if one goes around cape horn.

I think there is a lot going on between Ishmael and Queequeg. A physical attraction is one of them. A representation of the bonding between whalers who spend months even years locked up together could be another. And some primal connection between "civilized man" and the "noble savage" in us could be another. What I liked was how quickly Ishmael justified becoming an idolator to be Queequeg's friend.


message 17: by Xan (last edited Jul 11, 2018 04:15AM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments In my mind the congregation in the Whaleman's Chapel became a crew on a whaling ship and Preacher Mapple became the captain leading his crew through the storm from the upper deck, or even the Crow's Nest.

That was a pretty good sermon; I could feel the gusto Mapple put into it. Wonder if he gives the same one each Sunday?


message 18: by David (last edited Jul 11, 2018 11:38AM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Cphe wrote: "Ishmael does make a lot out of Queequeg's tattoos but I would have thought that they weren't out of the ordinary with seamen.

Also in my minds eye I likened Queequeg to a Maori for some reason not..."


In The Modern Scholar Moby Dick America's Epic Prof. Timothy B. Shutt indicates Queequeg would have most likely been a Maori and that Melville may have been influenced by a self portrait made by a Maori. Also, Melville had jumped ship while in the pacific and lived among the natives for some time and the experience gave him a much greater and positive perspective of them.

Prof. Shutt also says something else Melville got right was his description of Queequeg swimming a freestyle stroke which was first used by south pacific natives and later introduced to the rest of the world by the Australians but unknown to most in the 1850s.

The homo-erotic overtones between Ishmael and Queequeg are debatable, but Prof. Shutt above says it is probably not the case. Melville, like Ishmael, was starved for friendship and like Queequeg, Melville found and focused all of this passionate devotion from this need for a friend on Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Why do you supposed Ishmael and Queequeg are so attracted to each other?


message 19: by Dave (new)

Dave Redford | 145 comments Thanks for the chapter summaries, David. I'm setting off on the good ship Moby-Dick for the first time. That opening paragraph really is something special.

Like Xan, I especially enjoyed chapter 3, The Spouter-Inn. A heady mix of comedy, suspense, and a wonderful eye for detail. Melville's description of the mariners was a particular highlight for me – "enveloped in their shaggy watch coats, and with their heads muffled in woollen comforters, all bedarned and ragged, and their beards stiff with icicles, they seemed an eruption of bears from Labrador".


message 20: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) It was this attention to detail that has gotten me hooked on Moby Dick. there's a lot in the detail and some of it is humorous. I wasn't expecting to find humour in this book, given all the negative things I'd heard - that it was too long winded, dry, boring, etc.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments I'm also finding myself chuckling a bit at some of the lines. I'm surprised at how fresh and vital this writing is--I know I didn't have that impression when I tried reading it years ago. I'm sure I thought it was a slog. I'd almost call it lively now, but it's very possible that I've worked my way up to that with the reading I've done between then and now.

I don't see the significance of the Etymology or Extracts, unless it was an attempt to educate a public who may not have know much about whaling.


Chapter One has that famous opening line, but also, just a few sentences later, "whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul," which is also so quotable. And then that fantastic closing, where, after Ishmael fits his life's headline in-between the larger events going on in the world, continues with the Fates, who "put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces--though I cannot tell why this was exactly; I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased free will and discriminating judgment. (emphasis mine)

Since Ishmael is writing this after the events to follow, I take it that his experiences at sea have produced this profound effect. So we are listening to the wiser Ishmael describe the Ishmael who had a different viewpoint.

I thought this beginning was excellent. Later, the comedy of Ishmael meeting Queequeg was a bit broad for me, but the line, "Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed," was pure drollery.

As to Ishmael's descriptions of Queequeg, and his relative acceptance of his ways--I thought I heard a bit of the author here, trying (successfully, I thought) to impart some of his own findings when it came to dealing with 'the other'. I had a very dour image in my mind of Melville, but his description of Ishmael's outlook on life, if not parallel with his own, at least shows us that he was capable of imagining such evenhandedness.

