The tangle of extracts which opens Moby Dick tries to trace the movements of 'The Whale' as a concept through human thought. The relentless stream of quotes, stripped from their context, gives first-time readers a miniaturised version of the experience awaiting them - a chaotic, baffling mess, with only one easily identifiable theme. Melville draws on a multitude of historical, anatomical and fictional sources, presented in roughly chronological order:
'And God created great whales'
'Leviathan maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep to be hoary'
'Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah'
'There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein.'
'In that day, the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword, shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.'
'And what thing soever besides cometh within the chaos of this monster's mouth, be it beast, boat, or stone, down it goes all incontinently that foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the bottomless gulf of his paunch.'
Plutarch's 'Morals', as translated by Philemon Holland (1st century AD)
'The Indian Sea breedeth the most and the biggest fishes that are: among which the Whales and Whirlpooles called Balæne, take up as much in length as four acres or arpens of land.'
Pliny's 'Natural History ', as translated by Philemon Holland (1st century AD)
'Scarcely had we proceeded two days on the sea, when about sunrise a great many Whales and other monsters of the sea, appeared. Among the former, one was of a most monstorus size. * * This came towards us, open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides, and beating the sea before him into a foam.'
'Lucian of Samosata', Volume II, as translated by William Tooke (2nd century AD)
'He visited this country also with a view of catching horse-whales, which had bones of very great value for their teeth, of which he brought some to the king. * * * The best whales were catched in his own country, of which some were forty-eight, some fifty yards long. He said that he was one of six who had killed sixty in two days.'
King Alfred's 'History of Orosius', containing his account of Viking explorer Ohthere's northern travels (circa 890 AD)
'And whereas all the other things, whether beast or vessel, that enter into the dreadful gulf of this monster's (whale's) mouth, are immediately lost and swallowed up, the sea-gudgeon retires into it in a great security, and there sleeps.'
Michel de Montaigne's essay 'An Apology for Raymond Sebond', as translated by Charles Cotton (1580)
'Let us fly, let us fly! Old Nick take me if it is not Leviathan described by the noble prophet Moses in the life of patient Job.'
Francois Rabelais' 'Gargantua and Pantagruel', (Book IV), as translated by Peter Antony Motteux (1552)
'The great Leviathan that maketh the seas to seethe like boiling pan.'
Selected 'Psalms', translated by Francis Bacon (1625)
'Touching that monstrous bulk of the whale or ork we have received nothing certain. They grow exceeding fat, insomuch that an incredible quantity of oil will be extracted out of one whale.'
Francis Bacon's 'History of Life and Death' (1623)
'The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise.'
William Shakespeare's 'Henry IV, Part I’ (circa-1597)
'Very like a whale.'
William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet’ (circa-1600)
'Which to secure, no skill of leach's art Mote him availle, but to returne againe To his wound's worker, that with lowly dart, Dinting his breast, had bred his restless paine, Like as the wounded whale to shore flies thro' the maine.'
Edmund Spenser's 'The Faerie Queene' (1590/96)
'Immense as whales, the motion of whose vast bodies can in a peaceful calm trouble the ocean till it boil.'
William Davenant's preface to 'Gondibert, an Heroick Poem' (1650)
'What spermacetti is, men might justly doubt, since the learned Hosmannus in his work of thirty years, saith plainly, Nescio quid sit.'
Thomas Browne's 'Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Vulgar Errors' (1646)
'Like Spencer's Talus with his modern flail He threatens ruin with his ponderous tail.
* * *
Their fixed jav'lins in his side he wears, And on his back a grove of pikes appears.'
Edmund Waller's poem 'Battle of the Summer Islands' (1645)
'By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or State - (in Latin, Civitas), which is but an artificial man.'
Thomas Hobbes' 'Leviathan' (1651)
'Silly Mansoul swallowed it without chewing, as if it had been a sprat in the mouth of a whale.'
John Bunyan's 'The Holy War' (1682)
'That sea beast Leviathan, which God of all his works Created hugest that swim the ocean stream.'
John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1674)
Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretched like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea.'
Ibid. - John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1674)
'The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them.'
Thomas Fuller's 'The Holy State, the Profane State' (1642)
'So close behind some promontory lie The huge Leviathans to attend their prey, And give no chace, but swallow in the fry, Which through their gaping jaws mistake the way.'
John Dryden's 'Annus Mirabilis' (1667)
'While the whale is floating at the stern of the ship, they cut off his head, and tow it with a boat as near the shore as it will come; but it will be aground in twelve or thirteen feet water.'
Thomas Edge's 'A Brief Discovery of the Northern Discoveries', in 'Purchas His Pilgrimes' (1625)
'Here they saw such huge troops of whales, that they were forced to proceed with a great deal of caution for fear they should run their ship upon them.'
