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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

Nevertheless, to anybody who can hold the Present at its worth without being inappreciative of the Past, it may be forgiven, if to such an one the solitary old hulk at Portsmouth, Nelson's Victory, seems to float there, not alone as the decaying monument of a fame incorruptible, but also as a poetic reproach, softened by its picturesqueness, to the Monitors and yet mightier hulls of the European ironclads. (4.3)

Here, the narrator is simply characterizing a particular attitude that allows one to be appreciative of old battle ships. But look again at the line, one "who can hold the Present at its worth without being inappreciative of the Past." To what extent can this line be taken as a definition of wisdom? If you don't think that it's part of a definition, then how would you change it to make it one?

Quote #2

"But between you and me now, don't you think there is a queer streak of pedantic running through him? Yes, like the King's yarn in a coil of navy rope?" (7.2)

In this scene, the narrator is explaining how some of the sailors think that Captain Vere is too learned and highfalutin to be a Sea Captain. What's the difference between being pedantic and being wise? How is it possible to accumulate knowledge that leads to wisdom instead of knowledge that just leads to intelligence?

Quote #3

Years, and those experiences which befall certain shrewder men subordinated lifelong to the will of superiors, all this had developed in the Dansker the pithy guarded cynicism that was his leading characteristic. (9.15)

No character in Billy Budd is presented as being wiser than the old Dansker. To what extent is wisdom "pithy guarded cynicism"? Focus in on the "pithy" aspect. Why is it that the wise always seem to say less than people want them to? How is what they choose not to say also a part of their wisdom?

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