Friday, November 14, 2008

Land of Allusions

Can you explain one of the hundreds of allusions Melville uses in this novel?

For example, Ishmael claims "head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle."

This is actually a pretty funny statement, as Pythagoras instructed others on how to purify and redeem their souls, and one of his strict observances was the avoidance of beans, which cause flatulence. So, imagine if you were a Commodore, standing downwind from a bunch of sailors who violated the Pythagorean maxim and ate a bunch of kidney beans for dinner--stinky!!


Mrs. Baird said...

In chapter 15, named Chowder, there is a line of page 73.
Ishmael is starting to notice all the odd metaphors and 'bad omens' he seems to be encountering on his trip. After remarking on the strange occurrences of Mr. Coffin, the plaques as the Chapel, the Try Pots Inn sign (Which looks oddly like gallows, and the black pots, Ishmael says this;

"Are these last throwing out oblique hints touching Tophet?"

I had to wonder what Tophet was and what could Melville be alluding to. I did some digging and apparently Tophet is another name for Hell.

Tophet is the name of a location, believed to be somewhere in the the Valley of Hiinom in Jerusalem. It is believed the Canaanites sacrificed children to the god Moloch by burning them alive. After the child sacrifices were outlawed, Tophet became over run with animal carcasses, waste, bodies, ect. and fires were always kept lit to keep disease and other such things in check.
And oblique means slanting, sloping , diverging from a given straight line or course.

So apparently, Ishmael is pretty much saying "Oh jezz. Are these not-so-subtle hints are showing a direct path to Hell?"

Just thought the line was interesting.

Mrs. Baird said...

Ugh. I forgot my name again.
Above comment is by Batty.

Mrs. Baird said...

One allusion I really liked was way back in chapter 2. Ishmael is comparing New Bedford and Nantucket and he explains how New Bedford is really taking off as a whaling community. He also describes Nantucked as the "Tyre of this Carthage." I found this to be a particularly clever line, although not the best comparison historically.
Carthage was a great city that sprung from the great ancient city of Tyre. The queen of Carthage, Dido, was a native of Tyre, but she fled "the deed was done by a woman"(The Aeneid, book 4) after her evil brother, Pygmalion killed Sechayous, her husband. Dido finally arrived in Carthage with her followers and a large amount of gold, which she used some of to buy land with. She was able to trick the man who sold her the land by outsmarting him and getting a much larger piece than he had anticipated. She soon built a strong empire that rivaled rome, but the jealously of Pygmalion would not stand for it. He waged several wars against carthage, but was never victorious. This story could go on and on and on, but I will spare the other readers that.
Although the rival of tyre and Carthage does not exsist between New bedford and nantucket, it is still a very clever allusion, and since i am a geek, i got quite excited about it.


Mrs. Baird said...

An allusion that I found quite interesting is the simple and complex name of Ahab. In the biblical book of 1 Kings, Ahab is described as the wicked seventh king of Israel; he is also a capable leader and military strategist.

Like with all the kings of Israel, Ahab is given a prophet by God to advise, aid, and confront him when neccessary. However, Ahab sees Elijah as his enemy because Elijah always brings bad news to Ahab. Ahab "reared up an alter for Baal in the house of Baal" (1 Kings 16:32), disobeying God with persistent idol worship. Elijah warns that judgement will catch up with Ahab if he doesn't change his ways, but Ahab continues, surrounding himself with who encourage him to do as he pleases.

In the novel, the character, Elijah, forshadows doom to Ahab and his crew with the point of his finger. Ahab, instead of idolizing a statue of Baal or any other statue devil, "transferr[ed] its idea to the abhorred White Whale" (267).

Diane Shao

Mrs. Baird said...

Adding to Diane Shao's comment about the allusion to Ahab and said king's Baal worship: Baal was a title meaning "master" or "lord" and, although used to refer to many deities in the ancient Near East, wasn't the actual name of one. The diety referred to as Baal in the Bible was most likely Hadad, who was characterized as a storm god. Maybe not a coincidence, then, that after Ahab reveals his real mission to the crew the Pequod went through a storm? Just putting that out there...
-Essex Haunt

Mrs. Baird said...

"In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were fabricated, saith tradition, of teh tusks of the nar-whale. How could one look at Ahab then seated on that tripod of bones, without bethinking him of the royalty it symbolized?"

I couldn't help but add this imagery to everything Ahab's name alludes to. He's not only fulfilling the role of being a "mighty king", symbolized by the bone throne he sits upon, but also he's obsessed with earthly tidings, the whale bones. It's not enough that the man makes a living being around whales everyday but he also uses whale remains to make himself a superior being in a way of being above the other sailors on his ivory stool. It seems Abab's exists only in correspondace to a whale in someway. He's on an elevated level, physically and figuratively, beccause of the whale bones and his life's purpose/fate hinges on Moby Dick's life.

Shadows El Toro

Mrs. Baird said...

The ship named Rachel was in search of its captain's child, and in the discussion in class some spoke of how Rachel was a good mother, so others couldn't understand why the ship with the lost child would have that name. In the Bible, Rachel is barren for many years. She and her sister are both married to Jacob. She sister gives birth to twelve children. Both of the girls enjoyed raising children, and even gave Jacob one of the maids with whom to have more children for them to raise. So, in the long run, Rachel took care of a lot of other people's children. I believe, the name foreshadowed the Rachel's rescue of Ishmael, who hadn't been a member of its crew. And therefore, the Rachel found only "another orphan"

~Queen of Babble