Lastly, from my point of view, I can see how the closeness of the two men certainly would bring up the subject of homo-eroticism. Without trying to get too psychological about this, my idea was that the attraction is there, but in a chaste sense. Whether one considers this to be simply deep friendship or a kind of innocent affection, I don't know, or even whether there's much difference between the two, but I think it's also a function of a different cultural milieu. I can't see the same kind of thing happening today unless there really was more to it. The way Melville writes it, it seems as though this may have not been preferable, but that two men sharing the same bed wasn't so out of the ordinary that the landlord didn't hesitate to suggest it.


message 22: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments David wrote: "Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Indeed! But where is the whale soup? Did I miss that, or is it named something else?"

Chapter 15 is titled, Chowder. Now, no more spoilers or it will be "no soup for you!..."


David wrote: "Prof. Shutt also says something else Melville got right was his description of Queequeg swimming a freestyle stroke which was first used by south pacific natives and later introduced to the rest of the world by the Australians but unknown to most in the 1850s."

Hmmm, did I miss the swimming in the first 10 chapters?


message 23: by Adelle (last edited Jul 11, 2018 08:17PM) (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments At #1 David wrote: "Etymology & Extracts
So here are the famous opening lines of Moby-Dick:
The pale Usher - threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.
Ok maybe this famous opening line is not as fam..."


It is something of a puzzlement, isn't it?

"A late consumptive usher"... Consumptive---a person with a wasting disease. Usher --- one who shows others the way to a seat to view the play... but who takes no part in the drama. And Melville's usher ... already expired... Wasted away. Melville, perhaps, is suggesting that too many people waste their lives carefully categorizing and sorting and gathering material... but neglecting to truly live. How meager must be the life of a sub-sub- librarian? Those for whom "even Pale Sherry would be too rosy-strong..." Those who are at pains "to please the world."

Ahab ... no sub-sub librarian.


message 24: by David (last edited Jul 11, 2018 08:19PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments etymology - the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

etymology (n.)
late 14c., ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from Old French etimologie, ethimologie (14c., Modern French étymologie), from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia "analysis of a word to find its true origin," properly "study of the true sense (of a word)," with -logia "study of, a speaking of" (see -logy) + etymon "true sense, original meaning," neuter of etymos "true, real, actual," related to eteos "true," which perhaps is cognate with Sanskrit satyah, Gothic sunjis, Old English soð "true," from a PIE *set- "be stable." Latinized by Cicero as veriloquium.

entomology - the branch of zoology concerned with the study of insects.

usher British archaic - an assistant teacher.

late - dead.

Maybe Melville was just showing off :)


message 25: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments David wrote: "etymology - the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

etymology (n.)
late 14c., ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a wo..."


Right you are, David! Sigh, I tell myself repeatedly to do a better job editing, but so often fail to heed that advice. Yes... I was doing quick google searches on words... Must have misspelled! Now I'll have to re-think.

Thanks for correction!


message 26: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 537 comments Whoa, Adelle, and I thought you were just having a lark, so to speak.

Transcendental meditation.. when you rise above your teeth.


message 27: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Adelle wrote: "David wrote: "etymology - the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

etymology (n.)
late 14c., ethimolegia "facts of the origin and devel..."


For what it is worth, I agree whole-heartedly with:
Adelle wrote: "I think humans are the insects being studied in this novel. Many of us. But not Ahab! Say what you will, Ahab lives large. He's out there engaging in life, in Life. Ahab is all in, he's not playing the safe hand.



message 28: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments I am still wrestling with this quote from Chapter 1:
And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
1. He tells us, this is the key to it all. What is it the key to: life/existence, the story?
2. We see our own image reflected in the water. Does that mean that we are the ungraspable phantom of life? What does that mean? Does it mean we have only ourselves to look to for answers we will never be able to find or understand?


message 29: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments At #2 David wrote: "Chapter 1. Loomings.
He claims the sea has a magnetic and meditative effects of the sea on most people. Like Narcissus who saw his own reflection in the water:.."


Three main take-aways from this chapter for me: (1) The pull of water and the sea. https://allpoetry.com/Sea-Fever "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky." I thought, "We come from the sea."