William Cornelius Schouten's 'Sixth Circum-Navigation', in 'Purchas His Pilgrimes' (1625)
'Several whales have come in upon this coast (Fife) Anno 1652, one eighty feet in length of the whale-bone kind came in, which, (as I was informed, besides a vast quantity of oil, did afford 500 weight of baleen. The jaws of it stand for a gate in the garden of Pitferren.'
Robert Sibbald's 'The history, ancient and modern, of the sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross' (1710)
'Whales in the sea God's voice obey.'
Benjamin Harris' 'New England Primer' (circa-1690)
'We saw also an abundance of large whales, there being more in those southern seas, as I may say, by a hundred to one; than we have to the northward of us.'
William Ambrose Cowley's 'Cowley's Voyage Round the Globe' (1699)
'and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain.'
'To fifty chosen sylphs of special note, We trust the important charge, the petticoat. Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail, Tho' stiff with hoops and armed with ribs of whale.'
Alexander Pope's 'The Rape of Lock' (1714)
'If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those that take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear contemptible in the comparison. The whale is doubtless the largest animal in creation.'
Oliver Goldsmith's 'History of the Earth and Animated Nature' (1774)
'In the afternoon we saw what was supposed to be a rock, but it was found to be a dead whale, which some Asiatics had killed, and were then towing ashore. They seemed to endeavor to conceal themselves behind the whale, in order to avoid being seen by us.'
James Cook's 'The Three Voyages of Captain James Cook Round the World' (Volume VI) (1821)
'The larger whales, they seldom venture to attack. They stand in so great dread of some of them, that when out at sea they are afraid to mention even their names, and carry dung, lime-stone, juniper-wood, and some other articles of the same nature in their boats, in order to terrify and prevent their too near approach.'
Uno von Troil's 'Letters on Iceland' (1772)
'A tenth branch of the king's ordinary revenue, said to be grounded on the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from pirates and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and sturgeon. And these, when either thrown ashore or caught near the coast, are the property of the king.'
William Blackstone's 'Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books' (Volume I, Chapter VIII, Article X) (1753)
'Soon to be the sport of death the crews repair: Rodmond unerring o'er his head suspends The barbed steel, and every turn attends.'
William Falconer's 'Shipwreck' (1762)
'Bright shone the roofs, the domes, the spires,
And rockets blew self driven,
To hang their momentary fire
Around the vault of heaven.
'So fire with water to compare,
The ocean serves on high,
Up-spouted by a whale in air,
To express unwieldy joy.'
William Cowper's 'On the Queen's Visit to London' (1789)
'The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the waterworks at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood gushing from the whale's heart.'
William Paley's 'Natural Theology' (1802)
'In 40 degrees south, we saw Spermacetti Whales, but did not take any till the first of May, the sea being then covered with them.'
James Colnett's 'Voyage to the South Atlantic and Round Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean' (1798)
'In the free element beneath me swam, Floundered and dived, in play, in chace, in battle, Fishes of every color, form, and kind; Which language cannot paint, and mariner Had never seen; from dread Leviathan To insect millions peopling every wave: Gather'd in shoals immense, like floating islands, Led by mysterious instincts through that waste And trackless region, though on every side Assaulted by voracious enemies, Whales, sharks, and monsters, arm'd in front or jaw, With swords, saws, spiral horns, or hooked fangs.'
James Montgomery's 'World Before the Flood' (1812)
'Io! Pæan! Io! sing, To the finny people's king. not a mightier whale than this In the vast Atlantic is; Not a fatter fish than he, Flounders round the Polar Sea.'
Charles Lamb's 'The Triumph of the Whale' (1812)
'In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed; there - pointing to the sea - is a green pasture where our children's grand-children will go for bread.'
Obed Macy's 'History of Nantucket' (1835)
'I built a cottage for Susan and myself and made a gateway in the form of a Gothic Arch, by setting up a whale's jaw bones.'
Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Twice-Told Tales' (1837)
'She came to bespeak a monument for her first love, who had been killed by a whale in the Pacific ocean, no less than forty years ago.'
Ibid. - Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Twice-Told Tales' (1837)
'No, Sir, 'tis a Right Whale,' answered Tom; 'I saw his spout; he threw up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to look at. He's a raal oil-butt, that fellow!'
James Fenimore Cooper's 'The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea' (1823)
'The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette that whales had been introduced on the stage there.'
Johann Peter Eckermann's 'Conversations with Goethe' (1836)
'"My God! Mr. Chace, what is the matter?" I answered, "we have been stove by a whale."'
Owen Chase's 'Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex' (1821)
'A mariner sat in the shrouds one night, The wind was piping free; Now, bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale, And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale, As it floundered in the sea.'
