Chapter 70 - THE SPHYNX



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Herman Melville was the author of a story about what we'd now consider an illegal activity, the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat. Whaling is still carried out by Japan, Iceland and Canada, among other nations, though most nations voluntarily abstain in the interests of conserving these magnificent animals - as per International Whaling Commission guidelines.



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CHAPTER 70. The Sphynx.


It should not have been omitted that previous to completely stripping the body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading of the Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and not without reason.

Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a neck; on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there, in that very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also, that the surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet intervening between him and his subject, and that subject almost hidden in a discoloured, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and bursting sea. Bear in mind, too, that under these untoward circumstances he has to cut many feet deep in the flesh; and in that subterraneous manner, without so much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thus made, he must skilfully steer clear of all adjacent, interdicted parts, and exactly divide the spine at a critical point hard by its insertion into the skull. Do you not marvel, then, at Stubb's boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?

When first severed, the head is dropped astern and held there by a cable till the body is stripped. That done, if it belong to a small whale it is hoisted on deck to be deliberately disposed of. But, with a full grown leviathan this is impossible; for the sperm whale's head embraces nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to suspend such a burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a whaler, this were as vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barn in jewellers' scales.

The Pequod's whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head was hoisted against the ship's side—about half way out of the sea, so that it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. And there with the strained craft steeply leaning over to it, by reason of the enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-arm on that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod's waist like the giant Holofernes's from the girdle of Judith.

When this last task was accomplished it was noon, and the seamen went below to their dinner. Silence reigned over the before tumultuous but now deserted deck. An intense copper calm, like a universal yellow lotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless leaves upon the sea.

A short space elapsed, and up into this noiselessness came Ahab alone from his cabin. Taking a few turns on the quarter-deck, he paused to gaze over the side, then slowly getting into the main-chains he took Stubb's long spade—still remaining there after the whale's Decapitation—and striking it into the lower part of the half-suspended mass, placed its other end crutch-wise under one arm, and so stood leaning over with eyes attentively fixed on this head.

It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx's in the desert. "Speak, thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"

"Sail ho!" cried a triumphant voice from the main-mast-head.

"Aye? Well, now, that's cheering," cried Ahab, suddenly erecting himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. "That lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better man.—Where away?"

"Three points on the starboard bow, sir, and bringing down her breeze to us!

"Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind."


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CHAPTER 1. Loomings.

CHAPTER 2. The Carpet-Bag.

CHAPTER 3. The Spouter-Inn.

CHAPTER 4. The Counterpane.

CHAPTER 5. Breakfast.

CHAPTER 6. The Street.

CHAPTER 7. The Chapel.

CHAPTER 8. The Pulpit.

CHAPTER 9. The Sermon.

CHAPTER 10. A Bosom Friend.

CHAPTER 11. Nightgown.

CHAPTER 12. Biographical.

CHAPTER 13. Wheelbarrow.

CHAPTER 14. Nantucket.

CHAPTER 15. Chowder.

CHAPTER 16. The Ship.

CHAPTER 17. The Ramadan.

CHAPTER 18. His Mark.

CHAPTER 19. The Prophet.

CHAPTER 20. All Astir.

CHAPTER 21. Going Aboard.

CHAPTER 22. Merry Christmas.

CHAPTER 23. The Lee Shore.

CHAPTER 24. The Advocate.

CHAPTER 25. Postscript.

CHAPTER 26. Knights and Squires.

CHAPTER 27. Knights and Squires.

CHAPTER 28. Ahab, Captain.

CHAPTER 29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.

CHAPTER 30. The Pipe.

CHAPTER 31. Queen Mab.

CHAPTER 32. Cetology.

CHAPTER 33. The Specksnyder.

CHAPTER 34. The Cabin-Table.

CHAPTER 35. The Mast-Head.

CHAPTER 36. The Quarter-Deck.

CHAPTER 37. Sunset.

CHAPTER 38. Dusk.

CHAPTER 39. First Night Watch.

CHAPTER 40. Midnight, Forecastle.

CHAPTER 41. Moby Dick.

CHAPTER 42. The Whiteness of The Whale.

CHAPTER 43. Hark!

CHAPTER 44. The Chart.

CHAPTER 45. The Affidavit.

CHAPTER 46. Surmises.

CHAPTER 47. The Mat-Maker.

CHAPTER 48. The First Lowering.

CHAPTER 49. The Hyena.

CHAPTER 50. Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah.

CHAPTER 51. The Spirit-Spout.

CHAPTER 52. The Albatross.

CHAPTER 53. The Gam.

CHAPTER 54. The Town-Ho's Story.