(2) Fate vs. Free Will. Will we see both in Moby Dick? It was perhaps through free will that Ishmael decided to go to sea; but fate which brought him to Ahab's ship. But then maybe free will had him sign on. I googled free will vs. determinism. Found an intriguing paragraph:

"But there is another kind of difficulty created in people [who] have grown so high on the basis of overly exaggerated notions of Free Will. Ahab?

They will deem that everything about their lives is capable of change. They will declare that they can achieve all things simply through an exercise of the will...

It’s an inspiring philosophy, but one that reliably also leads – when things don’t work out, as they never do in all areas – to bitterness and rage." https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebo...

3) Ishmael's outlook. "Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it--would they let me--since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in."

Reading this I can understand how Ishmael so quickly accommodated himself to Queequeg. Ishmael had some horror of the prospective bed-mate who sold heads, yet once it was settled that they would lodge together, Ishmael was on friendly terms indeed. He didn't look too deeply into how the heads had been acquired. Will Ishmael be willing to overlook negative aspects of Ahab, too, since they'll be inmates on the same ship?


message 30: by Xan (last edited Jul 12, 2018 05:45AM) (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments David wrote: "I am still wrestling with this quote from Chapter 1:
And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plu..."


Guessing . . .

Narcissus falls in love with the reflection in the pool not realizing it's his own. He doesn't realize he's fallen in love with himself because he doesn't know himself, that image of the ungraspable phantom of life.

Know thyself.

Identity may play a major role in Moby Dick.

My Name is Ishmael!

Now there's an identity. Very first sentence. But does he know himself? Does he go on this whaling adventure to find himself?

Narcissus commits suicide. Ishmael calls his whaling sojourn a kind of suicide. Given all the mythical and religious overtones, perhaps suicide doesn't necessarily mean a hard death, but a mystical or religious death and rebirth. Ishmael's intent is to return reborn and to possibly know himself a little better.

Edited: Isn't Jonah reborn?


message 31: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 400 comments Miscellaneous quotes:

Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a piece.
{portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a piece is a tongue twister.}

Oh, ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among flowers can say -- here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation that broods in bosums like these.

... wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.


message 32: by Tamara (last edited Jul 12, 2018 06:04AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1741 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Narcissus commits suicide. Ishmael calls his whaling sojourn a kind of suicide. Given all the mythical and religious overtones, perhaps suicide doesn't necessarily mean a hard death, but a mystical or religious death and rebirth. Ishmael's intent is to return reborn and to possibly know himself a little better. ..."

I like this.
Narcissus was a loner. He shunned connection with others. He let his ego get the better of him. He fell in love with his own image and died because he could not bear to tear himself away from his beloved. This may foreshadow what happens in the novel--a character who shuns human connection, allows his ego to control him, and dies as a consequence.
Because Ishmael does not shun connection, although he experiences a death of sorts, he is also reborn, as Xan suggests. In order to experience rebirth, a part of one has to die. And death and rebirth involve water--the washing away of the old to allow for the emergence of the new.


message 33: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Christopher wrote: "Whoa, Adelle, and I thought you were just having a lark, so to speak.

Transcendental meditation.. when you rise above your teeth."


:-)


message 34: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1741 comments The thing that I'm enjoying the most about reading Moby Dick this time around is the little conversations Ishmael has with himself. They are delightful. Funny and engaging.

I'm also loving everyone's comments.


message 35: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1741 comments Perhaps that image of the ungraspable phantom of life is the ego or pride.

Know thyself also entails knowing one's limitations--knowing there are certain things one simply cannot do.


message 36: by David (last edited Jul 12, 2018 11:10AM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Could the "ungraspable phantom of life" be love? Is Ishmael attempting to "drown his sorrows" at sea over love, in one way or another?


message 37: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1741 comments David wrote: "Could the "ungraspable phantom of life" be love? Is Ishmael attempting to "drown his sorrows" at sea over love, in one way or another?"

Could be. But is there any indication in what we have read so far that this is the case?


message 38: by David (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "Could be. But is there any indication in what we have read so far that this is the case?"

Isn't that what Narcissus saw, or was it beauty or an illusion of love?

