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Chapter Thirty-Two: Cetology is all about whales. Or rather, what Ishmael thinks whales are, although I feel like the line between Ishmael and Melville starts to blur at this point.

To Ishmael, the whale is an utterly mysterious creature, about which little is known in the scientific world. And yet he endeavors to make a short, incomplete listing of whales for the reader's benefit.

pg. 140: I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.

For once, he knows his own limitations.

Ishmael defines a whale as a spouting fish with a horizontal tail (pg. 141), which seems scientifically sound to me.* He divides whales into books, and said books into chapters. I start having Victor Hugo flashbacks and begin to feel nauseated.

In Book I, FOLIO, Sperm Whales are the first to be described. According to Ishmael, they have many names, including Cachalot of the French, and the Pottsfish of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the Long Words. (pg. 142)

Right Whales come up next. Ishmael throws a little tizzy over whether or not there is a difference between a Right Whale and a Greenland Whale before breezing over to the next whale on his long, long list.

The Fin-Back Whale is where he starts talking about whales I've never heard of before. Turns out it's real, though. Ishmael takes a break from whale classifications to freak out about how every named feature of a whale is present in other whale species (humpback whales are not the only ones with humps, black whales are not the only whales that are black, etc.) but eventually gets back on track.

Speak of the devil, next is the Humpback Whale, or the Hunchback Whale as some know him. Ishmael also identifies it as the Elephant and Castle Whale (pg. 145) for reasons that are not entirely clear.

And then things start to get mysterious.

pg. 146: BOOK I (Folio), CHAPTER V (Razor Back).–Of this whale little is known but his name. I have seen him at a distance off Cape Horn. Of a retiring nature, he eludes both hunters and philosophers. Though no coward, he has never yet shown any part of him but his back, which rises in a long sharp ridge. Let him go. I know little more of him, nor does anybody else.

Google thinks that this is probably just the Fin-Back Whale all over again. But hark! More mysteries!

pg. 146: BOOK I (Folio), CHAPTER VI (Sulphur Bottom).–Another retiring gentleman, with a brimstone belly, doubtless got by scraping along the Tartarian tiles in some of his profounder divings. He is seldom seen; at least I have never seen him except in the remoter southern seas, and then always at too great a distance to study his countenance. He wis never chased; he would run away with rope-walks of line. Prodigies are told of him. Adieu, Sulphur Bottom! I can say nothing mroe that is true of ye, nor can the oldest Nantucketer.

What terrible beast is this, that dives to the roof of Hell itself?!

Is a blue whale. :3 Biggest animal in the world, lives on krill. D'aww.

Book II is called "Octavo," for reasons that are totally obvious.

pg. 146: Why this book of whales is not denomnated the Quarto is very plain. Because, while the whales of this order, though smaller than those of the former order, nevertheless retain a proportionate likeness to them in figure, yet the bookbinders Quarto volume in its diminished form does not preserve the shape of the Folio volume, but the Octavo volume does.

Duh, guys! You can be so dense sometimes. Honestly.

Book II begins with the Grampus Whale, whose name makes me giggle because I am five. Wikipedia says it is really an killer whale.

Next up is the Black Fish Whale, also known as the Hyena Whale.

pg. 147: I give the popular fishermen's names for all these fish, for generally they are the best.

Of course they are.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia, the Black Fish Whale is really a killer whale. ...Hrm.

Well, really, the name "blackfish" is applied to a whole flippin' bunch of large dolphins that are commonly called whales on account of their heft. Killer whales are included in this group.

The third whale in Octavo is the Narwhale, which Ishmael calls a clumsy left-handed man. (pg. 147) The usual unicorn stories get bandied about, and then...

pg. 148: My own opinion is, that however this one-sided horn may really be used by the Narwhale–however that may be–it would certainly be very convenient to him for a folder in reading pamphlets.

Sure, let's go with that.

Next up is the... Killer Whale.

Ishmael, at this point you're just padding it out. But go on.

pg. 148-149: Of this whale little is precisely known to the Nantucketer, and nothing at all to the professed naturalist. From what I have seen of him at a distance, I should say that he was about the bigness of a grampus.

That would be because they are the same thing, Ishmael.

pg. 149: He is very savage–a sort of Feegee fish.


Moving right along, we come to the Thrasher Whale, which Wikipedia identifies as... oh, come on!

pg. 149: This gentleman is famous for his tail, which he uses for a ferrule in thrashing his foes. He mounts the Folio Whale's back, and as he swims, he works his passage by flogging him; as some schoolmasters get along in the world by a similar process.

Ishmael would be the expert on that front.

Book III is called "Duodecimo" and contains the Huzza Porpoise, the Algerine Porpoise**, and the Mealy-mouthed Porpoise. Or as they are known today, Harbour porpoise, Dall's porpoise, and Right Whale Dolphin, respectively.

The "huzza porpoise" gets its name from the fact that, according to Ishmael, if you do not smile when you see it, you are dead inside.

Ishmael concludes his treatise on whales by asserting once again that it is unfinished, and then adds the following:

pg. 151: God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught–nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!

I am starting to suspect more and more that Ishmael is secretly fifteen.

*Bear in mind that I am an art kid, and the idea that science itself is a delicate-yet-volatile creature small enough to be kept inside a shoebox seems reasonable.
**A pirate. Very savage. (pg. 150)


Other adventures in Moby Dick include:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen (You Are Here)
Part Fifteen
Part Sixteen
Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen
Part Nineteen
Part Twenty
Part Twenty-One
Part Twenty-Two


ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

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