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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 82 The Honour and Glory of Whaling.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 82 The Honour and Glory of Whaling. Post by :SFIMG Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :924

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 82 The Honour and Glory of Whaling.

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 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 fraternity.

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?

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