Maybe Melville means the ungraspable phantom of life in a broader sense, love, happiness, all of the unanswerable mysteries of life, on a per person basis. Whatever the individual thinks they are seeking? But as a phantom, doesn't it mean what they are seeking is only an illusion and thus unattainable or ungraspable. but at least as reflected in the water, or at sea, you can see them or meditate upon them, or even lose yourself in them to the point of drowning.


message 39: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1741 comments David wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Could be. But is there any indication in what we have read so far that this is the case?"

Isn't that what Narcissus saw, or was it beauty or an illusion of love?

Maybe Melville mea..."


I'm not sure I understand.

I don't think the mistake Narcissus made was to fall in love. I think his mistake was to fall in love with himself. And what's a person to do when he falls in love with him/herself? What options are available to one? To look at one's reflection in the water and make oogly eyes at it? I think that's why it is the ungraspable phantom of life.

To love oneself to such a degree that one excludes community is to fall for an illusion that leads to self-destruction--as in the case of Narcissus.


message 40: by David (last edited Jul 12, 2018 03:11PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Tamara wrote: "To love oneself to such a degree that one excludes community is to fall for an illusion that leads to self-destruction--as in the case of Narcissus."

I see your point about avoiding narcissism; selfishess vs. community, but is it the key to it all?
What [Narcissus] sees he knows not; but that which he sees he burns for, and the same delusion mocks and allures his eyes. O fondly foolish boy, why vainly seek to clasp a fleeting image? What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away and the object of your love will be no more. That which you behold is but the shadow of a reflected form and has no substance of its own. With you it comes, with you it stays, and it will go with you – if you can go. (Loeb edition translated by Frank Justus Miller, pg 155)
If he knew it was his own reflection, we could call it self-love, but he doesn't know this. He also doesn't know it is just a shadow of a reflected form, which makes me think of Socrates/Plato and their thoughts on real Forms and their unreal and imperfect shadows that we see in the physical world. Now I am thinking maybe the ungraspable phantoms of life are the physical but unreal reflections of real truths.

Interestingly, Father Mapple stressed something about the importance of the duty of telling the unwelcome truth.
And what was that, shipmates? To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!
ETA: according to the paper I will post in the resources section, msg 18, your interpretation is much closer than my ramblings: Examining the Myth of Narcissus and its Role in Moby-Dick. apparently there are enough scholarly articles on this specific subject to choke several pods of whales.


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 304 comments I think the Narcissus quote gets taken out of context. The full paragraph is:

"Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans, It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

I take this to mean that Ishmael is trying to remind us of the ancient attraction to the oceans by mentioning it's sacred associations, and the reason why it is sacred (and thus draws us so powerfully as the preceding paragraphs talk about) is hidden in the deeper meaning of Narcissus--that we see our true selves when we look there; the true self that is, in the end, ungraspable.


message 42: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5062 comments David wrote: "Examining the Myth of Narcissus and its Role in Moby-Dick. apparently there are enough scholarly articles on this specific subject to choke several pods of whales. ..."

A great chuckle on which to end the day. Have been immensely enjoying the discussion so far, Melville, perhaps not as much, but as several have pointed out, the humor is good in places, as are many of the descriptions. I am not caught up in the story at this point.


message 43: by David (last edited Jul 13, 2018 01:54PM) (new)

David | 2738 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "Identity may play a major role in Moby Dick.
My Name is Ishmael!"


There seems to be a significant difference between My name is Ishmael and chapter one's opening line:Call me Ishmael. The former is a declaration that inspires a little more confidence. The later is a request and I feel like I am doing him a favor by allowing a alias.


message 44: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments At #35 Tamara wrote: "although he experiences a death of sorts, he is also reborn, as Xan suggests. In order to experience rebirth, a part of one has to die...."

The dying and rebirth also seem to be suggested in chapter 2 (The Carpet-Bag) when Lazarus is brought into the story.


message 45: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments Adelle wrote: "At #35 Tamara wrote: "although he experiences a death of sorts, he is also reborn, as Xan suggests. In order to experience rebirth, a part of one has to die...."

The dying and rebirth also seem to..."


This might have been obvious to others, but it just now occurred to me:

Another perspective on death and re-birth might Ishmael. I'm back again in "Etymology and Extracts." Melville had been a school teacher. Possibly Ishmael had been, too. I'm thinking perhaps Ishmael had been the "late, consumptive Usher in a Grammar School."

