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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 92: Ambergris Summary

  • Ishmael explains ambergris a bit more: it’s a "soft, waxy... highly fragrant and spicy" substance that is "largely used in perfumery, in pastiles, precious candles, hair-powders, and pomatum" (92.1)
  • It’s found in the bodies of sick whales, although nobody’s sure if it’s the cause or the effect of the illness.
  • Ishmael develops a metaphor about finding this fragrant and precious substance in the decaying corpse of a sick animal—it’s like what St. Paul says about the soul being "sown in dishonor" and "raised in glory."
  • Ishmael concerns himself with making the point that whaling isn’t usually a gross, unclean business, the way the Rose-bud made it appear.
  • He claims that, if everything is done properly, whales’ corpses and their oil are "nearly scentless" (92.7) or at least just have a pleasant musk and perfume.

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