CHAPTER 55. Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.

CHAPTER 56. Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True

CHAPTER 57. Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in

CHAPTER 58. Brit.

CHAPTER 59. Squid.

CHAPTER 60. The Line.

CHAPTER 61. Stubb Kills a Whale.

CHAPTER 62. The Dart.

CHAPTER 63. The Crotch.

CHAPTER 64. Stubb's Supper.

CHAPTER 65. The Whale as a Dish.

CHAPTER 66. The Shark Massacre.

CHAPTER 67. Cutting In

CHAPTER 69. The Funeral.

CHAPTER 70. The Sphynx.

CHAPTER 71. The Jeroboam's Story.

CHAPTER 72. The Monkey-Rope.

CHAPTER 73. Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk

CHAPTER 74. The Sperm Whale's Head—Contrasted View.

CHAPTER 75. The Right Whale's Head—Contrasted View.

CHAPTER 76. The Battering-Ram.

CHAPTER 77. The Great Heidelburgh Tun.

CHAPTER 78. Cistern and Buckets.

CHAPTER 79. The Prairie.

CHAPTER 80. The Nut.

CHAPTER 81. The Pequod Meets The Virgin.

CHAPTER 82. The Honour and Glory of Whaling.

CHAPTER 83. Jonah Historically Regarded.

CHAPTER 84. Pitchpoling.

CHAPTER 85. The Fountain.

CHAPTER 86. The Tail.

CHAPTER 87. The Grand Armada.

CHAPTER 88. Schools and Schoolmasters.

CHAPTER 89. Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish.

CHAPTER 90. Heads or Tails.

CHAPTER 91. The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud.

CHAPTER 92. Ambergris.

CHAPTER 93. The Castaway.

CHAPTER 94. A Squeeze of the Hand.

CHAPTER 95. The Cassock.

CHAPTER 96. The Try-Works.

CHAPTER 97. The Lamp.

CHAPTER 98. Stowing Down and Clearing Up.

CHAPTER 99. The Doubloon.

CHAPTER 100. Leg and Arm.

CHAPTER 101. The Decanter.

CHAPTER 102. A Bower in the Arsacides.

CHAPTER 103. Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton.

CHAPTER 104. The Fossil Whale.

CHAPTER 105. Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?—Will He Perish?

CHAPTER 106. Ahab's Leg.

CHAPTER 107. The Carpenter.

CHAPTER 108. Ahab and the Carpenter.

CHAPTER 109. Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin.

CHAPTER 110. Queequeg in His Coffin.

CHAPTER 111. The Pacific.

CHAPTER 112. The Blacksmith.

CHAPTER 113. The Forge.

CHAPTER 114. The Gilder.

CHAPTER 115. The Pequod Meets The Bachelor.

CHAPTER 116. The Dying Whale.

CHAPTER 117. The Whale Watch.

CHAPTER 118. The Quadrant.

CHAPTER 119. The Candles.

CHAPTER 120. The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch.

CHAPTER 121. Midnight.—The Forecastle Bulwarks.

CHAPTER 122. Midnight Aloft.—Thunder and Lightning.

CHAPTER 123. The Musket.

CHAPTER 124. The Needle.

CHAPTER 125. The Log and Line.

CHAPTER 126. The Life-Buoy.

CHAPTER 127. The Deck.

CHAPTER 128. The Pequod Meets The Rachel.

CHAPTER 129. The Cabin.

CHAPTER 130. The Hat.

CHAPTER 131. The Pequod Meets The Delight.

CHAPTER 132. The Symphony.

CHAPTER 133. The Chase—First Day.

CHAPTER 134. The Chase—Second Day.

CHAPTER 135. The Chase.—Third Day.








Moby Dick is the antogonist in this story of a great white 'bull' sperm whale that fought back at whalers who tried to harpoon him.


The idea came to Herman Melville after he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being harpooned in 1838.


Herman realised how fixated the sailors became, and he also became with the thought that there was a whale that nobody could catch, that represented a real risk to the whalers hunting whales, in that it was more sport than commercial operations.


Without any doubt this is one of the greatest novels coming out of America at this time and way off the beaten track, making it so interesting, reflecting the state of whaling and the economic importance in the developing the nation - giving the general public a taste of something adventurous that most people never think about.


Many films and graphic novel adaptations have been inspired by the writings of Herman Melville, from Marvel and Disney comics with good cause.


One such production in 2020 is a graphic novel about a giant humpback whale called Kulo Luna, that sinks a modern whaling boat, much as depicted in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, except that is this day and age whales have explosive harpoons to contend with, and sonar, from which there is no escape.




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