Moby Dick Reading Journal Chapters 82-87

I like to think that I’ve kept an open mind. Through the anatomical inaccuracies of the biology of a whale, the almost maniacal fixation on whaling as relating to every other aspect of life, and even the extreme, chronic, and unremitting diligence to the overuse of descriptive adjectives… yes, through all this, I have stood by Ishmael. I have forgiven, overlooked, and tolerated, even allowed him credibility and believed his ‘well-researched’ claims, but no more! I have come to a point upon which we cannot, we will not, we absolutely never will agree.

Ok, I’m done talking like Melville now. But don’t you enjoy how final that was? ‘We absolutely never will agree.’ His phrases and absolutes, which I imitated in my paragraph above, lend gripping weight to all his claims, no matter how outlandish, so that you have to believe him and listen to him, even when he seems to be just a little bit unstable.

He made a claim in these last chapters, however, that really got to me, and I cannot allow him credibility on this point. It really seems as if, 60% through the book, Ishmael is following in the mad footsteps of Ahab; he has turned a corner, and now relates even the most unrelated subject matter to whales.

After describing the ancient adventures of Perseus and Andromeda, and stating that both their struggles with mighty beasts could have been, in fact, with whales (and I accept both those hypotheses), he then went on to say this:

“Akin to the adventures 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.”

WHAT? And how does he defend this claim? What basis can he possibly have for relocating this story of a knight and a large serpent to the middle of the ocean?

“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.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m picturing this:

Sorry Ishmael, but I think you’re grabbing at straws here. I kept waiting for him to bring up Odysseus as a member of the great whale hunters of antiquity, since he encountered the dreaded Scylla, which I think has a much better case for being termed a whale – but he never did. Maybe because Odysseus never killed the Scylla, but just let it take three of his men.

I still love Moby Dick, and I’m still riveted by the story, but calling St. George a whaler really threw me for a loop, and I just had to get that incredulity out of my system.

Right now, Scrubb is chasing down a whale through a whole school of whales, and I can’t wait to see what happens! Chapters 88-100, here I come!

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