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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun Summary

  • The next stage in butchering the whale is the Baling of the Case. Ishmael explains the anatomy of the sperm whale’s head in more detail to make this step understandable.
  • The sperm whale’s head can be divided into two wedge-shaped pieces: the upper is an oily boneless mass, and the lower is the bony skull and jaw.
  • The upper part can be divided horizontally again into the bottom half, which is called the "junk." The junk is like a honeycomb of sperm oil.
  • The very top part is called the "case." The case is like a wine barrel—except it’s filled with spermaceti, the purest and most valuable of the whale’s waxy oils.
  • While the whale is alive, these oils are liquid, but after it dies, they congeal.
  • Ishmael compares the whale’s case to the Heidelburgh Tun, a famous, enormous wine cask. The case contains around 500 gallons of spermaceti, making it more valuable by far than any barrel of wine.
  • In the next chapter, Ishmael tells us, they’ll open up the whale’s head as carefully as possible and remove the spermaceti.

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