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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 18: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 16: Day 18: The Ship

For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.



So much has happened. Ishmael and Queequeg landed in Nantucket. Ishmael goes looking for a whaling ship he and Queequeg can sail together on and Ish finds the Pequod.

The Pequod’s two retired captains school Ishmael about Captain Ahab, who will be in charge of the ship. They call Ahab great but admit that perhaps Ahab has not quite been himself since a whale bit off his leg. Ish seems to link what the captains say to the idea that great men are made great by the tragedies that befall them. I’m not sure what captains Bildad or Peleg think about Ahab. The two old captains seem to understand that Ahab has suffered and is not well, but they also know he can catch whales and so they build him up as a great man and one to follow. Commerce, we read, is sometimes the most important commandment to follow.

Ishmael seems to follow the school that earthly pursuits are vile, or, as Ish says, a ‘disease.’ Indeed we will see that although Ahab may be ‘tragically great,’ he is diseased by ambition, thoughts of greatness, and revenge.

We have not met Ahab yet, but we have our suspicions, right? Ishmael does not seem to have any concerns, which is concerning to me. This Ishmael strikes me differently this time around. How can someone who can stand up to the two/owner Captains so confidently and have these deep philosophical thoughts about ambition, not ask himself if a trip with a recently wounded Ahab is a sensible idea? Hmmm – more to come.

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