The Etymology is "supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School." The Extracts are "Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian." The story itself is supplied by Ishmael. To quote Ishmael, "Surely all this is not without meaning."

We know from Ishmael himself how his purpose has been turned to a whaling voyage, that "there floated into [his] inmost soul, endless processions of the whale."

So isn't it plausible that Ishmael--before he began self-identifying as Ishmael--- WAS that school teacher/usher, "picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could."

But listen, when I read the Extracts, interesting as some of the quotes were, a few pages in it became stale and boring. I was anxious for the action to begin.

May hap that's how it was for the Consumptive Usher as well. He finally couldn't stand it any longer. He let his career as a schoolteacher die -- "...fare thee well, poor devil of a Sub-Sub" -- and he re-birthed himself as a man of the sea...at least whenever he has the need.


message 46: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments Bryan wrote: "I think the Narcissus quote gets taken out of context. The full paragraph is:

"Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother...I take this to mean that Ishmael is trying to remind us of the ancient attraction to the oceans "


I get the sense the Ishmael is searching for original sources. That he's trying to find his way to some elemental truth or knowledge. Oceans were the original source of life. His mind was made up to go to Nantucket --- "Nantucket was the great original." Tyre was the original source from which Carthage sprang. Aboriginals were the original men. Ishmael will become bed mates with a near-aboriginal.


message 47: by Adelle (last edited Jul 12, 2018 09:48PM) (new)

Adelle | 3130 comments Etymology of Euroclydon. From Chapter 2 "The Carpet-Bag"

The Greek name Euroclydon consists of two elements. Eurous... east wind. The second part from kluzo, meaning to surge... "Metaphorically, this verb may be used in the sense of washing or purging... "

I googled it as the word appears four times on the same page with the short section on Lazarus.

Is this suggesting re-birth after being somehow purged?


message 48: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments David wrote: "Etymology & Extracts
So here are the famous opening lines of Moby-Dick:
The pale Usher - threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.
Ok maybe this famous opening line is not as fam..."


People told me they got no further than 'Call me Ishmael' but I almost halted at the Extracts section after I was reminded that it was a veritable part of Moby Dick. Boy am I glad I got past that phase and went on. This book is not living up to the rep of the stale, sloggish read I've been getting all these years! I would not ever sleep through a sermon again if someone like Mapple comes up to a pulpit like this. I wish my professors had his zeal and charisma.


message 49: by Borum (last edited Jul 12, 2018 10:45PM) (new)

Borum | 535 comments Adelle wrote: "At #1 David wrote: "Etymology & Extracts
So here are the famous opening lines of Moby-Dick:
The pale Usher - threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.
Ok maybe this famous opening..."


An assistant teacher who has wasted away his life reminds me of Melville and Ishmael's former occupation of being a school teacher. Ishmael's choice of lodging also reminds us of how poor he was. Maybe his choice to become a sailor came from his feeling of having wasted away his life? Mapple's sermon to go out and become a 'pilot of the living God' may also have been a motive.


message 50: by Borum (new)

Borum | 535 comments I'm leaning more towards the rebirth through recognition of the true self. I had the impression of the first sentence 'Call me Ishmael' as a more active request out of his own will. For one thing, I don't think "Ishmael" was a common name for a schoolteacher from New England and I assume that along with his new work as a sailor, he was assuming a new identity. It may not be his 'true' identity, but a new identity nevertheless. Maybe he's fooling himself and others, but I still don't know from this point in the story. It also reminded me of how Jonah at first concealed his identity and then confessed 'I am a Hebrew' in the storm. We must face the storm and come to grips with who we are if we are to purge ourselves to be reborn, unless we want to sink ourselves like Narcissus. Something like the Socratic aphoria to reach the truth.

Maybe Melville is pointing out how we human beings who may have originated from some primitive cell in the sea (I noticed Charles Darwin's writings from the extract and I think Melville might have been familiar with the evolution theory, correct me if I'm wrong) are fooling ourselves with presumptions of being something more worthy and able than what we actually were (Ishmael's description of Queequeg and the genteel civilisation reminds us of how the Western Christian civilisation often fool themselves)


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