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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 103 Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 103 Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton. Post by :plinks Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :3111

Click below to download : Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 103 Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton. (Format : PDF)

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 103 Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton.

In the first place, I wish to lay before you a particular, plain
statement, touching the living bulk of this leviathan, whose skeleton
we are briefly to exhibit. Such a statement may prove useful here.

According to a careful calculation I have made, and which I partly
base upon Captain Scoresby's estimate, of seventy tons for the
largest sized Greenland whale of sixty feet in length; according to
my careful calculation, I say, a Sperm Whale of the largest
magnitude, between eighty-five and ninety feet in length, and
something less than forty feet in its fullest circumference, such a
whale will weigh at least ninety tons; so that, reckoning thirteen
men to a ton, he would considerably outweigh the combined population
of a whole village of one thousand one hundred inhabitants.

Think you not then that brains, like yoked cattle, should be put to
this leviathan, to make him at all budge to any landsman's
imagination?

Having already in various ways put before you his skull, spout-hole,
jaw, teeth, tail, forehead, fins, and divers other parts, I shall now
simply point out what is most interesting in the general bulk of his
unobstructed bones. But as the colossal skull embraces so very large
a proportion of the entire extent of the skeleton; as it is by far
the most complicated part; and as nothing is to be repeated
concerning it in this chapter, you must not fail to carry it in your
mind, or under your arm, as we proceed, otherwise you will not gain a
complete notion of the general structure we are about to view.

In length, the Sperm Whale's skeleton at Tranque measured seventy-two
Feet; so that when fully invested and extended in life, he must have
been ninety feet long; for in the whale, the skeleton loses about one
fifth in length compared with the living body. Of this seventy-two
feet, his skull and jaw comprised some twenty feet, leaving some
fifty feet of plain back-bone. Attached to this back-bone, for
something less than a third of its length, was the mighty circular
basket of ribs which once enclosed his vitals.

To me this vast ivory-ribbed chest, with the long, unrelieved spine,
extending far away from it in a straight line, not a little resembled
the hull of a great ship new-laid upon the stocks, when only some
twenty of her naked bow-ribs are inserted, and the keel is otherwise,
for the time, but a long, disconnected timber.

The ribs were ten on a side. The first, to begin from the neck, was
nearly six feet long; the second, third, and fourth were each
successively longer, till you came to the climax of the fifth, or one
of the middle ribs, which measured eight feet and some inches. From
that part, the remaining ribs diminished, till the tenth and last
only spanned five feet and some inches. In general thickness, they
all bore a seemly correspondence to their length. The middle ribs
were the most arched. In some of the Arsacides they are used for
beams whereon to lay footpath bridges over small streams.

In considering these ribs, I could not but be struck anew with the
circumstance, so variously repeated in this book, that the skeleton
of the whale is by no means the mould of his invested form. The
largest of the Tranque ribs, one of the middle ones, occupied that
part of the fish which, in life, is greatest in depth. Now, the
greatest depth of the invested body of this particular whale must
have been at least sixteen feet; whereas, the corresponding rib
measured but little more than eight feet. So that this rib only
conveyed half of the true notion of the living magnitude of that
part. Besides, for some way, where I now saw but a naked spine, all
that had been once wrapped round with tons of added bulk in flesh,
muscle, blood, and bowels. Still more, for the ample fins, I here
saw but a few disordered joints; and in place of the weighty and
majestic, but boneless flukes, an utter blank!

How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid untravelled man to
try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely poring over
his dead attenuated skeleton, stretched in this peaceful wood. No.
Only in the heart of quickest perils; only when within the eddyings
of his angry flukes; only on the profound unbounded sea, can the
fully invested whale be truly and livingly found out.

But the spine. For that, the best way we can consider it is, with a
crane, to pile its bones high up on end. No speedy enterprise. But
now it's done, it looks much like Pompey's Pillar.

There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton are
not locked together. They mostly lie like the great knobbed blocks
on a Gothic spire, forming solid courses of heavy masonry. The
largest, a middle one, is in width something less than three feet,
and in depth more than four. The smallest, where the spine tapers
away into the tail, is only two inches in width, and looks something
like a white billiard-ball. I was told that there were still smaller
ones, but they had been lost by some little cannibal urchins, the
priest's children, who had stolen them to play marbles with. Thus we
see how that the spine of even the hugest of living things tapers off
at last into simple child's play.

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