Elizabeth Oakes-Smith's 'The Drowned Mariner' (1845)
'The wuantity of line withdrawn from the different boats engaged in the capture of this one whale, amounted altogether to 10,440 yards or nearly six English miles.' * * *
'Sometimes the whale shakes its tremendous tail in the air, which, cracking like a whip, resounds to the distance of three or four miles.'
'Mad with the agonies he endures from these fresh attacks, the infuriated Sperm Whale rolls over and over; he rears his enormous head, and with wide expanded jaws snaps at everything around him; he rushes at the boats with his head; they are propelled before him with vast swiftness, and sometimes utterly destroyed.
* * * 'It is a matter of great astonishment that the consideration of the habits of so interesting, and, in a commercial point of view, of so important an animal (as the Sperm Whale) should have been so entirely neglected, or should have excited so little curiosity among the numerous, and many of them competent observers, that of late years must have possessed the most abundant and the most convenient opportunities of witnessing their habitudes.'
Thomas Beale's 'Natural History of the Sperm Whale' (1839)
'The Cachalot' (Sperm Whale) 'is not only better armed than the True Whale' (Greenland or Right Whale) 'in possessing a formidable weapon at either extremity of its body, but also more frequently displays a disposition to employ these weapons offensively and in a manner at once so artful, bold, and mischievous, as to lead to its being regarded as the most dangerous to attack of all the known species of the whale tribe.'
Frederick Debell Bennett's 'Narrative of a Whaling Voyage Round the Globe, From the Year 1833 to 1836' (1840)
October 13. 'There she blows,' was sung out from the mast-head.
'Where away?' demanded the captain.
'Three points off the lee bow, sir.'
'Raise up your wheel. Steady!'
'Mast-head ahoy! Do you see that whale now?'
'Ay ay, sir! A shoal of Sperm Whales! There she blows! There she breaches!'
'Sing out! sing out every time!'
'Ay ay, sir! There she blows! there—there—thar she blows—bowes—bo-o-o-s!'
'How far off?'
'Two miles and a half.'
'Thunder and lightning! so near! Call all hands!'
John Ross Browne's 'Etchings of a Whaling Cruise' (1846)
'The Whale-ship Globe, on board of which vessel occurred the horrid transactions we are about to relate, belonged to the island of Nantucket.'
William Lay and Cyrus Hussey's 'Narrative of the Mutiny, on board the ship Globe, of Nantucket' (1828)
'Being once pursued by a whale which he had wounded, he parried the assault for some time with a lance; but the furious onster at length rushed on the boat; himself and comrades only being preserved by leaping into the water when they saw the onset was inevitable.'
Daniel Tyerman and George Bennett's 'Journal of Voyages and Travels' (1832)
'"Nantucket itself," said Mr. Webster, "is a very striking and peculiar portion of the National interest. There is a population of eight or nine thousand persons, living here in the sea, adding largely every year to the National wealth by the boldest and most persevering industry."'
Daniel Webster's 'Remarks on the Breakwater at Nantucket' to the US Senate (1828)
'The whale fell directly over him, and probably killed him in a moment.'
Rev. Henry Cheever's 'The Whale and his Captors' (1850)
'The voyages of the Dutch and English to the Northern Ocean, in order, if possible, to discover a passage through it to India, though they failed of their main object, laid open the haunts of the whale.'
John Ramsay McCulloch's 'Dictionary, practical, theoretical, and historical, of commerce and commercial navigation' (1832)
'It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being struck by her mere appearance. The vessel under short sail, with look-outs at the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around them, has a totally different air from those engaged in a regular voyage.'
'Pedestrians in the vicinity of London and elsewhere may recollect having seen large curved bones set upright in the earth, either to form arches over gateways, or entrances to alcoves, and they may perhaps have been told that these were the ribs of whales.'
Robert Pearse Gillies' 'Tales of a Voyager to the Arctic Ocean' (1826)
'It is generally well known that out of the crews of Whaling vessels (American) few eve return in the ships on board of which they departed.'
James A. Rhodes' 'A Cruise in a Whale Boat by a Party of Fugitives' (1848)
'Suddenly a mighty mass emerged from the water, and shot up perpendicularly into the air. It was the whale.'
Joseph C. Hart's 'Miriam Coffin' (1835)
'The Whale is harpooned to be sure; but bethink you, how you would manage a powerful unbroken colt, with the mere appliance of a rope tied to the root of his tail.'
A chapter on whaling from 'Ribs and Trucks from Davy's Locker' (1842)
'On one occasion I saw two of these monsters (whales), probably male and female, slowly swimming, one after the other, within less than a stone's throw of the shore' (Terra Del Fuego), 'over which the beech tree extended its branches.'
Charles Darwin's 'Voyage of the Beagle: A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World' (1839)
'Oh, the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale In his ocean home will be A giant in might, where might is right, And King of the boundless sea.'
From whaling song 'King of the Southern Sea' (printed in full New-York Mirror, 1839)