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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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