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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 77: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

CHAPTERS 69 and 70 The Funeral and The Sphynx


“Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!””




These chapters take place after the whale blubber has been cut off and the whale is sent back to sea – hence the funeral. Ishmael does opine about the death of the whale. He says how odd it is to be so afraid of something in life only to think nothing of it in death. Pretty much the truth, right?

In the Sphynx, Ahab addresses the head of the whale, which is always cut off before he is tossed back into the ocean. Why, you may ask? We find out that “the sperm whale’s head embraces nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to suspend such a burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a whaler, this were as vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barn in jewelers’ scales.” The head contains product. It is useful. Then it is thrown aside as well.


But Ahab speaks to the head. Like all of us, Ahab wonders what the whale knows about life now that it is dead. And haven’t we all wondered what the dead know once they leave this earth? I have. So we have a chapter ostensibly about a whale’s head, which turns out to point the finger back at us. Brilliance!

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