Yet more detailed evocative character description of Ahab and how the grim shaggy Nantucket whale captain fits within "the paramount forms and usages of the sea" evolved over centuries of oceanic hunting.
"originally in the old Dutch Fishery, two centuries and more ago, the command of a whale ship was not wholly lodged in the person now called the captain, but was divided between him and an officer called the Specksnyder."
Melville uses this fact to explain certain things about the culture of a whaler, such as the division between officers and men.
Now, the grand distinction drawn between officer and man at sea, is this—the first lives aft, the last forward. ...Though the long period of a Southern whaling voyage (by far the longest of all voyages now or ever made by man), the peculiar perils of it, and the community of interest prevailing among a company, all of whom, high or low, depend for their profits, not upon fixed wages, but upon their common luck, together with their common vigilance, intrepidity, and hard work; ... for all that, the punctilious externals, at least, of the quarter-deck are seldom materially relaxed, and in no instance done away. ...
the moody captain of the Pequod was the least given to that sort of shallowest assumption; and though the only homage he ever exacted, was implicit, instantaneous obedience; though he required no man to remove the shoes from his feet ere stepping upon the quarter-deck; and though there were times when, owing to peculiar circumstances connected with events hereafter to be detailed, he addressed them in unusual terms, whether of condescension or IN TERROREM, or otherwise; yet even Captain Ahab was by no means unobservant of the paramount forms and usages of the sea.
...sultanism became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship. ...Ahab, my Captain, still moves before me in all his Nantucket grimness and shagginess; ... I have only to do with a poor old whale-hunter like him; and, therefore, all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied me. Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!
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Re: Moby Dick Chapter 33 the Specksnyder
Well then help me out here, please, Robert. Is he saying that although the Specksynders were chiefly responsible for the success of the voyage, their status had been downgraded from equal to the captain to that of an inferior subaltern. And is he making a comparison to real life – where the truly great and deserving don’t get the proper respect because inferior minds are better at manipulating and bribing? Is he saying that the greatness in ahab cannot be defined – he just is? These last two chapter are very odd. He digresses from the actual story and goes into detail that I assume most readers would find uninteresting. Why does he do this? Is he deliberately trying to alienate his audience?
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Re: Moby Dick Chapter 33 the Specksnyder
How I read this chapter was that whaling had evolved from its early days in the North Atlantic when power could be shared between two functions - navigation and whaling. With the increased scale of the operations in the Pacific and Southern oceans, all power had to vest in one chain of command, so the old informal sharing between the head of whaling and the head of sailing no longer worked. It is rather like the old hierarchical maxim that a house divided cannot stand. In a small inshore whalery having rival leaders could work for a time, but eventually the formal decision process would require one man as boss.
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