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Here, Melville is myth-making, and Ishmael is delving into the myth, joining Ahab's revenge against the whale.
The chapter begins like an invocation from an epic poem:
Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.
The chapter is filled with mythical allusions and archetypal imagery and symbolism:
- Olassen and Povelson
- For in his Natural History, the Baron himself
- American and English whale-ships
- stripped of these supernatural surmisings
- turbaned Turk
- Venetian or Malay
- Patagonian Cape
- Egyptian chest
- that noble Northman
- Highland gorge
- Roman halls of Thermes
The chapter builds on the mythos of the two antagonists: Ahab and the White Whale. There is much lore on how the whale is ubiquitious, two places at once. There is much rumor about how Ahab lost his leg.
And there is much good vs. evil symbolism: how they are paradoxically interrelated; Ying-Yang dualities. So says Enotes:
Ishmael’s voyage, figuratively, is a quest to know, to understand. The “nameless horror” embodied in the whale’s whiteness is, at best, that there is no absolute meaning. Ishmael explains how whiteness can be interpreted as both good and evil. “whiteness is … the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors.” At worst, the “nameless horror” is that the universe has no meaning at all. “Nature…paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel house within.…”
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