Chapter 15 brings us to the Try Pots – the inn where Ishmael and Queequeg will stay until they ship out. We see a bit of Melville’s silliness when he writes ‘we could possibly not do better than to try pot-luck at the Try Pots.’
A lot of Melville’s humour has been lost to me (and others I think) upon earlier attempts because of the old-fashioned sentence structure. But this time, reading with a closer eye, keeping in mind that I’ll be communicating my thoughts soon after, I’m noticing these little hints of humour.
Roughly a page later, I read this exchange:
‘”What’s that about Cods, ma’am?” said I, with much politeness.
“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.
“A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean Mrs. Hussey?” says I, but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?”‘
I do believe Ishmael is trolling his landlady. I found this quite funny. I really hope these bits of humour continue throughout the book.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Ishmael without some morbidity thrown in, too. He looks up at the hanging pots at the front of the inn, and sees a gallows. This not only references his depressive tendencies from the first paragraph of the novel, but provides one of Melville’s favourite things: foreshadowing of future grizzly events.
After their first night and morning of clam chowder, chapter 16 takes us to The Ship. My favourite part of this chapter is the description of the ship. It’s like something out of a fantasy book: ‘A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.’
Anything that can be made from sperm-whale ivory, is made from it. Timber that has rotted, and rope that has worn away, have been replaced by teeth and tendons.
How gory, yet how striking. I wonder how many film adaptations have used this imagery for the Pequod’s design? I’ll be curious to see once I start looking at the adaptations.
Once Ishmael is done marvelling over the decor of the ship, he meets Captains Peleg and Bildad. Exposition on the whaling industry follows and then background on Captain Ahab. We find out that Ahab lost his leg on his last expedition and has been ‘a kind of moody’ since then. But Captain Peleg is optimistic: ‘all that will pass off.’ Famous last words.
Larboard – also called port; is the left of the ship when facing forward and is the opposite of starboard.
‘Three points to the starboard’ – I tried look at nautical sites, but I still couldn’t figure it out. I think it is something to do with compass points in relation to starboard/port side.
Ship Biscuit – more commonly called hardtack – a biscuit made of water flour and sometimes salt.
Medes – ancient Iranian people, inhabited the land of Media.
‘Square-toed luggers’ – square-headed, small ship with two or three masts, an asymmetrical ‘lugsail’ on each. Source for this and next two definitions.
Junks – a flat-bottomed sailing vessel used in China and the East-Indies.
‘Butter-box galliots’ – ‘butter-box’ is a derogatory term for the Dutch, used by the British. A ‘galliot’ is a Dutch, single masted cargo ship.
‘Three old kings of Cologne’ – a shrine in Cologne that is supposed to contain the bones of the Three Magi, or Three Kings, who visited Jesus at his birth.
‘Becket bled’ – Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury until 1170, when he was murdered. He is seen as a martyr and saint in Catholicism and by the Anglican Church.
Thorkill-Hake – folkloric Viking warrior king.
Thews – strong muscles and tendons.
Tartar – a person from Tartary, a historical central Asian landmass.
Pottowottamie Sachem – Native American Potawatomi Cheiftan
Parmacetty – spermaceti or sperm whale.
Categut – Kattegat, a sea-area between Denmark and Sweden
‘Ahab of old’ – ancient king of Israel, husband of Jezebel. Criticised in the Hebrew bible for leading his people into idolatry (foreshadowing?).
Gayhead – Cliffs of clay on Aquinnah, Massachusetts.