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Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick

by Herman Melville

Man and the Natural World Quotes

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Quote #10

When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons, skulls, tusks, jaws, ribs, and vertebrae, all characterized by partial resemblances to the existing breeds of sea-monsters; but at the same time bearing on the other hand similar affinities to the annihilated antichronical Leviathans, their incalculable seniors; I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man. Here Saturn’s grey chaos rolls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics; and in all the 25,000 miles of this world’s circumference, not an inhabitable hand's breadth of land was visible. Then the whole world was the whale’s; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahab’s harpoon had shed older blood than the Pharaoh’s. Methuselah seems a school-boy. I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of the whale, which, having been before all time, must needs exist after all humane ages are over. (104.11)

In this section, Ishmael goes from being awestruck by the whale’s ancientness to being alarmed by its ubiquity. Like the geologic record that it’s part of, the whale seems to exist in time in a completely different way than human beings do – and that’s creepy! (Of course, our perception of whales today is radically different, since they’re endangered and might actually disappear before mankind does. In Melville’s time, whales seemed more securely established.)

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