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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 67: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

CHAPTER 57. Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars


“Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a man to that condition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called savagery. [. . . ] Now, one of the peculiar characteristics of the savage in his domestic hours, is his wonderful patience of industry. An ancient Hawaiian war-club or spear-paddle, in its full multiplicity and elaboration of carving, is as great a trophy of human perseverance as a Latin lexicon. For, with but a bit of broken sea-shell or a shark’s tooth, that miraculous intricacy of wooden net-work has been achieved; and it has cost steady years of steady application.”




Ishmael moves on from the paintings of whales to the art of scrimshaw. I’ve always been fascinated by the art of carving images into a whale’s bone or a whale’s tooth. Imagine the time you had between sighting whales. The boredom and need to create must have been incredible.


Ish is also letting us know that whalers are artists and even the ones we consider ‘savages’ created beauty in their leisure time. This is a chapter about honoring the person you might see walking down the street looking dirty and tired. But whalemen, Ish assures us, are busy and artistic and should be honored. So I’ll do so today as well.

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