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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling Summary

  • Bragging about his "careful disorderliness" (82.1), Ishmael (or maybe this is Melville’s other narrator) takes another time-out to compare his hunting and storytelling about whales to the long history of whales in literature.
  • Ishmael retells the story of Perseus and Andromeda, in which Perseus rescues the princess from a sea-monster, and claims that the Romans found a skeleton of a whale in Joppa that the local people claimed came from the monster Perseus slew.
  • Ishmael also retells the story of St. George and the dragon. He thinks the dragon must have been a whale, and revises the story to make St. George’s horse a seal, the setting for the fight the beach, and so on. This means that the patron saint of England was a whaler, and all whale-hunters should become knights of the order of St. George.
  • Ishmael isn’t sure if Hercules counts as a whale-hunter, because he was swallowed and vomited up by a whale, but never threw a harpoon at one, but in the end Ishmael accepts his legend as a version of the biblical story of Jonah.
  • Ishmael also lists an actual god as a whaleman—the Hindu god Vishnu, who was incarnated as a whale at one point,
  • Thus, the group of whalemen throughout history of which Ishmael proposes himself as a member includes Perseus (a hero), St. George (a saint), Hercules (a demigod), Jonah (a prophet), and Vishnu (a god). Not a bad turnout, really.

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