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  • From The Forge

The Daily Dick: Musings on the Greatest Novel Ever

“'Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!'” deliriously howled Ahab, as the malignant iron scorchingly devoured the baptismal blood."

The translation is: ""I baptize you not in the name of the father, but in the name of the devil"


Musing: In a letter to Hawthorne, Melville writes: "This is the book's motto (the secret one),--Ergo non baptiso te in nomine--but make out the rest yourself." No wonder Hawthorne fled to another country as soon as Moby-Dick, dedicated to Hawthorne, was published. He got scared!

In this chapter of the book, Ahab is nearing the white whale's grounds. Ahab asks the blacksmith to create a harpoon for him - one that will kill the white whale. Rather than temper the heated harpoon in water, Ahab asks his three harpooners to give up their blood. The harpoon is thus tempered in blood. This scene, along with the line in Latin, seems to indicate that Ahab is making a pact with the devil. Perhaps this is because while he was in good standing with God, he lost his leg. or perhaps it is that Ahab has turned to the dark side himself. Or it could be that Ahab sees his three pagan harpooners standing nearby and realizes getting them involved in the ritual will ensure they are more invested in the killing of the whale - they have, after all, already shed their blood. I am going with this chapter highlighting the dramatic, and charismatic, nature of Ahab. But I'm not going to lie -I wish Melville hadn't written the letter to Hawthorne.

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