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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides Summary

  • Having already considered most of the different external aspects of the whale, Ishmael peels back his skin and flesh to examine his skeleton.
  • Ishmael explains that he knows about the skeletal construction of the whale because, on one ship, he sees a small cub sperm whale brought on board and dissects it with his own knife.
  • Furthermore, Ishmael says, he learned about the skeleton of the full-grown sperm whale from his friend Tranquo, the king of a Melanesian island where Ishmael once spent some time on leave from another ship.
  • Tranquo has a collection of rare and precious artifacts, including the skeleton of a sperm whale that was found stranded on a local beach.
  • The natives preserved it in a green and luscious glade, decorating it with trophies, carvings, and even a sacred flame inside the skull.
  • The sight of the sun coming through the leaves and tendrils of the forest made Ishmael think of God as a great weaver, and he wonders about the workings of fate.
  • The skeleton of the sperm whale rests in this glen, getting covered gradually with green vines—life twining around death.
  • Ishmael examines this skeleton, wandering around inside it, even measuring it with a rod that he made for the purpose from a nearby tree, even though the local priests objected to him measuring their god.
  • Ishmael tells us the size of the whale, reminding us that he can’t lie about this—if we wanted, we could go to one of the museums that has actual whale skeletons and check his details.
  • The comparison of the whale in the grove in Melanesia and the whale in Yorkshire owned by Sir Clifford Constable is a remarkable one: both men seize the whales and turn them into spectacles.
  • Ishmael claims that he’s copying down his measurement of the whale’s skeleton from a tattoo on his arm, where he preserved the numbers.
  • He admits that he didn’t worry about making the dimensions exact to the inch.

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