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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale Summary

  • Ishmael, still attempting to be comprehensive in his examination of all things whale, considers fossil whales discovered by archaeologists.
  • Writing about the magnificent, massive whale encourages Ishmael to rise to new heights of florid language.
  • He uses the weightiest dictionary he can find and begins writing in capital letters.
  • His quill and inkstand swell to mighty proportions.
  • His arms seem to encircle the globe as he writes about his enormous subject.
  • Ishmael claims that he’s qualified to write about geology because he’s dug ditches before.
  • Surveying the cetacean fossil record, Ishmael realizes just how ancient whales really are; they’ve existed since prehistoric times and it appears that they’ll persist long after mankind is gone. (More on that in Chapter 105.)
  • Ishmael also describes other ancient archives of whale lore beyond the fossil record, citing writing on Egyptian tablets and the existence of an ancient temple in Africa, where it’s rumored that the whale spat out Jonah.

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